Fancy a holiday on a Jerusalem roof, waking up to a bird’s eye view of the city? Recently opened Gag Eden offers just that for the eight guests it can accommodate at a time. Jerusalem’s first municipal camping site in the city center, Gag Eden (a play on “Gan Eden,” or paradise; gag in Hebrew means roof) is located on top of the Clal Center, between Mahane Yehuda market and Ben Yehuda street.
This new tourist space and many others in Israel are part of a recent explosion in “glamping,” a portmanteau of the words “glamour” and “camping,” which, naturally, entails camping in relative luxury.
Glamping accommodations come in a wide ranges of styles and include tents, yurts, mud huts, cabins, pods, and luxury trailers, all of which allow for a return to nature without the sacrifice of comforts such as air-conditioning — and without guests needing to put up their own tents.
The Gag Eden campsite occupies two dunams (0.5 acres) on the terraced roof of a center operated by the Muslala community, a nonprofit organization established in 2009 by artists, residents, and community activists of the Muslala neighborhood in Jerusalem. The group aims to strengthen society and creativity, with projects focused on innovation and sustainability, including a plant nursery, beehives, a gallery and creative workshops.
Accommodation is in tents that can hold up to three people and come with mattresses, bedding, towels and blankets. Or, guests can stay in a capsule built of mud that is a little larger. The site also incorporates a kitchen, shower and shared bathroom. Stays cost NIS 300 to NIS 400 ($87 to $116) per tent per night. It’s designed to create a temporary community rather than just an overnight stop for tourists.
Project director Halel Moran told The Times of Israel that the unique space “allows campers to see the city from a different perspective, to experience nature in the city among a desert of empty rooftops.”
Far from trying to corner the market, Moran said he hopes that others will come and learn from the rooftop campground, which was created to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and that similar green rooftop spaces will spread across Jerusalem.
There is also a campsite in Jerusalem’s Peace Forest which has around 150 camping spots for more traditional do-it-yourself-style camping. Tents are available for rent or guests can bring their own. Stays cost roughly NIS 80 ($23) per person per night with tent and mattress rental, or NIS 55 ($16) without.
Itay Kadish Katz, who runs the Glamping Israel company, told The Times of Israel that he’s been in the tourist business since 2012 and is now seeing an increasing desire from tourist groups to get outside of the traditional hotel experience.
Katz’s glamping sites are mostly pop-ups, often in the north, the Arava or Dead Sea region, and configured to substitute for a luxury hotel. They frequently include not just nighttime accommodation, but a full tented kitchen and bar with a chef, a jacuzzi, and a lounge area for evening entertainment.
These stays can replace or be taken alongside luxury hotel stays, offering a different experience without any sacrifice of comfort or service.
Glow Camping pitches itself as similarly luxurious, offering spa treatments, yoga, Pilates, campfire musicians, cooking workshops, jeep tours, mountain biking, and off-road trips. The company prides itself on not leaving a trace behind after it dismantles its temporary campsites.
Reports suggest that the increased interest in glamping is a global phenomenon, with the market expected to be worth $5.94 billion by 2030. This growth is being driven by a revived interest in staycations during the COVID era, as well as increasing environmental concerns, bringing more people to turn to eco-tourism, which limits the impact of their vacations on the planet.
At the moment, booking.com offers 17 luxury campsites for rent in Israel, while Airbnb has 17 yurts and over 150 glamping options. They are mostly scattered through the north, the Negev, and particularly around Mitzpe Ramon and the Dead Sea.
Procuring land for a permanent glamping site is one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs. While a regular tent for a family can be purchased relatively inexpensively, tents used for glamping tend to be more sophisticated and start at around NIS 6,000 ($1,736) although they can cost considerably more. Not only do they have larger open spaces for bedrooms, but they also have a more complex structure to add height and improve ventilation. At the top end of the market, they may also require floor construction, an outside deck, and air-conditioning installation, and of course there’s a need for bathroom facilities. But they remain an affordable way for those who have some spare land to offer tourist accommodation.
Millennials and Gen-Zers are the groups most frequently seeking out this form of accommodation. Commenting on her stay at one of the Dead Sea glamping resorts, visitor Yessica says that “it was an excellent option for enjoying the Dead Sea in its most natural state, with a great view, in a place that had a super-relaxing feel,” while another guest comments that you can “relax at the bar with the most beautiful outlook to the mountains… the tents are nice and comfortable with everything you need.”
Ori Chalamish at Secret Israel sees a mix of Israelis and foreign tourists looking for new and different experiences. His clients are choosing glamping in place of renting more conventional holiday apartments, and range from extended families to singles and groups of friends. He sees glamping as a major growth area, and having worked both with pop-up campsites and permanent glamping locations, is currently focusing on a new development in the south of the country.
Urban rooftop glamping remains something of a rarity worldwide. Gag Eden joins a fairly exclusive club of sites in Melbourne, Manhattan, South Korea and Switzerland. But with some enterprising owners looking at offering long-term tent rentals on their roofs, it may only be a matter of time before we see more tourist accommodation available at roof level.