Stays

Luxury Reborn

A historic hotel on the Sea of Galilee gets a modern makeover.

Lotte restaurant.

STANDING IN FRONT of the reborn Galei Kinneret hotel, on the shore of Israel’s Sea of Galilee, it’s almost impossible to envision what awaits inside. The simple facade, designed by architect Aharon Kempinski, is exactly the same as it was in 1946. The interiors, on the other hand, are a surprising and thoughtful combination of contemporary, vintage, and ancient elements. That’s what you get when you stay at one of Israel’s most iconic and historic landmarks, reimagined for a new era of hospitality.

Prior to its recent splashy renovation by Israel Canada Hotels and Saar Zafrir Design, and a soft reopening in December 2021, Galei Kinneret (Hebrew for “the waves of Sea of Galilee”) had a glamorous past. Overlooking the vast waters of the lowest freshwater lake on earth, it used to host presidents and diplomats, conventions, and high-profile meetings. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was a regular — so much so, that his wife Paula would often command the hotel’s kitchen to make Ben-Gurion breakfast. In recent years, however, the aging hotel had lost its international appeal, and was no longer on the radar of local and world travelers.

“Everyone has a childhood story around Galei Kinneret,” says Saar Zafrir, whose design group took on the project in 2020. Having dreamt up hotels in Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris, Saar — an Israeli who currently resides in London — was hesitant to take on an endeavor in his home country. “But as soon as I heard the name, I was in,” he says. “My uncle used to have a boat docked at the hotel back in the day, 30 years ago! I’ve been to the hotel as a child and remember it being grand, with high ceilings and beautiful views.”

Upon revisiting the hotel to gather inspiration, Zafrir found the views, but not the grandeur. He decided to infuse the property with his signature vision, keeping the exterior as is, and refreshing the rooms, communal spaces, and amenities. The renewed 123-room property is meant to be a destination worthy of the hotel’s glory days. In addition to the rooms, there’s a private beach — a luxury, considering the public lake’s humble circumference of approximately 33 miles. There’s also a spa; an outdoor area complete with pool, bar, and outdoor yoga deck; a restaurant named Lotte, helmed by chef Assaf Granit, and a clever design plan that weaves the location, the history, and the present into a coherent new look.

Back in 1946, Lotte Eisenberg, the German entrepreneur and original Galei Kinneret hotel manager, captivated the jetsetters of Israel with her perfectionism and attention to detail. She became the inspiration for the restaurant's name, but was also Zafrir’s North Star, as far as sourcing and solidifying elements in the design. The meticulously selected materials were limited to oak, Carrara marble, and natural stone, with precise and limited color touches. Restraint and minimalism were key guidelines; to make the views from the lobby a focal point, Zafrir kept the space clean and neutral-hued, avoiding eye-catching elements that would interfere with the calm blue waters of the lake.

At the heart of the outdoor bar, on the other hand, an impressive, shade-providing metallic tree — a sculpture commissioned from artist Gilad Kenan — is meant to be noticed and adored. Forged from aluminum, it’s an ode to a tree that grew on the property and, regrettably, had to be removed. In the restaurant, a mosaic of green tile, climbing up the space’s tasteful columns all the way to the ceiling, references the olive tree, which grows abundantly in Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. “For me, this tree symbolizes the cuisines of the region, which are represented on the menu,” Zafrir says. “It’s also an homage to the very special herbal olive oil the restaurant makes and serves.”


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The hotel is meant to be a pause from the city's bustling everyday.

To match the international-meets-hyperlocal vibe of the hotel, Zafrir wanted a big name to lead the culinary program. He found it in Granit, whose restaurant group operates spots in London, Jerusalem, and Paris, with Parisian restaurant Shabour recently earning a Michelin star. For Galei Kinneret, the chef created a restaurant and bar menu in his signature style of upcycled Mediterranean staples; think sardines fished right out of the lake and served with preserved lemons, and eggplant and freekeh risotto. At the bar, snacks and drinks abound, and at the hotel’s private beach, Granit has situated a food truck that serves hamburgers, souvlaki, and hummus.

While the goal of the renovation was to give the hotel a much-deserved face-lift, a nod to the past was also in order. As often happens in Israel, an important archeological site was unearthed on the grounds of Galei Kinneret in 2002. The site included discoveries from the Roman era and from the Byzantine period; hippodromes and a column pool were among the findings.

Zafrir took the significant discovery and ran with it. While the original ruins are currently preserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Zafrir commissioned Israeli sculptor Yuval Lufen to recreate the priceless artifacts. The sculptures were incorporated under the custom glass-bottomed panes of the hotel’s swimming pool, so swimmers can glide right above a replica of ancient history.

“We took the theme into the spa too,” he says, “which became our interpretation of a Roman bathhouse.” There, among arched windows and neutral sofas, guests can enjoy an array of treatments, from a reflexology foot treatment to an Ayurvedic massage incorporating olive oil.

From the reserved, minimalist rooms — accented with only the tiniest of prints on the headboards that feature the local anemone flower — to the tall, framed sun beds facing the gentle waves of the Sea of Galilee, the hotel is meant to be a pause from the city's bustling everyday. “We wanted to create something truly special here,” Zafrir says. “It’s a place where timeless relaxation and history come together.”

Gems Around Galei Kinneret

Where to eat and explore near Israel’s Sea of Galilee.

  • Magdalena Restaurant

    Chef Yousef Hanna serves upscale Arabic cuisine in a lovely setting overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The restaurant’s shish barak — lamb and pine-nut dumplings cooked in goat’s milk yogurt — are especially popular.

  • Avi's Restaurant

    Avi’s, originally a teahouse when it opened in the early 1980s, is now one of the area’s best-known spots for Middle Eastern cuisine. Bright and airy, it has ample patio seating.

  • Kfar Nahum National Park

    A national park, as well as the site of a fishing village from the time of the Second Temple, this 20-plus-acre park was the focus of Jesus’ Galilee ministry.

  • St. Urban Wine Bar Kinneret

    Located in a vaulted-stone wine cellar at the luxury Scots Hotel, St. Urban Wine Bar is a romantic place to enjoy quality wine and food.

  • Mount Arbel

    A beautiful site for hiking in Migdal, Mount Arbel is known as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, in the Lower Galilee. One will find high cliffs and views of Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights.

  • Magdalena Restaurant

    Chef Yousef Hanna serves upscale Arabic cuisine in a lovely setting overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The restaurant’s shish barak — lamb and pine-nut dumplings cooked in goat’s milk yogurt — are especially popular.

  • St. Urban Wine Bar Kinneret

    Located in a vaulted-stone wine cellar at the luxury Scots Hotel, St. Urban Wine Bar is a romantic place to enjoy quality wine and food.

  • Avi's Restaurant

    Avi’s, originally a teahouse when it opened in the early 1980s, is now one of the area’s best-known spots for Middle Eastern cuisine. Bright and airy, it has ample patio seating.

  • Mount Arbel

    A beautiful site for hiking in Migdal, Mount Arbel is known as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, in the Lower Galilee. One will find high cliffs and views of Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights.

  • Kfar Nahum National Park

    A national park, as well as the site of a fishing village from the time of the Second Temple, this 20-plus-acre park was the focus of Jesus’ Galilee ministry.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Flora Tsapovsky Writer

Flora Tsapovsky is a San Francisco–based culture, food, and style writer, as well as an editor and educator. Her work has appeared in Elle, Wired, Bon Appétit, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Harel Gilboa Photographer

Harel Gilboa is a photographer based in Israel who specializes in architectural and interior design photography. Gilboa is a patient observer whose photographs convey his understanding of architectural order and space. His attentiveness to color, light, and form enables him to bring architecture to life.

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