Within an hour’s drive of Jerusalem, there’s close to 100 wineries to visit and even within a half hour there are dozens of wineries that a wine connoisseur or a curious tourist would find pleasing and even intriguing. Many of these wineries are some of Israel’s best and are recognized by such international authorities as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate as world class “iconic” wineries. Many of these same wineries have inviting visiting centers hosting tastings and tours that are just a short bus trip or taxi ride away.
Jerusalem’s Prima Park Hotel, in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe is conveniently located near the main road (Route 1) between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Kiryat Moshe is within walking distance of the eye catching String Bridge that marks the entrance into Jerusalem and the International Convention Center which serves as a hub for a cluster of hotels in Israel’s capitol and largest city. Being at the outskirts of Israel’s largest city makes day trips to wineries much easier than if staying closer to the city’s center. As well, the Prima Park itself sports a wine theme and often hosts their own wine and culinary events at the hotel as well as day trips to local wineries organized for their guests.
And even though the Prima Park is easy for touring the wine regions north, south, east and west of Jerusalem, it’s also relatively close to some tourism sites in Jerusalem, such as the Israel Museum which besides having a world class collection of fine art also features the largest display and collection of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls.
With a light rail station and Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station close by, getting to the rest of the city without driving is quite convenient as well, so it’s convenient for those with an interest visiting the ancient Old City with its array of Judaic, Christian and Muslim holy sites, Hatachana (the converted Old Ottoman Train Station… now a pavilion for foodies), and the marketplace, restaurants and nightlife on Jaffa Road.
If going on a day trip to wineries, there are options in every direction.
Going north of Jerusalem along Route 60 (also called the Biblical Wine Trail), Psagot, Tanya, Gvaot, Tura, Shiloh, Gat Shomron are all within an hour’s drive and its easy enough to visit three or four in the same day. All the wineries along the Biblical Wine Trail are kosher and some are owned by the most friendly winemakers in the country. Merlot is a specialty of this region but other varietals also shine, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Shiraz and Petite Sirah.
To the West, Seahorse is a smaller, but cherished, leading edge boutique that has pioneered new varietals (Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah) and styles. Castel (k), Flam (k) and Tzuba (k) are all close enough to visit on the same day and Castel and Flam were two of the five Israeli wines previously mentioned as” iconic wineries” by Robert Parker . All have wines worth making an effort to try. Kibbutz Tzuba also has great deals on all you can eat kosher meat lunches at their kibbutz cafeteria at affordable prices (65 NIS) and a chocolate factory/ice cream shop across their parking lot.
Another cluster of wineries closer to Beit Shemish includes Tzora and Mony (both kosher), which are also nearby the Shapiro Micro-Brewery, if you want to try some Israel’s best craft beers, and they share a common wall with Buster’s Cider House and its Pioneer Spirits Distillery.
A little further out is the Bravdo Winery in Karmei Yosef situated in the middle of their vineyards, which for now is the exception and not the rule in Israel. The winery has two winemakers who are Ph.D.’s so these guys really KNOW what it takes to make good wine (and they do just that).
In the Latrun area is Israel’s Tank Museum and Mini-Israel (a park with large scale models of Israel’s most famous buildings) that is next to the Latrun Winery, located with the monastery of the same name (the largest non-kosher winery in Israel). Close by is the new Barkan Winery Visitor Center in Kibbutz Hulda, featuring a theatre that can fit a bus load of visitors at once for a short film in English, Hebrew, Russian and a few more languages I believe that I can’t speak at all. Barkan is on its way to become the largest winery in Israel and Hulda is cited as the largest vineyard in Israel.
Further south, Ella Valley, Yaffo, Clos de Gat and Sphera are other wineries of note you might to put into the mix. The first three wineries make a mix of red and whites wines and each have wines that have won them local and international applause, but Sphera is one of the few, if not the best, that specializes in making just premium white wines.
For those who don’t mind longer drives to the Negev down south, or Zichron Ya’acov and even the Galilee or Golan Heights in the north, be willing to drive 2-4 hours each way. There are some wineries in each area (dozens, depending on the region) that will reward your determination and curiosity to visit, yet you might want to consider staying closer by to have more time to visit than spending time on the road. That being the case, Prima has eleven hotels across Israel if staying with one chain might make your travelling more convenient.
Back at the Prima Park in Jerusalem, the hotel was renovated within the last two year,s so the suite I stayed in was quite contemporary with flat screen TV’s in both the bedroom and living room. The TV’s are also monitors, ideal for small business PowerPoint presentations. A firm but comfortable mattress, a large desk, a large couch (big enough for a weary friend to crash on, if need be after a day of winery hopping), and a bathroom with modern fixtures makes for restful oasis before or after a day of touring.
The breakfast of the hotel is a typical Israeli breakfast which is often described as Mediterranean fare. Several kinds of fish including herring and tuna, salads (my favorite was the Greek salad), an array of cheeses, an omelette station that rivaled those of costlier hotels (with a choice of either mozzarella or cottage cheese, mushrooms, peppers, white or red onion, fresh parsley and tomatoes being the options of ingredients), you have a cook fold into your custom dish. Fresh baked breads and pastries add to the dozens of treats that often leave foreign visitors awestruck on how resplendent Israeli breakfasts can be especially at hotels. Even though the four star Prima Park’s selection isn’t as infinite as some Israel’s five star hotels, there are dozens of items to try over your stay and way too much to try everything during one meal. The breakfast is only 60 NIS (about $15) for those not staying at the hotel and, considering it’s all you can eat, a really good deal for locals to explore rather than less generous cafes.
The dining patio also has a kosher meat menu for dinner starting at 6:30 PM on weekdays. Those dinners like the breakfasts are all you can eat buffets and featured seven hot dishes including a well seasoned and juicy selection of roasted chicken thighs, legs and breasts, white fish with pesto, tender beef brisket, spaghetti and tomato sauce (a favorite of kids) which accompanied a wide array of cold dishes. The dinner buffet exceeded my expectations when comparing to the buffet dinners of some 5 star hotels in Israel I’ve dined at.
As a four star hotel (based on Israeli standards), the Prima Park does not feature its own gym or pool, though guests are allowed free access to Hebrew University’s facilities, which I look forward to exploring on a future visit.
All in all, I found the Prima Park to meet and even succeed my expectations of hotels at similar price points in Israel (about $150/night double occupancy…deals vary for groups and online discounts), so much so that I look forward to checking out their other locations in Israel, whether I need a place to crash after a late night in Tel Aviv, up north in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, or next to the Dead Sea, when I need a spa day and the soothing healing properties of the Dead Sea that attract visitors from around the globe.
Of course, with all of Jerusalem’s great restaurants, historical sites, cultural and wine events, I might just get back to the Park Prima before I have a chance to check out any of their other well situated enclaves.