A luxury Golan Heights hotel is preserving history, layer by layer
Sometimes it's hard to imagine, amid such serenity, that this was the scene of brutal conflict and a geopolitical agreement that shaped the Middle East
Aya Ben Ezri
GOLAN HEIGHTS – It’s not very often in Israel that you wake up to the sight of more than a dozen gleaming Ferraris, but then again, there aren’t too many places far enough from the country’s bustling center to warrant a serious road trip for the Italian power rides – or exclusive enough to draw in the owners of such luxury.
That’s why, on a recent weekday morning, the Ferrari Owners Club of Israel roared onto the grounds of the Pereh Hotel – the year-and-a-half-old luxury resort that sits quietly tucked away on the majestic Golan Heights – and parked their colorful cars for a rich and pampering breakfast in the hotel’s sweet-tasting Rouge restaurant.
With sweeping views of the Galilee, the Pereh Mountain Resort sits on an expansive plot of Israel’s most northern plateau. Far from the country’s obvious tourist spots in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, Pereh, which literally means wild in Hebrew, captures the raw and thorny beauty of the Golan Heights, while at the same time offering a tranquility that puts visitors immediately at one with nature.
It also captures a unique slice of history for Israel in particular and the broader region in general, with the hotel’s owner and an array of local designers working hard to preserve the past, while at the same time carefully adding a new layer of comfort and opulence.
In fact, sometimes it is hard to imagine, among the serenity and luxury, that this was once the scene of brutal conflict, wars and a geopolitical, colonial agreement that ultimately shaped the current Middle East.
Pereh stands along the old Haifa-Damascus Road at the site of what is known as the Upper or French Customs House. It was here in 1916 that the British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, signed a secret treaty at the end of World War I carving up the former Ottoman Empire to create the borders of the countries we know today: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and what was British Mandated Palestine, now Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
At the heart of the sprawling property, inside a ragged building that remains largely untouched, is a rudimentary museum paying homage to this game-changing agreement and to the creation of the hotel that now sits here.
An antique map with the demarcation lines and the original colonial contract hang without commentary high on scorched and peeling walls alongside black-and-white portraits of Sykes and Picot, as well as an ominous photograph of the handshake that essentially sealed the fate of the entire Middle East.
Nearby is a color photograph of Leo Glaser, Pereh’s founder and owner. A defense and security consultant, Glaser apparently became enchanted with the Golan Heights as a teenager in his native Buenos Aires after hearing the news that the notorious Israeli spy Eli Cohen had been hanged in Damascus, Syria. Cohen – who succeeded in infiltrating to the highest levels of the Syrian military before his execution in 1965 – quickly became Glaser’s hero and the impetus for his subsequent aliyah, and later a long military and secret service career.
It was also what pushed Glaser to purchase this parcel of land in 2014. According to legend, Cohen had succeeded in convincing the Syrian army to plant eucalyptus trees at army bases across the Golan, which was then in Syrian hands; he said it would keep the soldiers shielded from the sun. However, it is believed that knowing the location of these trees is what assisted the Israel Defense Forces in identifying Syrian military targets, allowing it to capture the area during the 1967 Six-Day war.
Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move still not accepted by most of the world, although the U.S., under former President Donald Trump, recognized Israel’s sovereignty there in a contentious 2019 declaration.
A cluster of Cohen’s eucalyptus trees, as well as several abandoned Syrian army bunkers beneath them, now stand on the horizon not far from the young grapefruit, pomelo and lemon trees in Pereh’s newly planted garden. Below their swaying branches is a small plaque that stands as a tribute to Cohen, whose remains are still said to be buried somewhere in Damascus.
“It was Cohen’s story that prompted Glaser to make aliyah and eventually buy this land,” Pereh’s general manager, Neri Eldar, tells The Circuit as we tour the hotel and the grounds.
Eldar explained that Glaser’s rough plan to turn it into a hotel was slowed by the process of clearing and cleaning up the abandoned and crumbling structures, removing leftover landmines and navigating the snake-filled, booby-trapped bunkers. It took Glaser nine years to restore the Bauhaus buildings that still stand here, remove the war debris and reimagine the wild, often hostile Golan landscape into a luxury resort.
With the help of investors, he finally opened the doors to Pereh in June 2021.
“The vibe here is very much connected to the natural surroundings,” said Eldar, describing how the hotel aims to mix history, nature and tranquility, with luxury and exclusivity.
“It’s an homage to nature,” she said.
A short stay at Pereh is a uniquely pleasurable experience. From the moment of arrival at the grand metal gates to the well-shaded and welcoming courtyard, replete with a fire pit and seating area, the resort is refreshing and inspiring.
Two of the original French buildings have been finely restored to contain the more exclusive rooftop studios and garden suites. Two new constructions with an additional 22 rooms – a mix of garden and balcony accommodations – surround a tranquil infinity pool and open-air whirlpool.
Each room combines locally found, natural materials – think recycled wood, iron and stone – in its design. Discarded Syrian army beds have been reimagined into lounging chairs, the moody basalt rock found scattered across the Golan has been reused for flooring, walling and other detailed decoration. Also used to decorate the hotel’s walls inside and out are local and international artwork, many incorporating organic materials and themes.
Rooms at the hotel start at $650 per night for two persons, bed and breakfast; and from $890 on weekends and holidays.
In a low, stand-alone building that was once a horse stable sits the cozy reception area, which also features a well-stocked bar and, below, a wine cellar offering expertly presented tastings of boutique wines from Israeli vineyards.
Another of the newer buildings houses the spa, which offers an array of treatments by healers from the surrounding Druze villages, and the Rouge restaurant, which takes advantage of the local farms and their produce to provide a classy and delicious array of meals, including a modest but mouthwatering breakfast.
While it is the attention to such detail that has made Pereh now one of Israel’s most sought-after resorts – it was recently featured in the premier travel magazine Conde Nast, which touted the Galilee as one of the best destinations for 2023 – for many the resort’s intrigue is its wildly beautiful and remote location.
“In a country so condensed like Israel, there is a sense of space here,” said Eldar. “This is a place where you can really breathe.”
The writer was a guest of the Pereh Mountain Resort.