Zichron Yaakov might not sit at the top of every visitor’s must-see list in Israel. Relatively overshadowed by Holy Land sites and the unbeatable appeal of Tel Aviv, the quaint village—founded in 1882 by Lord Baron Rothschild—is positioned high in northern Israel’s verdant Carmel Region overlooking a glistening swathe of the Mediterranean Sea. Amidst the historical village’s millennium-old sites, boutique wineries, art galleries and Israeli rustic-style restaurants sits a massive, white-clad and segmented structure jettisoning into the sky, creating a stark contrast with the landscape’s tree-laden surroundings: the Elma Arts Complex and Luxury Hotel (Elma for short).
What lies inside the awe-inspiring, incongruous architectural marvel is simply beyond belief. Following an eight-year renovation process to an award-winning building created in 1972 by architect Ya’akov Rechter (and which was previously scheduled for demolition), Elma is a new and innovative leisure and entertainment-provoking property featuring 95 spacious, well-designed rooms and suites (of which 22 are stand-alone luxury cottages) coupled with an unprecedented concert hall and art galleries. It’s unlike any other property this side of the Mediterranean.
The intelligent hospitality concept is the brainchild of Lily Elstein, a longtime Israeli art luminary and financier for the entire property, auditorium, art galleries, amenities et al. Elstein’s dedication to an art-focused experience is literally embedded within the walls of the property. Each of Elma’s 500+ artworks (from paintings and sculptures to mixed media and collage works) are sourced from the owner’s private collection and on display for the viewing pleasure of each guest.
After entering the Elma lobby, guests will come across Sigalit Landau’s “Tzimaon” (Thirst), a juggernaut of a sculpture weighing 26 tons wrought from two pieces of Carrera marble, on display inside an open-air exhibition space floored with local stone. From start to finish, the hotel’s interior embodies clean, classic lines and beige and white color schemes, creating a perfect foreground for the works hanging throughout, while the lobby boasts a reception desk modeled after a huge, black, metal piano. Taking a stroll across the fertile 28-acre-property, visitors can make the choice to jump into the shimmering pool indoors or the Olympic-sized outdoor pool.
All aspects of Elma are of equal importance, and guests should not forget the property’s state-of-the-art auditorium. Elma has perhaps the most refined concert hall Israel has ever seen. The 450-seat theater features a meticulously crafted natural acoustic setup based upon an advanced system of 25 adjustable acoustic curtains along its walls, as well as a 1,414-pipe organ created by the acclaimed German manufacturer Orgelbau Klais, the most advanced of its kind to be built in Israel.
Each monthly concert program at Elma features a wide-range of acclaimed orchestras, chamber choirs, jazz and world-music artists from Israel and around the world, including concerts by Avishai Cohen and Trivani, a production of Handel’s Oratorio and Fernando Knopf & the Latin Power scheduled to take place this summer.
After days and night filled with art and music, visitors will surely have worked up an appetite. Elma’s Oratario restaurant—a stunning space designed by lauded architecture firm Baranowitz Kronenberg—has, on the menu, dishes with ingredients sourced within 30 kilometers of the hotel such as fish caught straight from the Mediterranean. From the pastas, bread and cheese to the smoke meats, it’s all made lovingly in-house. It’s a truly gourmet dining experience influenced by Israeli, Greek, Southern Italian, Provençal and Spanish cuisines. And oenophiles need not worry. Inside Oratorio’s intricately-lit walls sits a stunning, hand-carved wine cooler where more than 700 bottles of boutique Israeli and international wines sit patiently awaiting their corks to be popped at any given moment.
Elma proves to be far more than your standardized luxury hotel—it’s a sanctum for music; a respite from urban life; a leisure-lover’s dream.
Images by Ross Belfer