Why Jerusalem Must Be on Your Bucket List

Meg Nolan was fascinated by the history and comforts of Jerusalem.

Meg Nolan, Friend of a Friend Consulting and IC for Valerie Wilson Travel, visited the reinvented David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, and was impressed by the accommodations and the city.

You know that feeling when you realize a bucket-list item will finally receive that juicy check mark? Well, that’s what I felt when I received the invitation to visit the newly refurbished David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem this past March. As a first-time visitor to Israel, my emotions going into the trip ran the gamut. Luckily, any of those that resembled trepidation were immediately erased when I arrived at the David Citadel. 

Greeted at the door by at least three senior staff members and a circle of charming bellmen, I was quickly assured that my comfort and pleasure were of the utmost priority. Gleaming from its recent renovation by Italian Piero Lissoni, the hotel has a new contemporary flair. 

When I was shown up to my Alcove Deluxe room, my eyes could focus on nothing but the view outside my floor-length windows. Just beyond my Juliette balcony was the gleaming Old City of Jerusalem, bookended by either side of the hotel, as if the view was perfectly framed for my own enjoyment. My room was located smack-dab in the center of the hotel’s horseshoe-like shape, which meant I enjoyed the bull’s-eye view right from my bed.

Tearing myself away, I headed down to the famed David Citadel breakfast, whose reputation as a bountiful array of Jerusalem’s finest produce, cheese and breads is duly earned. Indeed, the cucumbers, avocados, cherry tomatoes and creamy white yogurts plus brown bread were delicious, but what made the biggest impression was the barrista’s depictions of animals in the foam of our group’s cappuccinos, ranging from a bulldog to a horse to a bunny.

The Western Wall and the golden Dome of the Rock are seen at dusk in Jerusalem’s Old City // Photo by Getty Images/Seth Yoni

Fueled up with caffeine, I, along with our group of journalists, set off with Delicious Israel, a tour operator out of Tel Aviv, to visit Shai Seltzer, a working goat cheese farm in the Judean Hills. The trip was followed by a tour of the 100 percent kosher Flam Winery. The cheesemaker was second-generation and offered us savory examples of both hard and soft varieties, explaining that his business is all done from his farm and he sells mainly to chefs and private customers. At Flam, we enjoyed a private wine-tasting, including the label’s white blend, rosé, syrah and Bordeaux-style blend. The winemaker, Golan, who runs the winery with his brother, sister and parents (his Dad has been a well-known winemaker in Israel for over 30 years), told me he was excited about the possibilities alive in Israel for various types of wine, evidenced by the brand new Malbec vineyard he had planted right in front of the winery. 

After sampling the wine and cheese, we returned to the hotel for a quick change only to then meet up with the hotel’s director of sales, who led us into the Old City, just a short, 10-minute walk down the modernized Mamilla mall that connects the hotel to the Old City’s Jaffa gate. Once inside the Old City, we visited the Tower of David /Citadel as private guests, touring the ancient building prior to public opening at 7 p.m. for the spectacular Tower of David Light Show. Our tour included climbing the famous tower, which offers sweeping views over both old and new cities, and detailed explanations of the various excavations and their findings over the last century, but it was the light show that will remain in my memory. Designed by a French company, the 45-minute open-air show plays across the walls of the Citadel telling the history of the Holy Land and the building through vibrant images and music. It was incredibly beautiful. Afterward, we headed back to the David Citadel and enjoyed an exquisitely prepared private meal on the terrace of the Royal Suite overlooking the Citadel.

The Presidential Suite at David Citadel Jerusalem has 1,055 square feet of space // Photo courtesy of David Citadel Jerusalem

The next morning, we met our affable tour guide, arranged through the hotel, who walked us back into the Old City and for four hours gave perhaps the most interesting historic tour of my life. Exceedingly respectful, our guide led us through all four quarters of the Old City explaining the history, noting the apparent differences in the quarters and ensuring all of our senses — from smell to taste — were stimulated. Among us was a Jew, two Catholics and an agnostic, while our guide made it clear he, above all else, was a scholar, ensuring our tour was devoid of bias, rich in historic detail and representative of the multitude of beliefs that encircle this holy spot. It also helped that other tour guides said hello to him and remarked how he was the best tour guide in the city. Once the tour was over, we found ourselves happily by the “best falafel spot” in the Old City and then retreated to the Austrian Hospice for excellent photos from their rooftop, followed by a beer below in the courtyard under the palm trees.

The following day, we woke up early to head to Masada and the Dead Sea with our next tour guide, a former Israeli Air Force pilot, also arranged through the hotel. A two-hour drive from Jerusalem into the West Bank was fascinating, complete with a roadside camel visit and past an actual Oasis. Once we reached Masada — wise to do as early in the morning as you can — we took the funicular up to the top — a harrowing 10-minute climb — and enjoyed an hour’s tour through the mountain top’s former sanctuary. Our guide was, again, exceptional at bringing alive the historic battle, siege and eventual triumph. From Masada we descended down to the Dead Sea, checked into the seaside hotel and received our robes and locker keys. Once we’d rubbed the mineral-rich clay across our bodies, we walked slowly into the heavy sea and floated with ease. It was a hoot, even if crowded. Beware: Do not rub your eyes! 

Since the David Citadel is so close to the Old City, I was able to return at my leisure twice more. I revisited the Western Wall, which is magical at dusk, and came back to hunt for souvenirs for my kids. Of course, no visit to the David Citadel would be complete without a dip in the hotel’s photogenic saltwater pool, which is nothing short of mystical when done under a full moon during Purim, Israel’s equivalent of Halloween, and a most happy coincidence to my visit. 

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