A beautiful setting and rich history draw luxury travelers to this immaculately restored property on the seafront, but despite the backing of the Miami-based Setai brand and the endorsement of Leading Hotels of the World, gaps in service make this pricy property fall short.
The history of the Setai is quite stunning -- a 12th-century Crusader-era structure, the building was converted into a prison during the Ottoman Empire and at one point housed condemned Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Eagle-eyed guests will spot the original seal of Suleiman the Great among the original stones, and history buffs will be delighted by the original Crusader archways and Ottoman staircases that are an integral piece of the hotel's modern resurrection.
Rich and warm decor is infused with Middle Eastern touches like Oriental rugs and intricately laser-cut light fixtures. The rooms are generously sized, with inviting linens and many featuring jaw-dropping sea views.
Book a room on the two lower floors if you want to sleep among original 12th-century stones; the rooms on higher floors offer better views but walls that date back only to the very recent restoration of the building.
All rooms offer both a soaking tub and a rainfall shower, as well as Setai-branded toiletries, cushy robes and lots of light.
A long marble halllway and a small cluster of seats, the lobby at the Setai is small but gleaming. The lobby bar, the aptly named "Kishle" (the Ottoman term for prison, a nod to the hotel's roots) is a more welcoming place to gather.
The Setai's rooftop infinity pool is undeniably its piece de resistance. With sweeping views of the Mediterranean and all the way up to the Tel Aviv coast, this is a pool that begs to be Instagrammed, ASAP. A separate children's pool keeps the splashing contained. The pool isn't heated and it's only open in the summer months, so if you're visiting from September-March, take note.
YOU SHOULD KNOW It's best to focus on the view and not the lack of umbrellas, because on hot days, the pool deck gets crowded fast, and it can be nearly impossible to stake out a seat.
Crusader archways, an authentic hamam (Turkish bath) and seven massage suites -- this is a spa that takes your pampering personally.
In the spa's relaxation room, check out the original Crusader archways, which date to the 12th century.
The well-equipped aerobics room is open 24/7 so you can sweat at any hour. Even better, just under the water station and along the shelf of hand weights, you'll find original stone Crusader archways.
Jaya shares a name with the beloved restaurant of the Setai Miami, but that's where the similarities end. This kosher dining spot features seasonal produce and inventive Mediterranean plates like beef tartar ravioli with sunchoke and lamb chops with fava bean cream, all served in a beautiful and historic setting. If only the service was on par with the food.
The Kishle lobby bar offers fun cocktails based around Jaffa's eclectic setting. Try the Flea Market Margarita, with tequila and arak; or the Jaffa Panorama, with cucumber syrup and fresh lime.
There are ample taxis available directly at the Clock Tower Square (Kikar Ha'Shaon), and Sderot Yerushalayim, a major thoroughfare with several bus lines, is a short walk away. But an even easier (and more scenic) route for traveling Tel Aviv is just behind the hotel at the gorgeous seafront; it's flat and walkable, and even easier when you hop on a bike.
As much a show as an exquisite meal, OCD (7-minute walk) -- where theatrics and five-star dining merge into a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- is not for the faint of heart; for rich seafood dishes with a charming European flair and a bit of a slower pace, choose Milgo and Milbar (12-minute drive).
At Juno(20-minute drive), you'll find a lovely little wine bar with a tight but well-curated selection; Imperial (7-minute drive), named one of the world’s best cocktail bars for a reason, is a this hole-in-the-wall local's favorite hidden inside a totally unassuming location.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Those who love history and architecture will be hard-pressed to find a more exciting setting than this beautiful urban resort, where layers of legacy dating back thousands of years greet guests at every turn. In terms of beauty and bare materials, the Setai charms. Its chaotic and unfriendly service, however, can easily break the spell.