Spa Village is Hotsprings Heaven: Discovering a Boutique Hotel in Hamat Gader, Israel

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What could be more relaxing than a day or two at a hotpring spa?  Travelling slowly in Israel can be a challenge, particularly if you are a tourist who wants to catch as many sites as possible in as little time, so taking a day or two for relaxation is a great idea. With swaying palm trees,lush foliage surrounding the two pristine pools,sounds of a waterfall and the tinkle of wind chimes you can easily be convinced to slow down for that day or two.  Pristine, turquoise pools filled with healing mineral waters are the heart and center of this hotspring spa getaway.    Hamat Gader, Israel, home of the ancient Roman hot springs spa has sprung to life in its modern reincarnation. Alongside vast public pools, a boutique hotel tucked away in a quiet corner allows guests quiet and privacy along with the extra comfort of staying overnight allowing them to enjoy the springs at all hours of the day or night.  To my mind, this is about as close to the Garden of Eden as one can get in this lifetime.

Sulfur springs

The highlight of any visit to Hamat Gader Spa Village are of course, the sulfur springs.  Known for their outstanding mineral properties, in healing everything from arthritis to high blood pressure to digestive disorders, you can choose between warm, hot, or hotter.  The hottest springs clock in at 42 degrees Celsius, and are hot indeed.  There is a small sign that says one should not stay in longer than ten minutes, but I highly doubt that the sign is needed.  I was able to last for just three.  Other pools are a mere 38 or 40 degrees Celsius and sport the added attractions of natural waterfalls, Jacuzzi jets, and hydrotherapy currents.

Bathing, bathing and more bathing

There is not much to do at Hamat Gader but kick back and enjoy the waters.  To that end, you can bathe in the very large public pools, the two smaller pools exclusively for the guests of the hotel, or your very own private Jacuzzi filled with mineral waters on the large wooden porch attached to your room.  All pools share the same water source with the same healing properties. In your personal in-room Jacuzzi you can set the temperature to your liking and while away the hours in perfect solitude.

Thailand in Israel

The Spa Village hosts approximately 30 individual wooden guest houses that have a Thai village feel to them.  The elephant sculptures that adorn the gardens add to the Asian feel.  Each guest house has a large room with a comfy queen size bed, closets, sofa ,coffee table and cable tv. A small fridge stocked with free beverages and a bottle of wine are included as well.  On the attached porch you will find the above mentioned Jacuzzi as well as a kettle for boiling water and all the fixings to make a nice cup of coffee or tea.

Blue Bar

Part of the boutique hotel complex includes a small restaurant called the Blue Bar, situated right at the edge of the pools.  It serves a deluxe, gourmet breakfast every morning replete with hand pulled espresso or cappuccino, and eggs made to order, along with a full buffet of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and herring.  It is easy to fill up on the delicious, fresh food served with a smile.  The restaurant is open for dinner as well, and serves fish and pasta daily, with side dishes of rice, potatoes and cooked veggies. A colorful salad bar is open each evening alongside the hot dishes, with an ever changing variety of salads.  Most room reservations include both breakfast and dinner, but if yours does not, it is worth adding, as the nearest restaurants are a ten to fifteen minute drive from the hot springs.  Eating on site is both easy and tasty.

Massage the day away

Spa Village at Hamat Gader is dedicated to creature comforts and stress reduction.  To that end, the full hotel package includes not only breakfast and  dinner, but also a 45 minute massage per person. The massage center, staffed by experienced masseurs and masseuses, offers a variety of treatments ranging from Swedish massage, to shiatsu and Thai massage.

Caveat Emptor!

Before signing on to this relaxing vacation, it pays to keep in mind that the sulfur smell is pervasive (I personally love it) and the weather can climb to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer time.  Wintertime is high season in Hamat Gader, and prices are accordingly higher.  Our visit during the low season set us back 1400 shekel, or $370 for two people. That included the room, breakfast and dinner for two, and two forty five minute massages.

A relaxing getaway

Whether you are a weary tourist, or a stressed out business traveller, taking a night or two at Spa Village, Hamat Gader, is a wonderfully unique way to recharge tired batteries.  Nestled in a corner of Israel, near the Sea of Galilee, and not far off the tourist trail, the natural scenery is breathtaking  and the miracle of the sulfur pools is not to be missed.

Traveler’s Tips:

  1. Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  2.  Don’t plan on doing too much. Sulfur tires you out.
  3. Use plenty of sunscreen.
  4. Don’t feed the alligators!

Book your stay here

 

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Stuck in the Mud: Really Slow Travel

There we were, a combined 153 years between the two of us, in a white 2007 Mazda, spinning our wheels, not proverbially, but actually.  We were thoroughly and completely stuck in the mud, not just any mud, but thick, brown, oozing, sticky mud. Now, if you have to be stuck in the mud (and that indeed is a philosophical question of epic proportions, which we will leave for discussion to a later date) choose a sunny day, world-class scenery and a good friend.  I did.

To round out a lovely visit with my dear friend A., we decided to drive among the fishponds to see what birds we might spot, and to enjoy the flowering bounty of spring.  After remarking on the lush green valley, thanks to abundant rainfall, and spotting many birds, we decided to make a detour into a fishpond to see if we could find the black stork, an apparently rare variety of stork that had recently been spotted in the vicinity.  After slipping and sliding cautiously on the narrow ring road, we were utterly marooned in the Bet Shean Valley, the Gilboa Mountains climbing off to the West, and the even taller Gilad Mountains soaring off to the East. Right next to us, thousands upon thousands of birds were circling overhead, swooping down and occasionally coming to rest a stone’s throw away at the edge of the fishpond.  There were enormous birds of all sorts- pelicans, seagulls, kingfishers, and yes, the black stork too!

By the side of the fishpond-the Gilboa Mountains off in the distance

By the side of the fishpond-the Gilboa Mountains off in the distance

 

To my mind, slow travel focuses on savoring the experience, the people, the culture of new places and foreign countries, in contrast to ticking off sites one has to see. Writing  a blog about slow travel for the last few years, I thought I had understood just what slow travel meant. Being stuck in the mud puts a very different spin on that concept.  Just how slow is slow?

When you are stuck, as we were, and all you can do is wait for someone to come and pull you out, you have time to look around, savor the view, laugh with your friend, and enjoy the sun.  There is absolutely nothing, nothing we could do to extricate ourselves, except for what we had already done, which was to phone for help.  Enjoying the minutes as they slowly ticked away, my 93 year old friend A. assured me that this was not the first time this had happened to her, and she has always gotten out.  Thus far. I decided not to worry.  Why worry? With a sparkle in her eye, she told me that she had actually arranged for this to happen so that she will remain unforgettable.  Dare I say she has succeeded?

The first truck arrives to extricate us but is unable to make it up the slippery slope, so he calls for reinforcements in the shape of my friend’s son riding shotgun on a tractor.  After failing to find a place to connect my car to the tractor from the front, the tractor lumberingly turns around and makes the long and muddy approach from the back. The tractor is slipping and sliding in the mud and I wonder whether he will get close enough.  My friend’s son takes over the driver seat as I gratefully buckle myself into the back.  Getting pulled out along the narrow, muddy path, with the fish pond plunging down to the left, and an equally deep gully on the right, I screwed my eyes shut and prayed. I could feel the car slithering over the mud, and the seconds tick by.  We are holding our collective breaths.  Ten more seconds and we are home free.

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Our Saviours

 

A few minutes later as we drive to the garage to spray down the car and do a damage assessment, we fast-forward into real time, and the pull of everyday events.  There are things to do, commitments to keep, and people to meet.  Gone are those few magical moments when there was nothing we could do so all we did was wait, look at the birds, the scenery and each other. Gone but not forgotten.

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