After years of thinking about moving into the hotel business, Uri rejoiced at his luck finding what he calls “two of the most beautiful buildings in Israel” next door to one another. Under his eye, frescoed cornices were painstakingly repainted, and marble floors were ground down and repolished to a high luster. Conservators were brought in from Italy to get the colors and designs as close as possible to the originals.
Efendi retains many well-preserved remnants of its long history. In the lobby is a deep well that dates back to Roman times. The wine cellar was built around the remains of a Byzantine vault: here, hundreds of bottles of Israeli wines line walls made with stones from the Byzantine, Crusader, and Ottoman periods. The small spa on the hotel’s ground floor is a preserved four-hundred-year-old Turkish hamam. A particularly intriguing feature is the restored nineteenth-century mural in the high-ceilinged reception room, depicting Istanbul, the Bosporus, and the Orient Express. (The painter had apparently never seen an actual railroad: the train resembles a string of covered wagons with smoke billowing overhead.) The hotel’s dozen rooms—many featuring extravagant balconies looking over Akko’s port and the Mediterranean—follow a pale chromatic scheme and are filled with sunlight and bright flowers, with gauzy white curtains that give these spaces the dreamlike air of an ancient fable.
Uri has a theory about the food he cooks at his restaurant: “One: you need good raw materials. And two: don’t ruin what you already have.” Obviously, the same rules apply at the Efendi Hotel.