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This Resort is Simply Paradise

Beautiful ... Biankini, south of Jericho, on the northern tip of the Dead Sea

When Israelis vacation at the Dead Sea, they generally head for Ein Gedi or Ein Bokek. Those places are long drives from our apartment in Holon. However, we discovered that the northern tip of the Dead Sea is just as beautiful, just as interesting, and a lot closer. Our favorite resort there is Biankini, south of Jericho. We can drive there from Holon in just 90 minutes. We were surprised to find that our neighbors and colleagues at work had never even heard of Biankini.

Biankini has rooms, suites, zimmers, guesthouses, cabins, tents, camping facilities, restaurants, a store, a synagogue and an amphitheater.

As you drive into their parking lot, you get your first glimpse of owner Dina Dagan's imagination. Guests do not drag their luggage from the parking lot to their rooms. Instead, Dina provides supermarket shopping carts, so rather than loading me up with luggage like a donkey, my wife, Tatiana, loads a shopping cart, and I just wheel our bags to our room. It's a great idea.

On the way to our room, we see walls decorated with pieces of Israeli history. Firsly, we learn that Dina is a heroine. In May 2001 she discovered a powerful 7.5 kg explosive device in her Biankini pub and restaurant next to the Italian Synagogue on Biankini Street in the center of Jerusalem, and literally carried it away from its intended victims. Her call to evacuate the pub saved 200 teenagers from catastrophe. What bravery! Dina was given a certificate of honor by the Israeli police.

In 2002 she moved her Biankini business to the northern shore of the Dead Sea.

Secondly, the name Biankini comes from Angelo (Moshe) Levy Biankini (1887-1920), an Italian naval officer and Zionist who worked for the establishment of Israel 100 years ago. His life story is displayed on the walls of the resort.

I learned another historical fact from a kibbutznik in nearby Kibbutz Kalya: this northern area of the Dead Sea was 100% Jewish before it was conquered by the Jordanians in 1949. In the 1930s Jews had established an airport, potash factory, residential neighborhood, a hotel and Kibbutz Kalya. When the Jordanian Legion conquered the Dead Sea, they burned all these assets to the ground, and occupied the area until the Six-Day War in 1967. Now it is part of the "occupied territories" and has been rebuilt. 

Biankini ... a sea of tranquility

My kibbutznik friend gave me another tidbit: Kibbutz Kalya's dates are grown with sewage water piped south from Jerusalem which is treated before use. Classic Israeli ingenuity! I asked whether other fruits were grown the same way. He answered that the health authorities had decided that dates can safely be grown with sewage water, but other fruits could be dangerous. (I can see the wisdom in that. If you eat a watermelon grown with sewage water, you might choke on a piece of toilet paper.)

Dina's artistic sense is displayed in the mosaics that decorate the walls and rooms. The motif is desert, with warm browns and yellows that mesh perfectly with the surroundings. The rooms are lovely, spacious, clean and perfectly maintained.

I was surprised that trees grow on Biankini's beach. Dina explained that underground springs naturally flow into the Dead Sea, and she just tapped them on the way down. Neat! Biankini is the only resort where I've seen this innovation.

My favorite part of a Dead Sea vacation is running through the desert and discovering new sites. This last time I ran from Biankini seven kilometers south to Einot Tsukeem, which contains beautiful springs. On the run back I stopped at Kumran, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Tatiana teases me that we vacation at the Dead Sea, but I barely take a swim in the remarkable water. I answer that I explore the whole area, and that all she does is sit in one place covered with black slime. We're both right.

If you can't find a room in Biankini, you can try nearby Kibbutz Kalya. It's beautifully landscaped and very pleasant. The downside is that the rooms weren't well maintained, and you have to drive three kilometers to their beach. Also, they ticked us off a tad. If you go to the kibbutz's beach the evening that you arrive, entrance to the beach is free. But when you go to the beach the next morning, they charge you about NIS 12 per person. I told the desk clerk that nickel-and-diming guests is obnoxious, particularly when they charge a lot for their rooms. (Biankini is right on the beach, so there's no problem with admission.)

Consider a day trip instead of a multi-day vacation. Biankini is so close, you can drive there in the morning, spend the whole day there, and drive back in the evening. Three hours on the road isn't much fun, but the exotic scenery makes the drive seem shorter, and the savings often make the effort worthwhile.

For further information, see www.biankini.co.il and www.kaliahotel.co.il

Vacation tips

We all know how expensive Israeli hotels are. But there's a simple way to lower your expenses. Find a holiday that begins in the middle of the week, and then look for special offers just before that holiday. For example, last Rosh Hashanah began on Wednesday evening. We looked for specials just before the holiday period. Sure enough, Israir offered a special on 4 nights (Saturday through Tuesday) at the Dan Panorama in Eilat, including breakfast and round-trip flights. Israir's price was only NIS 2,200 for 3 people in a room. That's NIS 185 per person per night in a 5-star hotel! We've gotten similar deals with Arkia.

To accommodate observant Jews, check-out time on Saturdays at most hotels is not at the usual time - 11am - but at sunset. So if your stay at a hotel ends on a Saturday, you can enjoy this extra time. Better still, extend your stay into the new week and take advantage of lower mid-week prices.

We have a comprehensive strategy to minimize our food costs.

  • We eat breakfast at the hotel. Hotel breakfasts are generally well-prepared and economical.
  • We bring bags of peanuts, cashews and almonds from home.
  • We take a few cans of tuna fish just in case we need a quick meal.
  • We bring meat and vegetables from home, and my son-in-law prepares a barbeque each night. The meat is expensive, but our restaurant costs are 0.
 

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

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