In a world that grades everything hotels and restaurants plus tour destinations as per Trip Advisor we have jumped on the bandwagon by charting our top 20 destinations. Pushed to justify why we have made our selections below we must identify Israel as being the No 1 destination for all Jewish travellers.
This is a personal choice bearing in mind many factors, cost and choices of getting to the destination i.e. basic cost of hotel, availability plus quality of kosher food, Jewish interest and wow factor of the sites on offer in each place. The equation of choices have made me exclude some Spanish cities that are always a delight, do visit them, even without the availability of kosher food so my advice is go to Seville Cordoba Granada Toledo & Ronda and then spend Shabbat in Gibraltar. Berlin has also been excluded so much to see but they have just closed their quality kosher restaurant [even the Jewish old age home does not keep kosher] my recent group had to eat their meals in the Yeshiva, a shame for the fastest growing Jewish city in Europe.
We can of course arrange small private or larger groups to any of these destinations :-
So my list is :-
Clear leader as the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz has been developed from a post war ghost town of decrepid buildings [full of dossers and winos] mainly uninhabited since I first visited after communism collapsed to the trendiest part of town now with restaurants bars and boutique hotels. Added to this are 7 rebuilt shuls and 3 museums plus the obligatory day trip to Auschwitz - Birkenau with nearby Oswiecien once a typical stehtl town 35% Jewish and now boasting a really good museum to its lost stehtl world and rebuilt shul. Indeed the museum is now adding in a former Jewish home a kosher café which will be called Uhspitzien and are seeking international donations to help open it. Shindlers Factory museum re-opened in 2010 to international acclaim and was awarded best new museum in Europe that year and is 2 hour visit in itself. The Chemist under the Eagle Pharmacy whose owner during the ghetto war period received a righteous amongst the nation award from Israel for helping Jews is now another re-opened new museum. The 3rd museum the Galicia contemporary museum deals with a lost world and concentrates on the echoes that remain by photographs and exhibitions and is also worth visiting. Kosher eaters should stay at the Eden hotel in Ul Ciemna whose manager Alina can organise kosher food either at the hotel or very close by as well as organising drivers take you to Auschwitz or the hugely interesting salt mines 30 minutes away. Indeed the mass of Jewish style cafes shops and restaurants playing Jewish music in the cobblestone streets of Kazimierz oozes yiddishkeit unlike anywhere else outside Jerusalem alas without a Jewish population enabling one local calling area JEWrassic PARK, enjoy it is trendy to be a Jew in Poland today and the locals are desperate to meet actual Jews from abroad. I have argued with many who dislike the Jewish theme park kitsch theme to Kazimierz today, I ask people to go with it, moreover actually embrace the positive Jewish character of this lost Jewish world bearing in mind that most people visiting come from Eastern Europe, have never met a Jew and are visiting because of a double Jewish experience of Auschwitz-Birkenau [most visited place in Poland today with 1.6 million visitors during 2013]. They will leave this double experience with a sad feeling of a great loss.
starting in MARRAKESH concluding in FEZ. This trip cannot be bettered for quality of hotels plus kosher food and hospitality with Jewish sites together with the fact of travelling in winter enjoying sunny warm weather, trips coinciding with Purim, celebrated in Casablanca with 400 people at sit down exceptional 5 course meal extravaganza. We visit the only Jewish museum in the muslim world together with the imperial cities of Rabat & Meknes before concluding in Fez who have opened 3 new Synagogues in the Mellah [Jewish quarter] and this city have flights back to Stansted on RyanAir every Sunday and Thursday. Fez has the biggest Medina in the Arab world built the worlds first university and has the most interesting Jewish cemetery combined with a Jewish museum and home of the Rambam [Maimonides] after he left Spain. Bourbuors converted to Judaism and in many mountain villages built Synagogues. The Ksar Anika Riad in Marrakesh is a dream place to stay in the heart of the Mellah overlooking the Marrakesh Jewish cemetery its manager Majdouline can organise kosher caterers supplying the most wonderful food the chulent shabbos is a joy. She can also arrange day trips to the Ourika valley and Essoiuria on the coast which once was 40% Jewish.
This was selected as third on the basis of ease plus comfort of getting there by train on EuroStar [a massive plus in days of tedious air travel] and the massive choice of kosher restaurants four times as many as in London. Booked well in advance £35 each way can be purchased and in the days of arriving at airports 2 hours early delays and herded through security the sheer joy comfort of a train Journey to the centre of Paris is sheer joy. A few metro stops away you are in the centre of Marais the Jewish quarter stay in les Jardins de la Marais hotel and eat in the abundance of kosher restaurants in the area. Personally I prefer the cous cous Moroccan or Tunisian restaurants which are everywhere in Paris plus for steak try Belvedere or Raphael. Be sure to visit the Jewish museum and memorial and the newly opened Drancy Camp used to send Jews to the death camps during the war. The guide recommended is Chantal Biton.
This city is a little delight, compact with the Albert Hotel 3* great value opposite the chabad restaurant and Jewish museum together with the world’s biggest accumulation of art nouveau buildings and a outstanding walk through park to the old cities historic heart and beautiful synagogue. Great short week-end destination and your overall basic costs for flights hotel food will be less than half of a Rome or Vienna week-end and thus this destination is positioned higher in these hard financial times.
5. NEW YORK
Outside Israel the worlds biggest Jewish city since the destruction of Jewish Warsaw during the war. There is a presumption that if you are white in the big apple that you must be Jewish and the choice of Jewish sites is endless as are the eateries. I have used The Big Onion Tours and Seth its owner is the son of a former Romanian Rabbi and his tours are exceptional. Do use him for the Ellis Island Tour, you meet him in Battery Park and his explanation of steerage 3rd class travel with the influx of immigration to the US makes for a shared feeling of that desperate arrival to those golden shores the new immigrants craved so much during the last century. New York has so much to offer and of course it is the gateway to the rest of the U S A.
This has to be the oldest Synagogue in the Jewish world still in continued use. Legend has it that a boat landed after the destruction of the first temple and a stone from the original temple is still within its foundations in the centre of this island and contains a sefer torah reportedly over 1,000 years old. The religious community of 1,500 people is still constant despite the recent revolution and Jews have returned from Paris and indicated it is safer to wear a kippa there than in Paris today, Lag B Omer holds the annual Heloulah pilgrimage of the Tsaddick with thousands of visitors from abroad but with the accessibility of kosher food luxury hotels at low cost this is an ideal winter sun destination with lovely beaches on offer plus excellent hotel facilities. The one drawback is that there are no direct flights from the UK so we are planning going on EuroStar to Paris for a night staying in the Marais Jewish district then flying direct to Djerba from Orly airport the following day and then returning home via Tunis airport to catch a connecting flight.
For Litvaks and lovers of Jewish history the home of Yeshivas and Jewish learning this city combined with visits to stehtl with a remaining wooden Synagogue on the way to Kovna and the 9th Fort makes for an outstanding week-end. The Conti Hotel is close to the Choral Synagogue with the Vilna Gaon museum now called the Museum of Tolerance was exceptionally busy last time I was there with schools visiting in their copy of the Polish programme of all final year classes becoming a Jew for a day visiting Synagogue cemetery and this museum, Boys must wear yamulkas and all the children must write an essay on their experience, helps in some way to make the younger generation in these countries more understanding thus not grow up without their parents prejudices.
Some of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen the Parliament, main Synagogue and several diverse areas in a wholly large city. There are an abundance of Hotels near the Jewish quarter and hold an annual Jewish Music festival at the end of August. It is currently Central Europe’s most populated Jewish city with a good choice of kosher restaurants and our guide of choice is Agi Salgo
Picturesque, its Synagogues a delight to visit with its wonderful Jewish past, only the fact that it is always heaving with tourists makes me put it further down the pecking order together with the fact it is a far more expensive destination that its other East European rivals. The Intercontinental 5* is well placed for the Altenue Synagogue and the 3 kosher restaurants, King Solomon, Dinitz and Chabad restaurant, but less expensive and near the Spanish Synagogue are the modern Josef Hotel or the quirky Marcello Hotel.
This mad crazy city 14 million inhabitants has everything with the best of both worlds Asia and Europe divided by busy bridges and waterways with most of the sites on the Europe side with its Jewish museum and many interesting Synagogues. A kosher restaurant called Levi’s open lunch time can be found opposite the famous Golden Horn Bridge next to the exotic Spice Market and I would recommend The House Hotel in trendy Ortakoy under the main bridge that traverses into Asia which is opposite Atz Hayim Synagogue that holds regular minyans and a wonderful place to stay for shabbath. In the business area of Sisli next to the Synagogue you can find La Casa de Barinyurt restaurant. If you are a shopper then the Grand Bazaar will be your dream together with 2 days set aside for both the classical tours and the Jewish tours.
This deserves to be higher in my listing, almost my favourite, however as deep pockets are required with no decent hotels near the Portico Jewish quarter so our recommendation is The Forum Hotel 4* the walk 12 minute walk from Hotel to the main Synagogue and ghetto area now vibrant with many kosher restaurants and shops outside Jerusalem is one of the great walks. You need circumvent the forum and through museum courtyards almost the worlds best outdoor museum under the open sky. Indeed the walk from the ghetto through to Piazza Navanno all the way to Spanish steps is pure Italian delight.
Contains central Europe’s largest frum community across the Danube in Area 2 where you will find many kosher restaurants and shops and is akin to walking round Golders Green. Grand buildings and the walk from the Spanish Riding School to the museum district contains in my view the grandest buildings anywhere in Europe. Stay at the Mercure 4* hotel close to the main Synagogue which is new modern and yards away from the kosher restaurant and café. Also travel in summer and you can walk to a fast Catamaran parked on the river and take it and in great Germanic precision 1.04 minutes you will be arriving in the centre of Bratislava and met by Maros Baros a marvellous Jewish guide in the Slovakian capital responsible for renovating Jewish historical relics. This is a great week-end combination of 2 capital cities.
13. PORTO & BELMONTE
Portugal like Spain is rediscovering its Jewish past and opening up Sephardic routes. Travel to Porto a rustic scenic city on the magnificent Douro river, spend time on Juderia Hill in the old town and visit Taylors Port on the river for a kosher Port tasting before travelling 2 hours south east towards Spain where conversos marinos have lives since inquisition times with customs kept over 500 years. A Rabbi is now installed in this town teaching Hebrew and providing kosher food this small enchanting town has a Jewish museum and a Synagogue and above the town is a stunning Pousada 5* hotel with pool. This trip will confirm a view often held that Jews are a miracle of survival despite all that history has thrown at us.
14. BACAU Romania to KISHINEV Moldova
A trip to two countries landing in Bacau by Blue Air from Luton in the North East of the Country then visit Iasi a famous Jewish town in the centre of an area known as Bessarabia and travel to Kishinev in Moldova where kosher food is also available. This is also a huge wine region and to stay in a wine hotel is areal treat. With more time before returning you can visit the interesting area of Transylvania before returning from the capital Bucharest.
15. FERRARA Italy
I have included this finally having just returned from a press tour of town in the Emiglia Romagna region of Italy near Bologna which is famous for its castle and ramparts and atmospheric medieval quarter. They are opening Italy’s main Jewish museum next year and hold an annual Jewish Book fair with Jewish music walking tours which Jewish Renaissance will be adding to 2015 tours programme.
16. LORCA Spain
Lorca was the epicentre of the terrible 2011 earthquake same year as they were building a new Parador hotel within the castle ramparts above city [just off main Road between Murcia and Almeria in Andalucia]. A major discovery of a 15th century Synagogue has been unearthed with its Jewish quarter probably the only Synagogue in Spain which was not subsequently adulterated with Christian worship. This interesting Granada province was the last for Moors and Jews to be expelled and worth a few days to visit jewel in the crown of Moorish Spain Granada and the city of Murcia.
Although once the world’s biggest Jewish city, very little remained but with the opening of a marvellous History of the Jews in Poland exhibition opening in late 2013 makes this now a must combined with Lodz and Lublin with all 3 having airports accessible easily from the UK at low cost.
Delight specially in winter when it can be very cold and rainy but you avoid the crowds and have the oldest european ghetto to yourself
The Alsace Lorraine area together with Mainz & Worms & Baden across the French border with Germany makes for a great trip with Jewish historic relevance.
Engaging capital with a bigger version of our own Bevis Marks and Jewish museum and kosher restaurant next door
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