Everything you Need to Know about Ein Karem – The Prettiest Village in Jerusalem

Ein Karem in Hebrew translates to Spring (Ein) of the Vineyard (Karem) and I have never come across a more be fittingly named place than this. The picture perfect village sits in a valley southwest of Jerusalem surrounded by rolling hills and spectacular views. Getting here from the city centre takes just 20-30 minutes by car.

What Makes it so Special?

Church of St. John the Baptist


So, it’s believed that John the Baptist was born in this village. A Franciscan church has sat at the holy Christian site of the Church of John the Baptist since 1674. Inside there are mosaic floors and a cave believed to be the exact place of birth of the saint. The church sits atop a small hill surrounded by pine trees.

Mary’s Spring


Ein Karem does indeed have a very important spring that gives the village its name. It is believed that Mary (mother of Jesus) stopped here to quench her thirst before she climbed up the hill to visit her cousin Elisabeth (mother of John the Baptist).

Why is it so Pretty?

IMG_3389Walk around the narrow winding slopes and it’s all dainty limestone houses, magical gardens and brightly painted doors. Houses have a typically Middle Eastern aesthetic and are low buildings with flat roofs which, in the past, were used as another room for sleeping, drying fruit and clothes.

IMG_5425Pretty decorated gates lead to small entrances through whimsical gardens. The houses are a few hundred years old and were first built by Arabs. During the War of Independence in 1948 most of the Arab community abandoned their homes and the village.

IMG_9494New immigrants from Morocco, Iraq and Yemen were settled in the abandoned village because others thought it to be too old-fashioned. They craved for a more modern way of life in the city. The immigrants however, started to build what is today an enchanting little community.

IMG_9558As well as its old-world charm Ein Karem also boasts art studios, cafes, shops and a boutique hotel and is home to a community of artists. The village attracts millions of visitors every year from all over the world including Israel itself.

Is There Anything Else?

Sisters of Zion Abbey

IMG_2625Any walkabout around Ein Karem will bring you to the Sisters of Sion Abbey also known as Notre Dame de Sion. It was once an orphanage and is now a retreat which accommodates visitors in two houses set within its breathtaking garden. You can book yourself a very serene stay here if you wish.

IMG_3394The convent sits on a hill-top. So it offers spectacular views over slopes carpeted with wild flowers, wide open lush green spaces, native pomegranate groves and a luscious green valley.

IMG_3404Ein Kerem is a mystical, alluring place away from the noisy, modern metropolis that will simply take your breath away. No visit to Jerusalem can be complete without a visit here to this captivating place.



  • In collaboration with Jerusalem Development Authority. For more information on Ein Karem and Jerusalem visit: https://www.itraveljerusalem.com/
  • WIZZ Air flies to Tel Aviv from London Luton on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Fares start from £102.99pp one way. For further information visit www.wizzair.com.
  • Yehuda Hotel – Double rooms with breakfast start from £112pp.  For more information visit: http://www.byh.co.il/?lang=2

Iconic Musée du Louvre Arrives in Abu Dhabi

It was a historic day on 11th November as Paris’s iconic Musée du Louvre  opened its satellite in the Saadiyat Cultural District of Abu Dhabi. Louvre Abu Dhabi will stand as a symbol of accord and unity between Abu Dhabi and France.

2. Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy Mohamed Somji
Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi


Designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel the building was inspired by Arabic architecture and culture. A series of 55 pristine white buildings consisting of 23 permanent galleries pays homage to the traditional Arabic medina and low-lying Arab settlements.

The project is also based on a prominent symbol of Arab architecture: the dome. The “museum city” sits under a low silver dome almost 180 metres in diameter. The design is constructed of four outer and four inner layers of stainless steel separated by structures of five meters high. A geometric pattern is repeated at varying angles and sizes forcing each ray of light to infiltrate the layers before it enters the building. Thus creating a “rain of light” effect which has been a labour of love and serves as one of the defining features of the building.  The result is a tranquil space to relax, socialise and enjoy.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be in good company. It’s the first of several planned cultural and architectural institutions for Saadiyat Island. We can expect a Guggenheim from Frank Gehry, a performing arts centre from the late Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum from Tadao Ando and a museum of the history of the UAE and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (the driving force in the formation of the UAE) from Norman Foster; all are on course for the region.

4. Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy Mohamed Somji
Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi

What’s in the Collection

Louvre Abu Dhabi emphasises the shared human experience which transcends geography, national identity and history. In contrast to other museums the collections are presented chronologically. Objects from early civilizations as well as world religions are presented together thus illustrating the diverse and yet extraordinary affinity between people and places. 

In the opening year, approximately 300 artworks on long-term loans from 13 key French institutions will be displayed alongside the museum’s permanent collection. They include Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, Claude Monet’s Saint-Lazare station and Edouard Manet’s The Fife Player and Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Magnolia (1941). 

Other notable artworks include one of the finest examples of a standing Bactrian Princess from the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece Children Wrestling, René Magritte’s The Subjugated Reader, a 1928 collage by Picasso titled Portrait of a Lady and the earliest known photographic image of a veiled woman. The museum’s own holdings which exceed 600 pieces includes a Piet Mondrian (Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, 1922) acquired as far back as 2008 – 2009.

With such an exemplary collection, temporary exhibition space, a children’s museum, 200-seater-auditorium, restaurant and café Louvre Abu Dhabi promises to take visitors on an unparalleled historical narrative through art. What an exciting time for Abu Dhabi and what an incredible time for art lovers in the East! Does one need any further encouragement than this to visit Abu Dhabi?

Arts and Culture in Qatar

The Fire Station Gallery, Doha.

A flourishing art scene may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the Gulf state of Qatar. That however, is exactly what is happening in the Qatari capital of Doha. Artists, musicians and writers have come together in a converted fire station, in Wadi Al Sail, to work and collaborate.

In one gigantic acknowledgement of the role creativity and heritage plays in Qatar’s development, The Fire Station Gallery provides a contemporary space for resident artists to showcase their work.

My first stop on this cultural exploration of Doha was a visit to The Fire Station Gallery. At the time of my visit, it was host to the first exhibition of it’s kind in the Middle East; Over 120 works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti following the larger exhibition at the Musée National Picasso in Paris. It is an exceptional show in an avant-garde setting. Furthermore, it’s curated by Fondation Giacometti director Catherine Grenier and the pieces are on loan to Qatar from the Musée National Picasso, Fondation Giacometti and several international collections. Most importantly, the exhibition is free, making it accessible to everyone and runs until 21st May 2017.
(You can see my pictures of the exhibition at The Fire Station Gallery here:
Fire Station Gallery, Doha.
Brunch al fresco at Cafe 999, The Fire Station Gallery.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.

My second stop was the pièce de résistance of Doha – The Museum of Islamic Art. The building designed by Chinese American architect I. M. Pei is an astonishing ode to Muslim architecture and history. Arches, water features and geometric patterns central to Islamic design compliment punctured, sculptural light fixtures inside and outside. The building stands alone on an artificial peninsula and is surrounded by it’s own park.

Spectacular entrance to MIA
Museum of Islamic Art.
Museum of Islamic Art.
Museum of Islamic Art.

Inside, the museum is home to a collection of artefacts curated since the late 1980’s which includes manuscripts, textiles, metal work, ceramics, jewellery, wood work and glass. Art from Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and Central Asia dating from 7th – 19th century are displayed here making it one of the most complete collections of Islamic art in the world.

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Dagger and scabbard – India (1800)
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Qur’an and case – Iran (18th – 19th century).
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Jewelled falcon – India (circa 1640)
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Armour for horse and rider – Turkey (Late 15th century – early 16th century)

It was my first time in a museum of Islamic art and I found the artefacts breathtakingly beautiful. It is however, difficult to explain the vastness of this collection when it spans over 1400 years and collates objects from Persian, Mongolian and Ottoman empires. The MIA requires half a day at the very least if you are to do it justice and it will be time well spent as it is unlikely that you will see another collection of this size any where else.

At the end of the visit I couldn’t help feeling that Qatar’s arts and cultural development feels a great deal more homegrown and evidently more authentic. As I delved into this further, I found that this is owing to it’s museums being passionately spearheaded by it’s own ruling family. *Forbes magazine describes the head of the Qatar Museums Authority, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as “arguably the most powerful woman in the art world today”. As the person responsible for securing the purchase of the world’s most expensive painting (Paul Gauguin‘s When Will You Marry?) in 2015, the accolade is justly deserved. With such credentials Qatar’s cultural development should come as no surprise. It’s creating truly unforgettable experiences. Go see for yourself. I highly recommend them.

  • In collaboration with – Qatar Tourism Authority, Qatar Airways, The Sheraton Grand Doha, Qatar International Food Festival and Falcon Tours. 






*https://www.forbes.com/profile/sheikha-mayassa-al-thani/ (and Wikepedia)