A hotel in the Golan where Sykes and Picot slept mixes history, war and luxury

There is something of a story lurking in the meticulously restored buildings of Pereh, a boutique hotel located in two former French customs houses where British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and his French counterpart François Georges Picot negotiated and signed the 1916 agreements that divided the Ottoman Empire.

This history is the reason for Leo Glaser, owner of Pereh, to settle in 2012 in these dilapidated buildings, abandoned on Route 91, in the middle of a minefield strewn with eucalyptus.

“I said to myself: why go anywhere else?” recalls Leo Glaser, a defense and security consultant who was looking to invest in the Golan Heights. “I love this place, and there’s something about the style of these buildings that really appealed me.”

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Some fifteen years later – that’s the time it took to get zoning permits, clear mines, restore and build the 27 rooms in this austere but luxurious complex – Pereh is celebrating its first year of activity.

“During the corona crisis, we were like a real refuge, a place where you could escape, even with masks,” explains Neri Eldar, the daily manager of Pereh. “We had capacity all the time. Israelis love being able to jump in their car, drive for an hour and a half and arrive in a place where they can cut themselves off from the world. »

Pereh, a biblical term meaning “wild”, sprawls nicely over 3 hectares in the southern part of the Golan Heights, with restored suites and lofts in the adapted buildings, as well as its lobby in the former stables and a newly built building with infinity views the pool.

Basalt, the local black stone found throughout the Golan Heights, is used throughout the Pereh Hotel, here in the lobby reception area (Courtesy Aya Ben Ezri)

Designers Dannah Leitersdorf and Tamara Glaser-Shafran, daughter of property owner Leo Glaser, have kept to the original lines and materials of the area wherever possible.

Ceilings and walls have been stripped and often left bare, tables and benches have been made from local wood and local black basalt stone, forged during volcanic eruptions, is used throughout, with pieces cut into the sinks, soap dishes and matching towel hooks on the floor.

Boulders from nearby fields were split and used in the construction, and some of the garden furniture was made from the abandoned metal beds in the Syrian bunkers on the property.

“It’s all part of the story,” Ms. Glaser-Shafran, “and it’s so important to the story that unfolds here. The question of when to renovate, because a hotel still needs to remain comfortable, and when to leave it as it is, constantly arises. »

So far it’s quite pleasant.

The Pereh, where I slept and dined one night in June, offers all the amenities characteristic of luxury hotels in Israel. Rooms, especially in the new building, are comfortably spacious with balconies overlooking either the outdoor infinity pool or the Pereh Gardens, orchards and Golan Heights mountains.

One of two original French houses converted into boutique hotel rooms in Pereh, in the Golan Heights. (Courtesy Aya Ben Ezri)

Touches of the hotel’s raw chic are palpable in the hand-woven Bedouin rugs, off-white color palette plus soft piqué bathrobes, oversized and thick towels and wonderfully comfortable beds. .

The staff is also warm and friendly rather than pretentious, and that’s by design, said Neri Eldar, who ran Ritz Carlton hotels in the United States for 22 years.

“Extreme white-glove service doesn’t cut through here,” she says. “The Israelis are friendly and generous, that’s the kind of service we like here. »

The atmosphere at Pereh is relaxed. The outdoor pool, hot tub and outdoor bar are surrounded by deep, cushioned loungers, double loungers and lounge chairs close to the hotel’s spa, where guests can book individual or couples massages.

Meals are served in the very intimate restaurant Rouge and in the outdoor courtyard. Chef Roee Dori emphasizes local cuisine. Working closely with small farms and local producers, he emphasizes seasonal ingredients in his dishes, which can include charred pumpkin with a honey reduction and almond mousse, baby leeks roasted in tabun, sprinkled with crunchy olive crumbles and focaccias coated in butter seasoned with schug.

There are also local barramundi fillets, beef entrecote and orange layer chicken. Pereh is not kosher, but seafood is not served there, and meat and milk are not mixed in it.

The bar at Pereh restaurant in the Golan Heights, where many of the staff, including the chef, sommelier and general manager, have moved from the center of the country. (Courtesy Aya Ben Ezri)

Breakfast is plentiful but simpler than an average Israeli hotel, with eggs made to order, various fresh breads and many local cheeses, tasty spreads and fish.

The hotel also has a wine cellar for guests who wish to discover the wines of the Golan without leaving the premises.

Most people come here with the intention of hiking and sightseeing, and then they come here, sigh, and think, “Why go anywhere?” Eldar said.

Considering the high prices of Pereh, it is recommended to take advantage of every available moment. During the high summer season, a night in the building overlooking the swimming pool is offered from 2,600 shekels including breakfast. Stays in the restored Bauhaus Customs House Suites start at NIS 3,100 per night.

For those wishing to explore the surrounding area, the place emphasizes its history, with numerous monuments and historical sites within walking distance of the hotel.

There are more than a dozen former Syrian bunkers on the hotel grounds, including one right by the pool that has been turned into a museum.

Syrian equipment and bunk beds are stacked along the walls and on the dirt floor, while pictures of the original customs posts on the walls include explanations and a look back at the more than 1,000-year-old history. a century from the Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided the Ottoman Empire and placed the pre-state of Israel under British mandate.

The interior of a former Syrian bunker at the Pereh Hotel became a museum documenting the history of the site. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The top of this mountain is also the scene of a recent story. According to legend, it was Israeli spy Eli Cohen who advised Syrian officers to plant the eucalyptus trees around the compound to provide shade for their outposts. The clearing of trees is said to have made it easier for Israeli soldiers to spot Syrian outposts during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel captured the Golan Heights.

Cohen was arrested in 1965 and hanged in Damascus. His story lives on in Pereh in different ways, said Mr. Glaser, who was introduced to Cohen’s story during his time in South America with a Zionist youth group.

Glaser has turned one of the eucalyptus trees into a Cohen memorial, where Cohen’s widow, Nadia, and Cohen’s brother, Avraham Cohen, regularly come to speak to groups.

Initially, the hotel faced opposition from families whose sons, brothers and fathers were killed in Israeli fighting in the Golan Heights, Glaser and Eldar say. In addition, access to former battlefields was impossible due to anti-personnel mines, which have now been cleared.

“Today, this site is part of the legacy,” Glaser said.

The buildings and surrounding rugged landscape of Pereh, one of Israel’s newest boutique hotels opening in June 2021, in the southern Golan Heights (Courtesy Aya Ben Ezri)

The hotel in the controversial Golan Heights can be a hot topic for some people because of politics, Eldar said, and war-torn history. She adds that the hotel has created an easier way to access historical sites.

“There are monuments on this property,” she said. Memorials to the soldiers of Golani, the tree to Eli Cohen and other memorials, but it would have done no good to leave these places in ruins and desolate. We can create something happier next to monuments, while recognizing that it is complicated. »

Just outside the hotel’s black metal electronic gates is a public car park used by those visiting the monuments, bunkers and eucalyptus outposts.

Pereh has other plans for some of the other bunkers, including turning some of them into more remote suites or staging areas. glamping. The Eldar also dream of having a Pereh outpost in the nearby British Customs House, which still stands empty and dilapidated.

Glaser, who insists he is not a hotelier, explains bluntly how the Pereh project has changed his life.

One of the rooms at Hotel Pereh in the Golan Heights, in the restored French customs building. (Courtesy Aya Ben Ezri)

The former defense and security consultant, who immigrated to Israel in 1967 and spent most of his career handling security for international events such as the Olympics, is still amazed by the time it took him to build Pereh.

“I just got back from Dubai,” he says. “You can build 60 floors there in four years. »

It took Glaser nine years to get permission to start building Pereh.

“It is the State of Israel,” he said. “Each time there was a new obstacle that blocked everything”.

He took on any challenge, said his daughter, Glaser-Shafran. When she wanted original parquet floors for some rooms, he found her parquet floors salvaged from a 19th-century Brazilian army barracks that was demolished while he was in Rio de Janeiro for security at the 2016 Olympics.

With the hotel under construction, Glaser needed additional funding and worked with his son-in-law, Ron Shafran, to bring in a management team that today includes five other people, including the owners of the Allegra Hotel. from Jerusalem to Ein Kerem.

“He saved 3 hectares full of mines, snakes, rocks, rough vegetation and eucalyptus trees,” Eldar said. “He cleaned the rocks and removed the mines from the ground. And today we have Pereh. »

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