Interview with Nicole Bem, Owner of Villa Tiferet
How did you get into the vacation industry?
You could say I was ‘born’ into it! My father owned a charter travel company in Canada, and I worked as a copywriter on travel accounts at an ad agency, so this business was always a part of my life. As for Villa Tiferet, my husband and I originally bought the house for our family, but when the children grew up and could no longer come to Tzfat with us, we felt we had to share the place with others; the house is too unique and beautiful to sit empty. So here I am, back in the travel industry!
What is Villa Tiferet, and how long has it been around?
Villa Tiferet is a kosher vacation home. The house was originally part of an Armenian Church built 400 years ago. It has since been the home of several artists, and in the 1970’s, it was a café for the local art scene. We bought the property from an artist and then renovated it, transforming it into a vacation home.
How did you find such a gem of a property?
We have always loved Tzfat and kept going there for Shabbatot. Eight years ago, we became friends with a local innkeeper. We loved his place so much, we actually asked him if we could buy his property! He laughed and said, “No, but I’ll help you find a special place to buy.” We looked at many old stone homes until we finally found the right place.
What changes did you make to the house?
As the house was once an art gallery, we basically had an empty shell to work with. The walls and high domes were covered with white plaster and our contractor recommended we remove all the plaster to expose the stone. This was a bold move, but he was right. The exposed stone is exquisite and is one of the most beautiful features of the home. We then decided where we would place the kitchen, dining and living areas. Inspired by Moroccan and Spanish styles, we designed and decorated the space ourselves. We also redesigned the courtyard, laying down stone and tile, adding Moroccan-style cushioned seating and a serene, splashing fountain (my favorite element).
What’s the benefit of renting a vacation home over a hotel or tzimmerim?
Vacation homes are a great choice for families. Staying in a private home, your family can be as loud or as quiet as you wish with no worries about disturbing (or being disturbed by) the guests in the the hotel room next door. You can make your kids their favorite meals and serve them when they want to eat. Unlike a hotel room or tzimmer, this 3,800-square-foot home gives everyone room to spread out.
And when there are six guests or more, the house is actually more affordable than renting a few hotel rooms–not to mention the money you also save by not having to eat every meal out.
How many people can be accommodated in the villa?
We can accommodate up to 13 guests in four bedrooms. There is a private cottage on the ground level that is great for a couple or grandparents. There are two bedrooms upstairs; one bedroom has a bunk bed and is great for up to five kids, while another room is great for parents. There’s also a pullout couch in the family room, and we have a portacrib.
What was the inspiration behind the lavish royal decor?
The original soaring stone domes and Moorish stone tiles inspired us to use a Moroccan theme in our décor. We bought a few design books for ideas, then wandered the streets of the Florentine area in Tel Aviv, discovering ceramic kitchen knobs, hand-painted tiles, exotic glass lighting and fabrics.
What facilities do you offer ?
This is a home away from home, so it has everything (just being along your clothes and toothbrush). There’s a kosher kitchen with two ovens, two dishwashers and two sinks plus dishes and utensils. If you want to cook, we provide oils and spices, coffee, sugar and tea as well as everything one needs for keeping Shabbat. There’s a washer/dryer, iron and hairdryer upstairs. The family room, with its books, puzzles and games, Wii, Xbox, hundreds of Apple TV movies plus Netflix, is a great place for kids and adults alike. There’s also an office area with a printer, screen and Wi-Fi.
So your guests actually can cook a full meal when they’re away from home?
Yes–and in style! The large, open-concept kitchen offers everything a chef would need, plus there’s a huge wooden counter with bar stools so you can entertain and cook at the same time! Ideal for celebrations and Shabbat meals, the dining room table opens up to seat 16 guests. In fact, we’ve hosted Pesach Seders with over 20 people. The house has meat and dairy dishes, cutlery, tablecloths and beautiful serving plates for elegant dinner parties and Shabbatot.
What age groups is the villa most suitable for?
We have had visitors of all ages, from babies to grandparents. It is ideal for multi-generational family get-togethers where the grandparents, parents and grandchildren can relax together. People who celebrate bar mitzvahs in Tzfat like to stay in the house and then host a special meal there. (I dream of seeing a chuppah on the rooftop….we once had a couple get engaged there!)
When families stay at Villa Tiferet do they generally spend their days touring or can families be kept busy on premises?
Most guests who come to Villa Tiferet use the house as a base and then spend time visiting galleries in Tzfat as well as touring the north. They go hiking in the Golan, take guided tours, visit nearby wineries and visit Tiberius. But we’ve had some guests who are so smitten with the house, they don’t want to leave. One can spend tranquil hours in the courtyard with its splashing fountain, catch the sunset from a hammock on the rooftop, and in winter, relax by a cozy wood-burning fire.
What local amenities are there?
The house is in the Artists’ Quarter and is a three-minute walk from Rechov Yerushalayim, the main shopping street. Here guests can find bakeries, a pharmacy, banks, restaurants and places that sell prepared food for Shabbat. There are some shuls a few minutes away, while the shuls and galleries of the Old City are a 10-minute walk from the house.
What was the best feedback you ever got?
We have been very fortunate, as everyone falls in love with the house as soon as they walk in. One visitor recently described it as ‘jaw-dropping!’ (When you walk in the front door and stare up at the stone domes, you will understand why!) Many people also describe it as ‘magical.’ All of our TripAdvisor reviews are five star, so we know that people are very happy.
How long do your guests usually visit for?
People who live in Israel like to visit for Shabbat. A Shabbat in Tzfat is very spiritually uplifting and powerful, especially in the ancient synagogues of the Old City and in the Kikar Meginim, when the yeshivas say Kabbalat Shabbat together outside. Overseas tourists usually come for three to seven days so they can enjoy Shabbat as well as have time for touring.
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