A secluded swim club is not the first thing that comes to mind when contemplating the Palestinian Territories, but Al-Snobar (or, snowbar, in English) is the coolest place in a hot zone. The word "snobar" means pine tree in Arabic and the beautifully landscaped, sprawling outdoor space located in the heart of Ramallah, is surrounded by them. Owner Ameen Marouf has a background in landscape design and his talents are showcased in this project, which separates visitors from the honking horns and dusty road nearby. In fact, from the street, the most luxuriant space in town looks like a chain link fence boarded up with wood.
On the other side of the entrance, visitors find themselves perched at the top of a long staircase overlooking lush greenery and a sparkling blue swimming pool flanked by lounge chairs and a pool bar. An expansive dining and drinking area with a large wooden bar staffed by friendly bartenders – sometimes hard to find in the Muslim Middle East – who pour icy Taybeh, a Palestinian brew.
Some locals say the open, laid back attitude of the place has changed the culture in Ramallah. It's not uncommon to see a woman walk through the gate with her head covered before swiftly changing into a bikini. Locals lounge on the low-slung couches piled with pillows and draped in red woven blankets set out all over the terraces. Marouf, who is always running around fixing things and chatting with his customers, says he set about creating an oasis.
"It's a beautiful place, people like it here, under the nice canopy with nice music and nice food, what more do we need than that?" he asks. It is a rhetorical question.
For 50 shekels (about $10) anyonce can spend the day at the pool, so Al-Snobar's clientele is a mix of local families and expats. The restaurant serves classic Middle Eastern and Western-style dishes with salads and heapings of hummus. As night falls, everyone drifts over to the huge fire pit in the dining area, where parties begin and fan cheer on their favorite soccer teams in front of a large projector screen. The matches are the only confrontation under these pines.
More information: Ramallah is a one-checkpoint trip from Jerusalem and locals will happily point you in the direction of Al-Snobar. The most important thing to remember: Your passport. Though getting into Ramallah isn't difficult for non-Middle Easterners, getting back into Israel can be.