Israel Travel Blog


Must-See UNESCO Sites on a Visit to Israel: A Treasure Trove Waiting to be Explored

Did you know that there’s nowhere else in the world offering such a dense concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites than the small country of Israel? Israel may be tiny (it’s about the size of the state of New Jersey) but it’s a treasure trove of astonishing and unique locations. Both in its cities and the countryside, natural and manmade wonders dot the landscape, from north to south, showcasing over 3,000 years of religious, historical, and cultural diversity.Cable car to Masada Fortress.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat are World Heritage Sites?The ‘World Heritage’ status assigned to these locations designated for places on earth that are considered to be of outstanding universal humanity. As a result, they have been placed on a Heritage list, with the aim of them being protected for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. And what makes the concept of ‘World Heritage’ truly exceptional is that it is applied universally.World Heritage sites belong to and can be visited by people from every corner of the globe, regardless of the territory they call home. From the moment a place is declared a World Heritage Site, the country and the organization that owns it are obligated to protect it and its surroundings from any development that does not adhere to the character and spirit of the site. Once a site is on this list, not only will it benefit from such prestige, but it’s likely that more of an awareness of and pride in the site will develop, from the people who live in its locality. And of course, there’s the knock-on effect of increased tourism....peoples’ curiosity is piqued and they’re ready to find out for themselves what all the fuss is about.Today, we’re looking at some of these extraordinary places in Israel, and not just those currently on the list but others on a tentative list i.e. places that Israel wants to nominate for future inclusion. Judge for yourself - and then start planning your trip!Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. The Bahai Gardens, HaifaThese beautifully styled and manicured gardens, sloping down in 19 separate terraces for almost one kilometer, and are one of Israel’s most famous and most-visited sites. The Bahai - a relatively modern religion - was founded by a Persian who named himself ‘ Bab’ and Haifa is considered to be one of his adherents' most holy sites. Divided into three parts, the bottom sits next to the German Colony, the middle houses the ‘Shrine of the Bab’ (with its distinctive gold top) and the upper sits next to the Louis Promenade. Against the backdrop ofMount Carmel, the array of fountains, ponds, masses of flowers, and sculptures are a sheer delight. A visit to the Bahai Gardens is a must when in Israel, a highlight of a private tour of Caesarea, Haifa, and Acre. Bahai Gardens, Haifa.Photo credit: © Shutterstock2. The Biblical Tels of Megiddo, Hazor, Beer ShevaOf around 200 tels (prehistoric settlement mounds) in Israel, these three are the most important, all containing substantial remains of cities with biblical connections and the first two afford astonishing views of the Jezreel Valley. At the end of the trail, descend into the underground water system, built around 8 BCE, and marvel at its engineering, which gave residents access to freshwater without having to leave the city walls. Why not visit them as part of a customized private tour of Megiddo and Nazareth?3. The Caves of Maresha and Beit GuvrinDating back over 2,000 years, and comprising over 250 underground chambers, Beit Guvrin once was a First Temple-era settlement and today you can still see the remains of a Roman amphitheater. Its quarried limestone rock caves were once used as cisterns, baths, places of worship, and even oil presses. Combining Maresha and the nearby Soreq Stalactite Cave on a private tour is a fine way to spend a few hours.Beit Guvrin National Park. Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. The Incense RouteThe ancient Incense Route once ran from Yemen, Oman, and Arabia through to Jordan and Palestine, with traders carrying spices and perfumes to barter and sell. The 100 km stretch passing through Israel includes desert cities in the Negev - Mamshit, Haluza, Shivta, Avdat...all four boast archaeological remains including a bathhouse, burial caves, and water systems.5. MasadaThe ancient Roman fortress of Masada, built by Herod the Great, and nestled in the Judean Desert, is a truly magnificent structure, which can be ascended either on foot or by cable car. Untouched for more than 13 centuries, it's hard not to stand open-mouthed, as you look out over the Dead Sea and take in the magnificence of the views and the fortification in which you stand. For the best experience, it's recommended to join one of the organizedMasada tours.Masada fortress, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock6. Necropolis of Bet ShearimThis impressive archaeological site, located in the foothills of the Lower Galilee contains an astonishing necropolis - a largely designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments. Carved out of soft limestone and boasts more than 30 burial caves, many of the caves were pillaged by robbers in the 8th century. Although only a part of it has been excavated, the necropolis has been compared to a stone-inscribed book - its sarcophagi, mausoleums, and catacombs have elaborate symbols and figures carved into them, as well as inscriptions in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Necropolis is easily visited as part of a customized private tour to Mount Tabor, Tsipori, and Beit Shearim.7.AcreThe Underground Crusader City of Acre was built during the 12th century and destroyed in 1291 when the Mamluks conquered it and built their own city on the ruins. After painstaking excavation and restoration, visitors can now visit this ancient site and see the massive Crusader halls, passages, the Templars' tunnel, and chambers.The Templars' Tunnel, Acre. Photo credit: © Shutterstock8.Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara CavesLocated on the western slopes of Mount Carmel, this site includes the caves of Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad, and Sikhul, representing about 500,000 years of human evolution. The Natufian burial sites and early stone architecture show the transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural lifestyle. Not surprisingly, the caves today are a key site for historians and archaeologists, because they yield so much information about the prehistory of the Levant.9. White City of Tel Aviv – the Modern MovementBased on urban planning by Patrick Geddes, the White City was constructed throughout the 1930s and reflects modern, organic planning concepts. The buildings were all designed by European architects who had learned their craft before immigrating. The result? A thriving urban center. The White City has been well preserved in all kinds of city design (profiles of streets, proportions of open and closed spaces, green areas). In many of the beautiful Bauhaus buildings, which can best be seen on a Tel Aviv Bauhaus tour, details of staircases, railings, front doors and curved balconies are much the same as they were 90 years ago. Museum of the History of Tel Aviv-Yafo (Beit Ha'ir), The White City of Tel Aviv.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinNow Let’s Take a Look at the 18 Sites on the Tentative ListTriple-Arch Gate at Dan & sources of the Jordan - this ancient structure dating back from the Canaanite period of the Bronze Age was built around 1750, out of the mud. Composed of three arches, it once stood 7 meters tall and today features two towers. The arches are the oldest ever found in Israel.Early synagogues in the Galilee - these include Meron, Gush Halav, Navorin, Bar-Am, and Beit Alpha and Korazim, and Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. These were the first buildings representing monotheistic space, where people worshipped without idols. You can visit Beit Alpha with a Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley Private Tour.The Galilee Journeys of Jesus & the Apostles - this route begins in thecity of Nazareth, winding through Tsipori, Kfar Kana, and Magdala, around the Sea of Galilee and ending at Tiberias. The route is like a thread connecting the pilgrim sites in Galilee most sacred to Christianity (easily covered withGalilee Tours), combined with cultural and natural sites, beautiful scenery, and local communities.The Sea of Galilee and its ancient sites - many of these are mentioned above and can be visited with group tours such as Nazareth and Sea of Galilee tour and Sea of Galilee Tour.The Church at Mount of Beatitudes, near the Sea of Galilee, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHorvat Minnim (Khirbat al-Minya) - an Umayyad-built palace in eastern Galilee, on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee.It is home to one of the earliest mosques in Palestine.Arbel - Mount Arbel in the Lower Galilee, on the way to Tiberias, features 4 villages - Arbel, Neve, Shueb, and Horns of Hittin - all with stunning views of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights.Degania - arguably the “mother of all kibbutzes” this Jewish settlement was established in 1910, making it the earliest socialist Zionist farming community in the land of Israel.Beit Shean - the ruins of this ancient city are now protected within the grounds of a National Park and date back to the Late Neolithic period. It is mentioned in the Bible in connection with the battle of the Israelites against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa: the bodies of King Saul and three of his sons were hung on the walls of Beit Shean.Caesarea – contains magnificent remains including a large Roman amphitheater and a historic port. With its impressive ruins and beautiful Mediterranean backdrop, this ancient Herodian city is easily visited on any number of Caesarea tours.Caesarea National Park from above.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMount Zion in Jerusalem - located just outside of the Old City, this Jerusalem hill has been called Mount Zion since the Middle Ages, even though Jewish scripture refers to the Temple Mount by the same name. Holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, it is home to a number of important sites and landmarks including King David’s Tomb, the Chamber of the Holocaust, the Room of the Last Supper, and the Protestant Cemetery. Visit Mount Zion with one of the Jerusalem tours.The White Mosque in Ramle - located in the heart of ancient Ramle, the White Mosque was first built in 8 CE, when the town first proposed. The ruins today date from the end of the 12th century, when it was renovated upon the orders of Saladin. The tower is 30 meters high and between it and the mosque ruins are three subterranean water reservoirs.Makhteshim Country - the Negev desert, in Israel’s south, is a colorful and rocky terrain and is dominated by a number of ridges and deep, breathtaking valleys. Makhtesh, in Hebrew, means crater and the valleys have common features: they are surrounded by steep limestone walls. The Ramon crater is the most impressive of them, at 38 km long and 450 meters deep.Dome of the Rock and Mount Zion at sunrise, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMount Karkom - located in the southern Negev desert at the northern edge of Nahal Paran, this is one of the world's best examples of rock engravings.Timna - situated in the Arava desert, close to Eilat on the Red Sea, Timna is rich in copper ore and historians believe that there have been mines in existence there since 5 or 6 BCE. Set in around 15,000 acres, with steep cliffs and red-pink mountains surrounding it, Timna is a spectacular natural attraction.The Crusader Fortresses - Montfort, Belvoir and Atlit, and Arsuf are four remarkable fortresses built between the 12th and 15th centuries and their attention to detail and size are astonishing. Each fortress represents a different Crusader Order - Teutonic, Hospitaliers, and Templars. As the decades passed, the balance of power shifted constantly between Crusading Fortresses and regional Muslim armies - today they offer a fascinating glimpse into this ancient world.Apollonia (Arsuf) Crusader Fortress.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Great Rift Valley - the Hula Valley is a small part of the Great Rift Valley and a bird lover’s paradise. The main migrating season is in the fall, when pelicans, herons, storks, and cranes arrive in huge flocks, along with birds of prey and other winged species.Liftah (Mye Naftoah) - this abandoned Palestinian village contains numerous original dwellings, a spring, agricultural terraces, and partly preserved landscapes. It includes unexcavated archaeological remains of earlier periods.Ein Kerem - this charming village on the edge of Jerusalem, with lush greenery, contains remains from the Iron Age. Christians believe that Ein Kerem is the birthplace of Saint John the Baptist. Other holy sites in Jerusalem are, as yet, unlisted since ownership is contested and therefore there is no settled status. However, the West Bank does have some inscribed World Heritage sites of its own including Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus) and the archaeological site Tel es-Sultan, both of which can be visited on a group tour of Bethlehem and Jerichoor with private tours.The Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Sarah Mann

Mountains in Israel

The geography of the Holy Land is incredibly diverse - you can actually dive with tropical fish in the Red Sea, cycle through the Arava and Negev deserts, swim and sunbathe by the Mediterranean Sea all in the space of a day, if you get up early. Something else that’s amazing about Israel is just how many mountains it has. Many tourists aren’t aware of this - they imagine sun, sea and sand, without knowing that within an hour or two’s drive of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv it’s possible to find amazing places to climb and hike.Masada Cable Car, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMountains in Israel are also imbued with religious significance, important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. From Mount Sinai, where God gave Jews the Ten Commandments, to the Mount of Temptation(where Jesus battled with Satan), great drama takes place. No less so either in the Quran - in Islamic history, the small hills of Al-Marwah and Al-Safa are the locations between which Muslims travel back and forth during their famous pilgrimage known as the ‘Hajj.’And for those less interested in history and more in sport, Israel’s a great place to visit if you’re athletic. Whether you want to hike,indulge in some rock climbing, take off on a mountain bike action in Israel, ski and snowboard on Mount Hermon, or rappel down the sides of the Mitzpe Ramon crater in the Negev desert, there’s a tour guide waiting to arrange your excursion in Israel.Below we’re looking at some of these mountain ranges, what makes them important to the pilgrims who visit there and why you should think about visiting a few of them on your trip to Israel.Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Photo credit: © Dan PorgesMountains and the Hebrew BibleMount Carmel -This coastal mountain range in Haifa is, at its highest point, 5454 m above sea level. The name dates back to biblical times and comes from the Hebrew word ‘kerem’ (‘vineyard’), referring to the mountain’s fertility. Its most important reference in the Old Testament is in Kings 1, where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal.Mount Gerizim - Located in the West Bank, just south of Nablus (Shechem) Mount Gerizim rises to 880 m and is the twin of Mount Ebel, which sits to its north. The mountain is mentioned in Deuteronomy 11, as the site where God was to give his blessing to the Jewish people - and this ceremony was subsequently performed in the time of Joshua. Gerizim is also mentioned in the writings of the Roman historian Flavius Josephus and in the rabbinical Talmud. Mount Gilboa - The Gilboa Ridge runs to around 80 km and rises to a height of 650 meters above sea level. Close to the Great Rift Valley, its slopes are steep and ideal for hiking when in Israel. It is also home to several springs, including Ein Harod and Ein HaShlosha and these are very popular both with tourists and locals.Overlooking the Jordan Valley to the North and the Jezreel Valley to the south, Mount Gilboa is where Saul (Israel’s first King) died (by falling on his own sword) in a battle against the Philistines. When David heard this news, he wept and cursed the mountain.Hai-Bar Carmel National Park. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityMount Hazor - Located in the West Bank, with Samaria to its north and Judea to its south, Mount Hazor reaches over 1,000 meters at its peak. In Hebrew, ‘Hazor’ means ‘courtyard’ and refers to the wall enclosures that people constructed here in ancient times. In Joshua’s day, it was regarded as the ‘head of all the kingdoms’, and accounts from the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that this is the place where Abraham built an altar and prepared to obey God’s word and sacrifice his son Isaac.Judaean Mountains - Also known as the Hebron hills, the Judean Mountain range stretches from the foothills of Judea to parts of the Jordan Rift Valley, including important cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah. Reaching a height of just over 1,000 meters, they formed the heart of the Kingdom of Judah, where the first Jewish settlements emerged.After the death of David’s son, King Solomon, the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, and Jerusalem remained the capital of the kingdom of Judah, which continued until 587/586 when the Babylonians conquered it. This majestic mountainscape is also where David hurled a stone at Goliath and Bar Kochba led a revolt against the Romans. Today, it is a wonderful place to hike, enjoy a wine tour/picnic and visit numerous archaeological sites.Judaean Desert Mountains. Photo by Amit Lahav on UnsplashMount Betarim -This mountain is sacred to two faiths - according to Jewish tradition, it is the spot at which God made his covenant with Abraham and according to Muslim tradition, it is where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice four species of birds, before bringing them back to life.Сity of David - More than 3,000 years ago, King David left Hebron for a small hilltop city known as Jerusalem; he would later establish it as the capital of the tribes of Israel. Years later, his son Solomon built the First Temple there and, as a result, this hilltop became one of the Holy Land’s most important sites.Mount Sinai (in Arabic, Jabal Musa) lies on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, rising 2,280 m high, and surrounded by even higher peaks. It is, of course, famous as the spot on which God gave the Israelites (via Moses) the Ten Commandments. Mount Nebo rises 710 m high and is situated in Jordan. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place at which God gave Moses a view of the Promised Land.Breathtaking Sunrise at the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt. Photo by Vlad Kiselov on UnsplashMountains and the Christian BibleMount of Beatitudes - Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, this is the place where Jesus was supposed to have given his famous Sermon on the Mount. The exact site is not known but pilgrims commemorate the event at the Church of the Beatitudes, built on the slope of the mount and close to the Tiberias-Rosh Pina road. Mount Precipice - Located just outside of Nazareth, and almost 400 m high, this mountain offers wonderful views of the surrounding area, as well as beautiful walking paths known by pilgrims as the ‘Gospel Trails’. According to the Gospel of Luke, an angry mob attempted to throw Jesus off this mountain, after his bold sermons in the area.Mount of Temptation -Rising to 360 m above sea level, and offering wonderful panoramic views of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, this is the spot - near Jericho - at which tradition holds Christ was tempted by the Devil. You can reach the summit only on a steep path, passing by a monastery that literally ‘clings’ to the face of the cliff.Mount of Transfiguration - According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the spot at which Jesus underwent his transfiguration - his face shone like the sun and his clothes turned white. Its actual location is unknown - it could be Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon.Mount Tabor - Located in Galilee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, although it is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament, Mount Tabor is assumed to be the location of Jesus’s transfiguration (see above).Mount of Beatitudes Church, Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockMountains of Jerusalem‎Mount of Olives - The Mount of Olives (in Hebrew’ Har HaZeitim’ and in Arabic ‘Jabal Al Tur’) sits east of and next to Jerusalem and is named after the olive terraces that cover the slopes. Referred to frequently both in the Old and New Testaments, it is a sacred spot for Christians, Jews, and also Muslims, and also home to a prominent cemetery.First mentioned in the Bible as the “ascent of the Mount of Olives”, it is also mentioned in the Book of Zechariah at the end of days prophecy. For Christians, it is the spot where Jesus spent time in the last week of his life, particularly at the Garden of Gethsemane (where he prayed before his arrest) and also as the spot from which he ascended to heaven. For Muslims, the Mount of Olives is where the Kaaba - the black stone from Mecca - will one day return. Temple Mount (Moriah) - Also known as Haram al-Sharif and Al Aqsa, this hill in Jerusalem is venerated both by Jews and Muslims. For Jews, it is the place where the divine presence manifests itself and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. For Muslims, it is the site of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, in 7 CE. Located just above the Western Wall, in recent years its sovereignty has become hotly contested.Mout of Olives with the Church of Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMount Zion - Situated just outside the Old City Walls, Mount Zion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (in conjunction with the City of David and also Temple Mount) but today its name refers to the Western Hill of ancient Jerusalem. The word ‘Zion’ certainly has emotional connotations for Jews...it is where God dwells, is King, and has installed his King. Mount Scopus - At 825 meters high and situated in north-east Jerusalem, Mount Scopus has historically been a strategic point (‘scopus’ in Latin means ‘lookout’) and used by the Romans and Crusaders, as well as the scene for modern-day battles. Between 1948-1967, Mount Scopus was protected by the UN as an Israeli enclave within Jordanian territory. Today it offers panoramic views of the city and is home to the world-famous Hebrew University.Mount Herzl - Named after Theodor Herzl (the founder of modern Zionism) and also known as Har haZikharon (the Mount of Remembrance) this hill is home to Israel’s national cemetery and also other education and memorial facilities. It is a site of great importance in Israel, being where the state ceremony for the conclusion of Memorial Day and the beginning of Independence Day takes place each year. To its west, sits the Yad Vashem Memorial to the six million murdered in the Holocaust.Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion. Photo credit: © Sofia EmeliyanovaFamous Mountains in Northern IsraelMount Hermon - Mount Hermon (or Jabul al-Sheikh, "Mountain of the Sheikh" in Arabic) is a cluster of hills in the Lebanon area, with peaks that sit between the border of Syria and Lebanon. The United Nations is in control of the buffer zone at the top, separating Israel and Syria and its southern slopes are home to a ski resort that is popular with Israelis, though Mount Hermon's weather is characteristic of fog.Mount Heman soars to 2814 above the sea and is the highest mountain in Israel, surrounded at its base by a number of small Druze villages. Historically, Mount Hermon has been known as a holy place, a snow-capped hill, and also a mountain of great military (strategic) importance. Its springs at the base of the mountain form into streams that eventually make up the Jordan River.Mount Bental - Located in the Golan Heights, Mount Bental rises 1,170 meters above sea level and provides amazing views of Mount Hermon and the Golan. The overlook is managed by Kibbutz Merom haGolan, the first of its kind established after the Six-Day War in 1967.In 1973, in the Yom Kippur war, this mountain was home to an enormous tank battle and as a result of the huge casualties (100 Israeli tanks were reduced to 7, under extreme enemy fire) was subsequently known as the ‘Valley of Tears.’Valley of Tears, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinMount Arbel - Situated near Tiberias, in the Lower Galilee, this mountain boasts beautiful hiking trails that lead to a fortress-like building, the remains of an ancient synagogue, and stunning views of the Golan Heights. The caves dug into Mount Arbel’s cliffs were historically used as a hiding place for Jews fighting their enemies - the historian Josephus writes of the last Hasmonean rebels who lived in the cliffs and were eventually defeated by the Romans. Mount Meron - Located close to Safed in the Upper Galilee, Mount Meron has great significance for Jews, being particularly famous for the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and a huge annual celebration of the festival of Lag B’Omer. It is mentioned in the bible as the spot at which Joshua defeated the Canaanite kings and some Jews also believe a cave nearby holds the remains of the famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai.The Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Sarah Mann

Top Hikes near Jerusalem

Jerusalem is built on a plateau in the Judean Hills; this ancient city is surrounded by rocky peaks; thick forests and lush valleys. It is incredible to think of all the pilgrims, armies and travelers – Jews, Christians and Muslims that made their way to the City of Gold on foot over thousands of years.Sataf Nature Trail.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWith some of the spectacular hikes around Jerusalem, it is possible to experience, in a small way, the awe ancient travelers must have felt when making their way through the rugged hills towards Jerusalem. Today the precious landscape around Jerusalem is preserved in national parks and nature reserves. Here is a selection of just some of the trails you can follow in the Jerusalem area, although there are many more.Ein Kerem to Derech HaGefen HikeThis unique and rather off-the-beaten-track hike takes you from Ein Kerem, a quant community near Jerusalem to the well-known Derech HaGefen Café. It is a short, easy hike where you can see the Jerusalem suburbs on the horizon most of the time. The bonus of this hiking trail is that you can explore the picturesque community of Ein Kerem where stone houses are draped with ivy and bougainvillea and the quaint lanes have courtyard cafes and arts and crafts stores. Leave Ein Kerem's main street, Rechov Ein Karem where an Israel Trail marker leads down to Madregot Gan Eden (Steps of Paradise). Pass the trail market indicating Derech Sorek and continue down Emek HaTeimanim Street leaving the Israel Trail. Continue on Emek HaTeimanim which becomes a lane and then a dirt path leading into the open countryside. Hike until you see a sign to Derech Hagefen. The last part of the hike is on a road (Derech Hagefen) and passes rural dwellings with charming gardens. End the hike with a meal or drink at the Derech Hagefen Café then retrace your steps back to Ein Kerem.Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.Photo byLaura SiegalonUnsplashNahal Refa'imHike Trail in Begin ParkMost hikers head to northern Israel when they are looking for winter hikes, but the best winter hike near Jerusalem is to Nahal Refaim which only flows in the winter. This hike is especially good after a few days of rain when the river is at its fullest. The hiking trail to the river banks and back again is about 2km altogether with quite a steep climb on the way back. The hike starts in Begin Park, less than a half-hour from Jerusalem. Follow the red trail markers through forests and over rocky areas. The trail crosses a road and continues on the Israel Trail taking you down a steep hill. Then cross another road and join the trail marked by green markers. At that point, the trail meets the wide, rapidly-flowing river flanked by eucalyptus trees, wildflowers, and other vegetation. If you want to extend the hike, then continue following the green markers or you could opt to retrace your steps.Givat HaTurmusim Hike through Wild FlowersHikers visiting the Holy Land often imagine they will only find desert hikes in Israel but on this stunning hike route just outside Jerusalem, you'll be awe-struck by the spectacular show of bright purple-blue "turmusim" or wild lupine flowers. You can see the flower-filled meadows in full bloom in February and March but the rest of the year you will still find yourself surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The brilliantly colored flowers stand out against a backdrop of dark green hills. Givat HaTurmusim (Lupine Hill) can be explored on a 6km circular route or you can simply scale the hill.Wild lupine flowers,Givat HaTurmusim, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockShvil HaMayanot Hike TrailOn this 3km hike trail, you'll need to double-back and return to the starting point along the same route. The hike starts about 15 minutes from Jerusalem city center close to Ein Hendek on the road between Ein Keram and Moshav Even Sapir and meanders through the western slopes of the Judean Hills. Shvil HaMayanot (Trail of Springs) takes you along a chain of five natural spring pools. You'll also encounter tunnels; woodlands; olive groves and ancient ruins. At some of the springs you can see how ancient inhabitants channeled the spring water into stone-constructed pools; some of which have been restored. The route ends near the Yad Kennedy memorial. It's possible to do this hike year-round but it is best from December to April. If you want to stretch out this hike to make it longer take a detour to Handak Spring which is a tunnel spring carved into the stone and dry in the summer. If you have a flashlight you can walk into the spring tunnel.Sataf Nature TrailSataf is a site where ancient agricultural techniques, specifically terraced farming have been recreated alongside two picturesque springs – Bikura Spring and Sataf Spring. The original agricultural terraces were built 4500 years ago. Sataf is about 14km from Jerusalem and the hiking trail can be accessed from the Sataf parking lot. The hike can be done year-round and has various amenities such as a café, toilets, and picnic trails. Within the Sataf grounds are two hike trail options – the 1.5km-long Blue Trail that takes a circular route and the 2km-long Green Trail which passes the two springs. There are other longer routes including the 8.5km Red Trail which is considered one of the best in the Jerusalem area.
Por Petal Mashraki

A Visit to the Jezreel Valley

Israel’s Jezreel Valley (also known as the Megiddo Valley) is located in the upper part of the country, bordered on its north by the Lower Galilee, to the south by Mount Gilboa, to the west by the Mount Carmel Range, and to the east by the Jordan Valley.It is a large, fertile plane, dotted with natural springs, and affords the visitor all kinds of wonderful views. As the agricultural heartland of the country, it is famous for its astonishing flatness, as well as its beauty. Although there are many valleys in Israel, it is particularly well-known and loved and usually referred to by Israelis simply as ‘ha Emek’ which, in Hebrew, means ‘ the Valley.’Jezreel Valley from the top of Mount Tabor.Photo credit: © Jenny EhrlichWith its fertile soil and endless farms, it is a beautiful spot for hiking, picnics, and general enthusiasts of the outdoors. Often overlooked by tourists on a tour to Israel, it is not just a wonderful place for nature lovers but also boasts sites of great religious and historical significance. Jezreel, in Hebrew, means ‘ God sows’, and because of its strategic location (as a stopover for armies en route to Egypt, Turkey, or the Arabian Peninsula) the valley is not just rich in soil but also in archaeological artifacts. History of the ValleyThe history of the Jezreel Valley dates back thousands of years (circa 7000 BCE) and is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the home of Gideon (a military leader of the Israelites as well as a prophet and Judge). The valley is also home to one of the area’s most famous battles - the Battle of Megiddo. This is mentioned in the Book of Revelations as the place at which the last battle before the Apocalypse will be fought, between the forces of good and evil. (Fun fact: the ancient fortress city of Megiddo has seen more battles than any other spot on the earth. Join the Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley Private Tour to check that).Megiddo National Park.Photo credit: © ShutterstockGeography of the AreaThe Jezreel Valley, as mentioned before, is extremely fertile and by far and away the agricultural heartland of the north of Israel. It is the veritable ‘ breadbasket’ of the country, with its wheat crops. Driving through the area, you are also bound to see cotton fields, fish ponds, grazing cattle, sunflowers, and age-old silver-green olive trees on terraced hillsides. Farmers here (often working in collectives) grow white beans, chickpeas, cheeses, watermelons, lemons, limes, and cherries. Today, most of the population can be found in Afula or large villages, and small-scale family orchards are mainly a thing of the past although some families hold true to their heritage and continue to market crops that their forefathers did. Whether exploring the Jezreel Valley independently or by taking a private tour, traveling the area will give you the opportunity to visit not just historical and religious sites but also local kibbutzim (on our private tours, we can arrange such visits with ease).Let’s now take a look at some of the most important sites in the region, which include mountains, national parks, and even a Crusader castle. All are based in this beautiful, and often under-explored part of the country. Intrigued? Read on ...Megiddo National Park.Photo credit: © Jenny Ehrlich1. MegiddoMegiddo refers to a "tel" or hill, and ancient Megiddo overlooked the Via Maris trade route where caravans traveled (the Bible refers to it as ‘the way of the sea’). Today it is home to a well-known archaeological park where visitors can see the remains of several gates that date back to King Solomon’s reign. On the west side of the mound is a water supply and storage system dating back to the 10th century BC, with almost 200 stairs that connect to a long tunnel and underground spring. This system could not be seen by invaders and it was, therefore, a safe space for residents to hide, and survive, when under siege. Also on display is the remains of a Canaanite Palace with 2 meter thick walls and an open courtyard.2. Mount TaborFound east of the Jezreel Valley, in the Lower Galilee, Mount Tabor stands at 570 meters and is easily recognized, due to its unique shape (half hump-backed, half breast-shaped). Mount Tabor is a very important Christian site within Galilee, as it is believed to be the spot at which the transfiguration (the becoming radiant with glory) of Jesus and where he spoke to Moses and Elijah the Prophet. Mount Tabor is a perfect hiking spot since it is green annually, and also offers fantastic panoramic views of the area. Visitors should not miss a visit to the Church of the Transfiguration (built upon the ruins of an ancient Byzantine church), designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi.Transfiguration Church, Mount Tabor. Photo credit:© Natalia Brizeli3. Mount GilboaSituated in the Lower (south) Galilee, Mount Gilboa is an ever-popular spot both for locals and tourists, particularly in the spring when masses of flowers resemble a carpet beneath the visitor’s feet. It sits 650 meters above sea level, with some rather steep ledges, but still a fine spot for hiking, picnics, and a paradise for those who love flora - in particular the lily, iris, crocus, narcissus, and anemone. A settlement in Roman times (archaeologists later found burial caves found in nearby villages) the area was historically home to vineyards but after the Arab conquest in 636 CE, Gilboa was abandoned until about 250 years ago.Sights in the area include Tel Jezreel, the Hidden Valley (an excellent hiking path for experienced walkers), and the Maale Gilboa observation point, affording spectacular views to the south.4. Gan HaShlosha National ParkGan HaShlosha National Park is arguably in one of the most lovely spots in Israel and boasts far more than just a park, Located at the bottom of Mount Gilboa in the Beit Shean Valley, everywhere you look is water, splashing over into a number of waterfalls and natural pools where you can swim.The pools are also surrounded by tall trees, providing wonderful shade on hot summer days. Moreover, Gan HaShlosha boasts an archaeological museum, divided into two parts – firstly, the Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology and secondly a rebuilt Tower & Stockade pioneer settlement. This tower was one of the first ‘yishuvs’ (pre-state settlements) and dates back to 1936. 5. Beit Shean National ParkOne of Israel’s oldest cities, Beit Shean (which in Hebrew means ‘the House of Tranquility) can be found 27 km south of the Sea of Galilee. Sandwiched between the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys, it is an extremely fertile area. It is also very hot, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees in the summer. Beit Shean houses the ruins of an ancient Roman city, destroyed in the 8th century by a huge earthquake that struck the area. In 748 CE. Excavated by archaeologists and painstakingly restored, it gives you an excellent sense of how Romans and Byzantine citizens once lived.Not only does it boast an amphitheater, roads and impressive stone columns, mosaics, and a bathhouse, but it is also a national park. Visitors, after exploring the ruins, can walk in green spaces and quickly find themselves next to springs and valley trails. At present, these are the largest excavations within Israel and visitors can easily spend several hours here. Look out for the model at the entrance, giving you an excellent overview, and consider attending a Sound and Light performance, after night falls. Truly a trip back in time.Beit Shean National Park. Photo credit: © Jenny Ehrlich6. Belvoir Castle (Kokhav HaYarden)Located 20 km south of the Sea of Galilee, this fantastic Crusader-era castle (with a history stretching back to the 12th century) is easily one of the area’s hidden gems. Designed to deter Muslim invaders, it sits high above the Jordan Valley, affording spectacular views of the surrounding area.Belvoir (or ‘Kokhav ha Yarden’ which means ‘Star of the Jordan’ in Hebrew) was originally owned by a French nobleman named Velos. After he sold the land to Crusaders, they built the fortress and several battles took place there before it fell to Saladin in 1189. Until the 1960s, it sat in ruins but extensive renovations mean it is now open to the public.Architecturally, the castle is concentric (a popular design originating in Europe at that time), meaning that it was built with two defensive walls, one inside the other. Made of materials such as black basalt and limestone, the main route into the fortress was from an outer age at the foot of a south-eastern tower, ascending a ramp and then doubling back and up again to reach the inner gate in the same corner tower. 7. Beit Alpha SynagogueThe Beit Alpha Synagogue is located in the Beit Shean Valley and dates back to the 6th century. It was discovered accidentally in 1928 by members of a local kibbutz, who were digging in the area as part of an irrigation project. Excavations showed that the building that once stood there was of two floors and constrained not just a courtyard, vestibule, and prayer hall but the bimah (raised platform in which the Torah scroll was kept) faced in the direction of Jerusalem.In the entryway are inscriptions both in Greek and Aramaic and three extraordinary floor mosaics, The first depicts the famous ‘Akedah’ (‘Binding”) scene from the Bible, between Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac; the second is a Zodiac wheel (depicting 12 different animal signs); the third depicts a synagogue scene, complete with a hanging lamp and a Torah shrine flanked by two lions, with Jewish ritual objects surrounding the animals. Beit Alpha is managed by the Israel Parks and Natura Authority.8. Ma'ayan Harod National ParkMa’ayan (meaning ‘Herod’s Spring’ in Hebrew) is a beautiful national park located at the foot of Mount Gilboa. It offers panoramic views of the Jezreel Valley, a large swimming pool (which is fed by water from the nearby spring), and a great deal of greenery, making it an ideal attraction for both older and younger visitors.The area dates back to the 12th century, where it is thought to have been the place that Sultan Saladin pitched his tent, en route to Jerusalem. In the 1920s the area was purchased from Palestinians by a Zionist Jew named Yehoshua Hankin, and settled by Jewish pioneers who eventually established two kibbutzes.Visitors can also explore the house and tomb of Hankin - the entrance to the tomb of Hankin (and his wife Olga) was designed by David Palombo, the architect who designed the gates of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Inside the house are historical artifacts relating to the Hankin era and next door is a war memorial honoring residents of the Jezreel Valley who died in many of Israel’s battles since 1948.Tsipori National Park.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDirectionsThe Jezreel Valley is not easily accessible by public transport, but the biggest city in the region is Afula, which can be reached by bus no. 825 from Tel Aviv (approx. 1 hour 30 minutes) or by train from Haifa (approx. 32 minutes). To see as much of the area as possible, in a short period of time, it is advisable to hire a car. Alternatively, if you are not keen on driving, and would appreciate the knowledge and insight a guide can give you then why not take a Galilee tour? We would recommend the Mount Tabor, Tsipori, Beit Shearim private tour, in which you can visit the famous Church of the Transfiguration, enjoy Tsipori’s ancient Roman amphitheater and also make a visit the burial caves of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. Since all of these private tours can be customized, it is entirely up to you to decide what to visit and how long to spend there.
Por Sarah Mann

UNESCO Site: Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheva

Tels are prehistoric settlement mounds predominantly found in the Middle East. Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba are three of 200 such tels in Israel, which contain significant remains of cities which have biblical connections. Excavation has found large multi-layered settlements which existed over the course of several millennia. The locations were probably chosen as settlement sites due to their strategic positions along important ancient trade routes and because of the available water supplies. The three tels are referred to as “biblical tels” as they appear in the Old Testament.Tel Hazor National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Yuval Gassar. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityIn 2005 UNESCO declared these mounds as having outstanding universal value according to 4 criteria:1. The tels show an interchange of ideas and values between the east and west through trading, this can be seen in the many styles of building including those of Egypt and Syria;2. The tels offer a rare insight into the living conditions and lifestyle of the Canaan cities of the Bronze Age and the biblical cities of the Iron Age; 3. The development of Levant (Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and eastern Turkey) urban development evident in the tels had a great impact on future historic developments in the region;4. Having been mentioned in the Bible the three tels have spiritual and religious universal value.The findings at these tels show us that there was a centralized authority that controlled the important trade routes through the region. Thankfully the remains at each site have retained their integrity and have been left untouched for centuries. Over the course of time, the tels have become conical-shaped mounds with a flat top. The tels show evidence of sophisticated, geographically responsive, engineering in the ancient underground water systems designed to bring water to the cities. Ruins at Tel Megiddo National Park. Photo credit: © Avi Bahari. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel HazorTel Hazor is located in northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee and boasts one of the best examples of ancient ramparts in the Middle East. The ramparts enclosed the city with 9 meter high walls and there were two monumental gates. Its late Bronze Age palaces and temples stand out as some of the best in the Levant and the most complex in Israel. Excavation began at Tel Hazor in 1928 and later in the 1950s the well-known archaeologist Yigal Yadin led further excavations; in 1990 work was once again resumed on the site. A six-chambered stone gate was found which can be attributed to the time of King Solomon. The complex water system involved a 30-meter descending tunnel and a cave with a vaulted corridor. As with the other two tels, Tel Hazor held an important position at a major ancient crossroad. Tel Hazor National Park. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel MegiddoTel Megiddo is just 50km southwest of Tel Hazor at the northern point of the Kishon River and has an unparalleled number of temples in its early Bronze Age temple compound, which shows that there was a continuity in the ritual activity on the Tel. This mound was the site of a powerful Canaan settlement that controlled the Via Maris, a route connecting Egypt with Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia.Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon in the New Testament. The site was first excavated in 1903-5, then again in 1925-39, and again in the 1960s – 70s. Archaeologists uncovered around 30 different cities built one on top of the other on at least 20 levels. Another major archaeological find was an 80-meter long aqueduct that brought water from a spring at the foot of the mound up a vertical shaft to supply the city with fresh water.Tel Megiddo Archaeological Park. Photo credit: © Avi Bahari. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel BeershebaTel Beersheba is in southern Israel near the Negev Desert and the archaeological findings show an elaborate, oval-shaped and walled, Iron Age town plan unparalleled in the Levant. The well-planned town has a central square and an underwater drainage system as well as a well 69 meters below the ground. Excavation of Tel Beersheba only began in the 1960s. They discovered the remains of a 9th-century Judahite settlement which continued into the 8th century until it was destroyed by a fire during the Assyrian campaign. Among the remains is the Governor’s Palace with three long halls and several ancillary rooms.Tel Beersheba, Israel.Photo credit: © Nadav Taube. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Por Petal Mashraki

Golan Heights

Archeological finds on the Golan Heights, which date as far back as the Chalcolithic Age, include Gamla, the Jewish city destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt between 67 and 70 CE, and Katzrin, the restored city of the Mishnah and Talmud period. Adjoining the historic Katzrin is the modern Katzrin, a city of over 30,000, well-known for the winery producing the prize-winning Gamla, Yarden, and Golan wines.The Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThere are two National Parks in the north each with hiking trails. Banias (Caesarea Philippi) is particularly interesting to Christian pilgrims while the excavations at Dan have uncovered the Canaanite and Israelite cities.Majdal Shams, Ein Kenya, Masada, and Bukata are the four Druze villages that came under Israeli control after the Six-Day War in 1967 and were formally annexed by a law passed in the Knesset in 1981. The law was condemned internationally and determined null and void by United Nations Security Council Resolution 497. Most of the Druze on the Golan Heights chose not to become Israeli citizens and maintain close relations with their brethren in Syria. Some of the apples from their numerous orchards are exported to Syria.In 1964 the Syrians began extensive work to prevent the water of the Snir, Hermon (Banias), and Dan rivers from reaching the Jordan River and ultimately the Kinneret.This was contra to international agreements concerning the use of water and threatened Israel’s water source which was at that time dependent on pumping water from the Kinneret.In retaliation for the Israeli attempt to thwart the Syrian efforts, Syria used the entire western ridge which overlooks Israel to fire on Israeli towns and villages in eastern Galilee and on the shores of the Kinneret. Children on the kibbutzim in range of the Syrian shelling lived in underground bomb shelters, coming out to play only close to the shelters.When the Six-Day War began in June 1967 Syria, as the ally of Egypt in the United Arab Republic, increased its bombardment of the Israeli towns and villages from the heights. Due to the strategic and topographic advantage of the Syrian positions and the ineffectiveness of the Israeli bombings Israel was reluctant to undertake a frontal attack on the Syrian bunkers. Some of these can still be seen at the Gadot Memorial Banias Nature Reserve.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Six-Day WarIt was only on the fifth day of the war that Israeli began her infantry advance, directly up the slopes under Syrian emplacements. Within sixty hours the entire plateau, the Golan Heights came under Israeli control. Hoping for a peace treaty with Syria, Israel made no move to annex the Golan Heights. In October 1973, in a surprise attack, the Syrians attempted to retake the Golan Heights and advance into Israel. When the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria was signed in May 1974 the Golan Heights were firmly back under Israeli control. Feeling no threat from Israel during both wars, the Druze population of the four villages remained and prospered.Israeli settlement on the Golan Heights began only after the Yom Kippur War when Syria rejected all proposals for direct negotiations with Israel. The town of Katzrin serves as the commercial and administrative center for the kibbutzim and moshavim on the heights.As mentioned above, it was only in 1981, after repeated refusals by Syria to enter into negotiations with Israel, that the Golan Heights, from which Israel had been attacked in 1948, 1964-67, and 1973, were legally annexed.Valley of Tears, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWhere is the Golan HeightsThe Golan Heights stretch one hundred kilometers from the Hermon Mountain in the north to the Yarmuk River, which is the border between Israel and Jordan, in the South. The western ridge looks down on the northern part of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, hence the ‘heights’.Although there are a number of mountains and extinct volcanoes on the eastern side it was the ceasefire agreements between Israel and Syria that defined the eastern border. Damascus, the capital of Syria is about fifty kilometers to the east; Kuneitra is immediate across the demilitarized zone. Most of the area is mainly a basaltic plateau. At its widest point, passing through Katzrin, the heights are twenty-four kilometers wide.WeatherThe weather in the summer months is peasant during the day and cool in the evening. Holiday-makers can enjoy a variety of activities including cherry-picking, hikes in the many streams, and waterfalls bird watching on the cliffs of the Gamla Nature Reserve.In the winter months, there can be snow on the northern part of the heights, especially on Mount Hermon where there are facilities for skiing. To cater to the many visitors, accommodation is available in hotels, guesthouses, and at private homes offering small but luxurious bed and breakfast suites.Snow in Hermon, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Por Petal Mashraki

Jerusalem’s New Urban Wildlife Reserve

In March of this year (2015) Jerusalem’s first urban wildlife park of its kind was opened. The establishment of the Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park comes after 15 years of intensive efforts and legal battles by local activists to prevent construction of buildings on this land.The land between the Katamon neighborhood, Gazelle ValleyGivat Mordechai area and the Holyland neighborhood (by Begin Highway) had once been an area where fruit trees grew and wild animals roamed. This patch of natural countryside in the heart of the city became known as Gazelle Valley because of the herd of gazelles which grazed there. Slowly urban development encroached more and more on this island of green until real estate giants put their sights on Gazelle Valley with plans of constructing a new neighborhood of high-rise blocks. Local activists voiced their objections and together with environmental organizations like the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel they fought for the establishment of a nature reserve.It took 22 million shekels to transform the area into the natural paradise that it is today and a further 70 million is earmarked for future plans for the park. The park was financed by the municipality in conjunction with donations by the Jerusalem Foundation. The urban wildlife park covers more than 60 acres (about the size of the Old City) and has been designed with care to maintain the natural, wild habitat. The park is an oasis within the concrete jungle and is easily accessible on foot from places like the Malka Mall and Bayit V’Gan.Gazelle ValleyUnlike conventional parks Gazelle Valley has large areas where the natural grass and bush have been left untouched creating a natural environment for the herd of gazelles which now call it home. The gazelles which now live in the park are the few that survived from the original much larger herd plus others which have been brought here to repopulate the area. Already two fawns have been born in the park. The park is divided into three areas – for the gazelles, the visitors and an open buffer zone between them. The park has bike paths, two streams, five ponds, picturesque bridges leading to a man-made island, bird watching areas, picnic spots, open lawns and many birds and small animals who have made this home like porcupines, moles and hedgehogs. Visitors can join guided nature tours of the park and borrow deck chairs and binoculars to watch the gazelles.
Por Petal Mashraki

Deserts in Israel

Israel receives a great deal of tourism, which is no surprise - it has beaches, nature reserves, archaeological sites, endless places of worship, the exciting city of Tel Aviv and the spiritual mecca of Jerusalem. You can ski in the Golan Heights, dive with tropical fish in the Red Sea, explore Herodian ruins and Crusader towns in Caesarea and Acre and trek for hours in pastoral settings. And that’s before you’ve even got started on the hundreds of museums, art galleries and music venues that are dotted all over the country.The stunning landscape of Judean Desert, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat people often don’t think of, however, when talking about things to do in Israel is spending time in the Israel desert region. So is Israel mostly desert? Indeed, many people don’t actually realise that almost two-thirds of Israel’s landmass is actually desert - beginning in Beer Sheva. This southern city, just an hour and a half’s drive from Tel Aviv is a gateway to three of the deserts of Israel - the Negev, Arava and Zin which stretch all the way down to Israel’s most southern point - Eilat. The fourth, the Judean Desert, can be found east of Jerusalem, extending down to the Dead Sea.The early Zionists, who arrived in Israel at the turn of the 20th century had a vision - to transform the country and, in particular, the empty desert lands. “It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigour of Israel shall be tested,” said David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. The deserts of Israel have indeed bloomed in the last half a century. Indeed, more and more Israeli families, today, are trading in city life for the Negev desert.Mamshit, the best restored ancient city in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityStarry Nights, Rustic Zimmers and Plenty of Fresh AirThe fact is that the desert part of Israel has low levels of pollution, so not only will you be able to breathe well, you’ll also be able to see more stars at night than you ever imagined. Israel’s south is a paradise for wildlife too - yaelim (ibexes), camels, birds of prey...not to mention springs and oases you can stumble upon, after walking for hours in barren areas. Even better, when the rains have come in winter, the north of the country, the Negev, Arava and Zin areas remain pretty dry (unless you’re witness to some flash flooding which, although potentially dangerous, can also be fascinating to watch).The Negev, Arava and Zin areas are best visited between October/November and March/April before temperatures rise to uncomfortable levels. Days are warm and you may well end up with a suntan, although when the sun leaves the sky and night falls the temperatures drop dramatically, so arrive prepared (with plenty of warm clothes). In the last 20 years, more Israelis have moved south and the result is noticeable - small farms that sell local goats cheese, an artists' quarter in Mitzpe Ramon, with an artisan bakery next door, vineyards set up by enterprising folks, and all kinds of accommodation - from modern campsites and rustic zimmers to luxury hotels and glamping sites in the Israeli desert with every amenity you can think of, and then some! Tourism is booming and the desert is blooming!Shivta, an ancient city in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityFrom canyons and craters to hiking trails and chocolate toursToday we’ll be looking at the first three, those covering much of the south of Israel. The fact is that if you’re prepared to get out of your comfort zone, you’ll be overwhelmed by what you see in this part of the country. Whether it’s exploring the astonishing Ein Avdat canyon, admiring the extraordinary views from atop the crater at Mitzpe Ramon and its surroundings, hiking in the desert,or trekking in Timna National Park, with its red-orange coloured rocks, you’ll have an experience many of your friends back home will envy. Finally, get ready for some adrenaline-rush activities too - whether it’s rappelling down the side of a cliff, taking a four-wheel-drive jeep tour, riding horseback, mountain biking, or running a desert marathon - an Israeli desert experience is a treat for the adventurer. And if you’ve got young kids, that’s no barrier either - they can enjoy petting alpacas and antelopes at different farms, taking ‘chocolate tours’ at the Yotvata kibbutz and sleeping in a Bedouin tent on a mattress. Let’s take a closer look at the famous deserts in Israel…Nubian ibexes on the edges of Makhtesh Ramon, Israel. Photo credit: © Jenny Ehrlich1. The Arava Desert, IsraelThe Arava desert, which is divided into the Central and Southern regions, is a valley that begins in the Dead Sea and stretches all the way down to Eilat, bordering Jordan to the east. It covers about 1500 square kilometres and, historically, was part of the ancient Incense Route.The Arava desert climate is, by any standards, harsh and unforgiving. It is extremely dry, with low annual rainfall (around 25-50 mm) and temperatures that can often soar to above 45 degrees in the height of summer. The Arava also suffers from a continuous lack of water - this is not just because of low levels of precipitation but also because there are very few permanent sources of water. Flash Floods, Sandstorms and Extreme Temperatures in the Arava DesertBecause there has been so little rainfall for tens of thousands of years, soil development and rock erosion are very slight. This means the saline content of the soil can be quite shallow and very high in saline. Temperatures also vary dramatically between day and night and summer and winter. As a result, conditions for growing are not optimum and flora and fauna face many challenges. Most plants live in the dry riverbeds (where occasionally there are flash floods) and also have to cope with the occasional sandstorms, which spread across the desert very quickly!Historically, the Arava is home to the remains of several Israeli fortresses at Ein Hatseva (‘Ein’ means ‘spring’ in Hebrew). This spring is a source of fresh water in the area and clearly the area had strategic significance since it was perched on a hill. Many fortresses were built in this area over around 1,000 years, serving as military centres for the area, as well as a spot through which caravans could pass. The Arava Desert landscape, Israel. Photo credit: © Jenny EhrlichNature reserves, solar power farms and birdwatching sites in the Arava DesertSomething else that makes the Arava interesting is that, notwithstanding its inhospitable arid climate, there are still many species that live and thrive in the desert - hyenas, reptiles, scorpions, spiders and an array of unusual birds. A great place to see them is at the Hai-Bar Yotvata Reserve, which is run by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. The Hai Bar, about 35 km from Eilat, and located near Yotvata kibbutz, on salt flats, was established with the goal of returning to the Arava and Negev Desert animals that lived in biblical times. These ‘lost’ species are now being bred here and include gazelles, sand cats, ostriches, asses, leopards and wolves. Once grown, many are released into the desert.In terms of employment, many of the Arava’s residents today are involved with tourism and agriculture, using cutting-edge technology to make this barren part of the country fertile. Arava farmers today are involved in vegetable and fruit production, flower growing and all kinds of environmentally-friendly projects, including algae growing, solar power and fish farming.Indeed, many of the kibbutzim in the area - including Lotan, Yotvata, Ketura, Neot Smadar and Yahel - offer tourists the opportunity to look around their premises - between them, they have dairy farms, cafes and restaurants, a ‘chocolate milk’ tour and ice cream making workshops at Yotvata and birdwatching facilities at Lotan. Many of them also offer overnight accommodation in the form of lovely zimmers (rustic cabins, with modern touches, and a hearty Israeli breakfast included the following morning).A Desert Oasis and a Farm in the Arava Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © Jenny Ehrlich2. The Negev‎ Desert, IsraelThe Negev is a desert (and semi-desert) in the southern part of Israel, characterised by rocky brown mountains, craters and wadis (dry river beds that flourish for short periods after rainfall). The Hebrew root of the word comes from the term ‘dry’ and in Arabic, it is called ‘an-Naqab or an-Naqb’ meaning ‘mountain pass.’The Negev Desert is bordered on the west by Egypt and to the south the Arava. Geologists believe the area to be around 1.8 million years old, giving it the distinction of being the oldest discovered surface on earth. Broadly, it can be split into different parts - western and central, northern, a high plateau and then the Arava Valley. The northern part receives a fair amount of rain (around 300mm annually) and its soil is quite fertile, whilst the western part receives less - around 250 mm annually - and has soil that is more sandy. The central Negev receives only 200 mm of rain each year, and its soil is far more impervious. The high plateau - the Negev Heights - is between 370 metres and 520 metres above sea level and has extreme temperatures - freezing cold in the winter and extremely hot in the summer. The Arava, as discussed previously, is the most barren part of the country, with very little rainfall and scorching summer heat.Much like the Arava, there is not an enormous amount of vegetation in the Negev but, still, quite a lot of flora and fauna flourish. If visitors are lucky, they may catch a glimpse of Persian fallow deer, golden jackals, striped hyenas, Arabian oxen and for sure they will see Ibex, who number into their thousands in the area.Sha'alvim, The Negev Desert, Israel. Photo by Julia Gavrilenko on UnsplashThe Negev Desert in Ancient and Modern IsraelIn the Hebrew Bible, the Negev is mentioned in Genesis (Abraham lived there for some time) and Numbers, when Moses sent 12 scouts {spies) on a reconnaissance mission to the Promised Land. Later the northern part was inhabited by the Tribe of Judah and the southern part by the Tribe of Simeon, before being incorporated into the Kingdom of Solomon.Nomads lived in the Negev for thousands of years from the 10th century onwards - they were (and are) known as Bedouins, who were sheep and goat farmers who moved around constantly. Today they still form small communities and many of them offer traditional hospitality to tourists, in the form of visits that include a camel ride, dinner and overnight accommodation.As of 2020, around 700,000 people are living in the Negev desert and that figure is expected only to increase in the next 10 years, as more and more people make the move south - those with farming ambitions, entrepreneurs and people looking for a quieter way of life. Reflections of trees in a puddle, Sde Boker, the Negev desert, Israel. Photo by Vered Caspi on UnsplashTourism has boomed and, as a result, all over the Negev, it’s possible to find accommodation - camping sites, private cabins, Bedouin tents and upmarket hotels (Bereshit, in the Negev Hills, boasts luxurious accommodation overlooking the Ramon crater, some of the rooms even with their own private swimming pools).Moreover, today, some Israelis are taking a leaf out of the book of the Nabatean (an ancient Semitic people) who, years ago, developed techniques of terracing and conserving winter rains. Today, the Negev boasts wineries and goats cheese farms, as well as a popular artists' quarter in Mitzpe Ramon, where tourists can take ceramic classes. So between hiking the Shvil Israel, yoga retreats, high-octane sports activities (rappelling down cliffs and jeep tours) and watching meteor showers in the summer, the Negev really does have something for everyone and is the perfect getaway from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, since many of its attractions are only 2 or 3 hours drive away, making a short break (or even a day trip) very easy.The Negev Mountain Reserve, Israel. Photo byItay PeeronUnsplash3. The Zin Desert, IsraelThe Zin Desert (also known as ‘the Wilderness of Zin’) refers to a geographic area somewhere between the Arava and the Negev - interpretations differ. Actually, the term used has two different meanings - one biblical and the other modern. Historically, the Zin Desert is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible - firstly in Numbers and then again in Psalms, as the ‘Wilderness of Kadesh’. English translations make a distinction between ‘zin’ and ‘sin’ and, indeed, the ‘Wilderness of Sin’ is mentioned in the Bible as a place close to Mount Sinai.Today, in Israel, the ‘Zin desert’ refers to a southern desert area made famous by the British Explorer Thomas Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. A British archaeologist, diplomat and army officer, his writings about Arab culture and Palestine of the day made him famous (after all, who hasn’t heard of the 1962 film?). Indeed, it was in the Zin desert that he made an expedition and ultimately carried out a survey of the entire Negev desert.Ibex in the Negev Desert, Israel.Photo byAvi TheretonUnsplash‘Neve Tzin’ is also referred to today as an area close to Kibbutz Sde Boker and the Midreshet Ben Gurion (where Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, is buried). Its crags and crevices overlook huge valleys, which are home to all kinds of birds including vultures, falcons and tawny owls - its clifftop walks offer stunning views and the immense wide spaces are the perfect place to take a moment and appreciate the emptiness. To sum up, as you can gather, Israel’s miracle in the desert is not only astonishing but something that, in all probability, will continue to grow. From desert eco-tours in Israel and fish farming to olive farms and vineyards, what was once a barren and inhospitable part of the country has been - and continues to be - transformed. Treat yourself to some time there - whether visiting an olive farm, hiking in Timna, visiting one of the many kibbutzim or camping out under the stars, you’ll come away longing for more.To visit Israeli deserts, join our private tours.Tel Beer Sheva Archeological Site, the Negev Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Por Sarah Mann

A Great Outdoors Day Trip around Haifa

The Haifa region is one of the most beautiful in the country; it is blessed with forest covered mountains, valleys, rivers, the sea and vibrant cities. Here is an idea for a fun family outing to get a taste of Israel’s countryside and have an adventure. If you are coming from the Tel Aviv drive up the coastal road (route #2) passed Herzliya, Netanya and Caesarea. All the way you will have gorgeous Mediterranean Sea on your left and farmlands on your right. Turn onto route 70 at the Zichron Yaakov Interchange; at the Fureidis junction connect with route 4 traveling north. After about 20 minutes you will see Nahal Mearot on your right.View of Haifa from the top of Mount Carmel.Photo by Ste Ben8 on UnsplashNahal MearotOnce you reach the end of the cave there is a short film showing the dramatized life of a family of prehistoric cave dwellers. Just outside the Nahal Cave, you can see where one of 84 buried prehistoric skeletons was found. Next to the entrance of each cave, there is an information board with illustrations showing how the caves were formed and explanations in English and Hebrew.When you have enjoyed the fresh mountain air and views from the mountain slopes it is time to continue the day’s adventure. Continue north on route 4 until route 721 takes you east up into the Carmel Mountains. You’ll be surrounded by greenery as you wend your way along narrow roads clinging to the mountainsides.This route takes you through Mount Carmel National Park In 1989 a massive forest fire swept across the Carmel Mountains destroying 790 acres of natural forest. Again in 2010 a forest fire erupted across Mount Carmel and raged for 4 days claiming the lives of 44 people. 17,000 people were evacuated and 9,900 acres of forest were destroyed.Since then major projects have been initiated to replant trees across Carmel. A drive through this area; through the heart of the disaster area will show you that the forests are again thriving. Look out along the way for the mountain top memorial to those who lost their lives in the fire. The monument is a beautiful sculpture that can be seen from far away. Turn onto Route 672 which takes you past the Haifa University campus and make a sharp right onto route 705 which will bring you to the JNF Eagle Park or KKL Nesher Park.Haifa view from the Bahai Gardens' Terrace. Photo by Piotr Musioł on UnsplashNesher Park – The Hanging BridgesKids will love this short hike which takes you down a level footpath through the vegetation along the edge of a wadi (dry river gully). Looking up you can see the tall university building; the tallest building on the Carmel Mountain which looks down over Haifa. The footpath brings you to a 70-meter steel cable suspended bridge crossing the gully of Nahal Katia.The gully flows with water during the winter. Cross the bridge and then decide if you want to descend into the gully for a longer route or make a circular route crossing another suspension bridge a little further along to bring you back to where you started. In the gully, there is a quaint stone bridge that takes you further down to a woodland area where there are benches, picnic spots, and lookout points.The whole route takes about an hour to complete. Continuing on your day trip return to route 672 and wend your way down the mountainside into the city of Haifa. Route 672 reaches a fork in the road where you take the right-hand route 23 along Bikurim Street, HaAsif Street, and then left onto Sderot Kish which becomes Yefe Nof Street. Park your car on Yefe Nof when you see signs to the Ba’ha Gardens and follow the path downwards.Sailboat at Haifa Bay.Photo by Fr. Daniel Ciucci on UnsplashBa’hai Gardens, HaifaThe Ba’hai Gardens were built as a setting for the shrines of the founders of the Ba’hai faith. The Ba’hai faith is a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of the Bab and Bah’a’u’llah; prophets who received revelations from God. The Ba’hai accept the validity of other faiths and have a unique worldview.There are 450 plant species in the gardens which stretch for 1km on the northern slope of Mount Carmel in the heart of Haifa. From the top to the bottom of the 19 garden terraces it is 225 meters and at its widest point, the gardens are 400 meters wide. There are three access points to the Ba’hai Garden – from Yefe Nof Street above the upper gardens and shrine; from Hatzionut Avenue which is on the same level as the Shrine or from the bottom of the gardens at the plaza on the junction of Ben Gurion Ave and Hagefen Street in the German Colony.At 61 Yefe Nof Street, there is a viewing balcony where you can have a panoramic view of the terraced gardens and the bay of Haifa. Descending along paved paths through the gardens from the crest of Mount Carmel towards the Shrine of the Bab you will see the amazing terraces of formal and informal gardens. Halfway down the garden is the Shrine of the Bab a solemn holy site and a symbol of Haifa. The small Grecian-style shrine has a distinctive gold dome and white walls. Below the shrine, the garden terraces continue flanked by twin streams of cascading water, bridges, and steps.The Shrine of the Báb, Haifa. Photo by Ameer Basheer on UnsplashMore Sites along the WayIf that is not enough for one day or if you want to swap one of these sites for another there are many other great attractions in the area. You could visit the former British detainee camp in Atlit; the artists’ village of Ein Hod; the Haifa Science Museum or spend time on one of Haifa’s beaches. You could also follow this itinerary in reverse order.Practical InformationNahal Mearot: Admission: Adult 22 ILS, child 10 ILS, student 19 ILS, senior 11 ILS. Open Hours: Sun-Thurs 8 am-5 pm; Friday and holiday Eves 8 am-4 pm. Closure an hour earlier in winter. Information: 04 9841750/2Nesher Park: Admission: Free. Open Hours: Visit in daylight hours.Ba’hai Gardens: Admission: Free. Open Hours: Outer Gardens 9 am-5 pm daily; Shrine and Inner Gardens 9 am-noon. There are walk-in tours in English at noon every day except Wednesdays and also at 1:30 pm on Saturdays. Other tours in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic are held at 10 am, 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm, and 2 pm daily except on Wednesdays. The site is closed on the Ba’hai holidays and temporarily in rainy weather. Note: As a religious site please dress modestly and act with respect at the Ba’hai Shrine.For a real taste of local life in Haifa and its surroundings, book a private Haifa tour!Bahai Gardens, Haifa.Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash
Por Petal Mashraki

Top 9 Attractions and Activities in the Negev Desert

The magical Negev Desert in southern Israel takes up about 60% of Israel but is sparsely inhabited due to the harsh desert climate. When the State of Israel was established one of the goals set was to make the desert bloom and in many places that has been achieved.Mamshit Archeological Site, Israel. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityThe Negev also has a history dating back to the ancient trade routes and it is home to unique flora and fauna. The Negev is unlike any other area in Israel and shouldn’t be missed. The Negev Desert flows into the Judean Desert where you can also visit Masada, the Dead Sea and the Yotvata Bar Hai Nature Reserve, and Timna National Park in the Arava Desert.1. Jeep excursionsOn a Negev jeep tour, you can go deep into the desert, far off-road to places most people don’t get a chance to see. A guide will explain to you about the local fauna and flora and you will be able to race across the dunes, drive through dry desert valleys and stop to boil up a pot of coffee in the wilderness. There are “wet” jeep tours that take you to desert springs; jeep tours where you can learn about following animal tracks; night jeep tours; survival jeep tours; tours that take you to Nabataean ancient sites and jeep tours that visit Bedouin villages. Tours leave from several points in the Negev including Mitzpe Ramon and Kibbutz Sde Boker.2. Camel Riding ExcursionsIf you want to take things at a slower pace and retrace the steps of ancient camel caravans then take a camel riding excursion into the desert. The “ship of the desert” is a great way to enjoy the scenery, learn about the unique desert environment and gain an understanding of what it was like to travel across the Negev hundreds of years ago. There are a number of places where you can join a camel tour including Mamshit Camel Farm, Kfar Hanokdim, and the Negev Camel Ranch. There is no prior experience needed and camel riding tours are suitable for all ages. There are tours lasting 1-4 hours.Safari Jeep Tour.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. Ramon CraterThe Ramon Crater or Makhtesh Ramon is a huge naturally formed crater 38km long, 450 meters deep, and 6km wide. It is best reached via the town of Mitzpe Ramon where there is a Visitors Center overlooking the crater. From here you can take hiking tours, jeep tours into the crater, and abseiling excursions where you get to climb down the side of the steep crater.4. Alpaca FarmThere is a welcoming alpaca farm in the heart of the Negev where you can learn about the creatures, pet them, feed them and even stay the night. You can also meet other animals which live on the farm like angora sheep, llamas, donkeys, horses, and camels. There are walking trails on the Alpaca Farm which meander through the untouched desert landscape. Kids can have a ride on the alpacas and you can learn about the alpaca wool production process.5. Negev Wine TastingThe ancient Nabataean civilization cultivated vineyards in the Negev thousands of years ago using a sophisticated irrigation system. The first modern-day winery in the Negev was planted by Carmel Winery in the Ramat Arad area in 1988, then other wineries and vineyards have sprouted up across the otherwise barren landscape. There are now several wineries so that it is possible to follow a Negev wine tasting route along Route #40. Wineries that welcome visitors include the Yatir Winery, Midbar Winery, Sde Boker Winery, Neot Smadar Winery, Carmel Avdat Winery, Rota Winery (where there is also a fruit farm where you can do your own fruit picking in the summer), and Kadesh Barnea Winery.Alpaca farm in the Negev Desert. Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Sand SurfingThis unique desert experience takes you out to the Negev sand dunes in a 4X4 jeep. Once there you get to slide down the soft dunes on specially designed boards that resemble snowboards but without the footholds. The activity is suitable for those over 2 years old and you don’t need any prior experience. Sand surfing is usually combined with a jeep tour, a historical site, or a desert village for lunch.6. Kibbutz Sde BokerThis kibbutz is famed as the former home of David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel who moved here in 1953. Today Ben Gurion’s former home has been turned into a museum where the original furniture, mementos, and personal items of Ben Gurion and his wife have been preserved. Ben Gurion had a passion for the Negev and the small community. He lived here until his death and over the years he welcomed many dignitaries and world leaders. While at Sde Boker you can visit Ben Gurion's tomb, the Sde Boker Winery, and the Sde Boker Field School.The archeological site of Avdat, Negev Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock7. AvdatThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it was one of the most important Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine sites settled in the 3rd century BC along the Incense Route. Here you can see the ancient remains of a Nabataean tomb, a Roman-era residential area, and the remains of a Byzantine fortress, Byzantine bathhouse, wine press, cistern, and ancient Sacred Precinct. There are also two 4th century churches nearby. Perhaps the most important ancient remains are of the Nabataean Temple of Oboda.8. HikingThere are many marked hike trails through the Negev for those of all levels of ability. The trails are color-coded to keep hikers on track. Many of the trails take you to the oasis where there are deep canyons, waterfalls, and hidden natural spring pools. Some of the most popular routes are the Mamshit Loop, passed the Nabataean city; Mt. Ardon, with a challenging climb; Zin to Ramon, a six-day trek passed mountains and springs; Wadi Shua, with hidden gems; Wadi Mamshit; Ramon’s Tooth passed beautiful rock formations and the Hemet Cistern Loop with great views of the Ramon Crater.9. Bedouin HospitalityThe Bedouin people still live in the deserts of Israel with several communities in the Negev. They have a unique and fascinating culture and there are several places in the Negev where you can be a guest in a Bedouin tent and experience their traditional hospitality. Bedouin hospitality includes traditional food, musical performances, tea, coffee, camel rides and even sleeping over in the Bedouin tent under the desert sky.Сamel riding with Bedouins in the Negev Desert.Photo by Greta Schölderle Møller on Unsplash
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Top Israeli Botanical Gardens

Here is a selection of just a few of the amazing botanical and regular gardens in Israel which welcome visitors year-round to enjoy the rich flora of the country.University of Tel Aviv Botanical Gardens, Tel AvivThis is perhaps the most “casual” of the botanical gardens listed here. An almost miss-able sign sends you down a path to the garden entrance where you are free to wander in and explore the gardens. The gardens cover almost 8.5 acres and include 3,800 species most of which are native plants as well as plants from neighboring nations and an international collection. Although there are a few signs indicated various routes it is a rather overgrown garden which seems to be left to its own devices. When you look closely you will discover many plant species, un-paved paths through the vegetation, over small bridges and passed picturesque ponds. There is an impressive cactus collection and two indoor areas holding more climate-sensitive plants and trees. You’ll see tropical plants, woodland plants, plants used by humans, medicinal plants, herbs, palms and succulents.Mount Scopus Botanical Garden, JerusalemThe Mount Scopus Botanical Garden covers 6 acres just behind the Jerusalem Hebrew University campus. The gardens hold sections representing each of the Israeli plant communities like the Mediterranean and desert grasslands to the arid Arava desert plants and plants of the coastal dunes. In all there are more than 40% of all Israel’s wild plant species. These authentic plant species are preserved in their natural habitats. The gardens are also home to many animals. The gardens hold ancient Second Temple era burial tombs and more recently the tombs of Menachem Ussishkin and Yehuda Leib Pinsker, two prominent Zionist leaders.Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, JerusalemOn the other side of the city is the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus this botanical garden holds plants from across the world including sections dedicated to north and South American flora, the Mediterranean, Southern Africa, Europe and Australia. There is a lake at the heart of the gardens and a café and Visitor Center. There is a bonsai section holds 150 bonsai trees.The garden holds a living gene bank of endangered plant species. There is a Biblical path which visitors can follow with an audio-guide and see up to 70 species of plants mentioned in the Bible. Kids will love the African Savannah grass maze created out of perennial grass which is used for thatched roofs in Africa. Kids can follow a trail to discover a series of plants used by humans for different functions.Kibbutz Ein Gedi Botanical Garden, Kibbutz Ein GediThis prize-winning botanical garden in Ein Gedi is the only one in the world which integrates residential homes in the gardens. The landscaped grounds of the botanical gardens are in amongst the homes of the kibbutz residents. The gardens hold more than 900 species of plants from around the world with a focus on indigenous plants of the area like the date palms, desert plants, Sodom apple, Moringa, Tamarisk and species referred to in the Bible including myrrh and frankincense. The cactus garden includes more than 1,000 species.Utopia Orchid Park, Kibbutz BahanThis is a unique botanical garden with a large indoor (and air-conditioned) section as well as an outdoor area. Among the attractions here there are farm animals and peacocks; a musical water fountain; carnivorous plants; orchids; parrots; a plant maze; rose garden; cactus garden and herb garden. However, the star attraction is the indoor tropical garden which includes a massive waterfall and dripping vines and tropical trees and plants. The park covers 10 acres and also has a cafe and garden center where you can buy plants and garden accessories. This is a stunning attraction which is well maintained and has plenty to keep you occupied.Eilat Botanical Garden and Organic Farm, EilatThis garden has developed around the local landscape of the Arava and was originally built out of ancient stone terraces on the hills surrounding Eilat. The gardens are a wonder of nature considering the area’s very low annual rain fall. Today there are sign posted trails which cross streams, pass waterfalls, stone and wooden buildings. There are three look-out points across the Red Sea and the Edom Mountains. You can climb the rocky pathways among 1,000 species of trees and plants, herbs, shrubs and flowers. There is an organic garden where you can buy plants grown without chemicals.Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape ReserveCovering 625 acres and home to more than 630 plant species mentioned in the Bible and Talmud this is one of the most fascinating and unique botanical gardens in the country. The gardens are also home to small animals, many birds and several archaeological remains including an excavated Byzantine village. In the gardens, the natural surroundings and agricultural areas have been recreated to mirror those which would have existed 3,000 years ago during the Biblical era. You can see the seven species of Israel (figs, dates, barley olives, wheat, pomegranates and grapes) as well as following the 4 self-guided hike paths, seeing ancient olive presses, ritual baths, a water wheel, flour mill, ancient cisterns and thrashing floors. You can even arrange to have a Biblical meal in the gardens and there are regular events, workshops and activities to teach visitors about Biblical life. The hike trails are about 2-2.5 km long and have points of interest and interactive stations along the way.Botanical Garden at Oranim CollegeThis is the only botanical garden in the northern region of the country; it was established on the campus of Oranim Collage in 1958 and covers 10 acres with 900 different species of plant. Most of the plants here are non-cultivated and indigenous to Israel. The garden has become a model for urban sustainability and is used for teaching, conservation and research. Each section of the garden represents a unique habitat or geographical region. There are two fascinating paths through the gardens – the Poetry Path where quotes from famous poems are displayed on signs along the route and the Biomimetic Path which has nine stations where visitors can stop and learn about the plants, animals and sustainable solutions to everyday problems.Other Amazing Gardens in IsraelIsrael has several other stunning gardens which are not officially botanical gardens but they do offer gorgeous greenery and horticultural diversity. Among the most beautiful and most famous is the Baha’i Garden in Haifa. These cascading 19 terraces of carefully landscaped plants and flowers are the setting for the Shrine of the Bab; the Baha’i faith prophet. There is also a beautiful memorial garden dedicated to Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Ramat Hanadiv at the southern end of Mount Carmel. Here there are paths and hike trails as well as a kosher dairy café and area where birds of prey are rehabilitated for release back into the wild. If you’re in Jerusalem visit the Wohl Rose Garden, a 19 acre public garden with 15,000 rose bushes. If you are in Tel Aviv you don’t have to go far to enjoy amazing gardens and parks like the Yarkon Park where there are six special gardens. Some are dedicate memorial gardens and others are devoted to a particular kind of plant. There is a Rock Garden, Cactus Garden, Tropical Garden and Ornamental Garden all within the Yarkon Park.
Por Petal Mashraki

A Bird’s Eye View of Israel

Israel may not be the land of skyscrapers like some other countries but it does have a number of places where you can get a great view of the famous skylines and natural wonders. Here is a list of some of the best places in Israel to get a bird’s eye view. The list goes from northern Israel to Eilat in the south.Azrieli Towers at night, Tel Aviv.Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash1. Mount ManaraTake Israel’s longest cable car 1940 meters to the top of this mount which is part of the Naftali Mountain range. The mountain top is 750 meters above sea level. From the top, you can see the Golan Heights, Galilee, Hermon Mountain,Hula Valley, and Israel’s most beautiful farmlands. There is a range of fun activities at Mt. Manara including a mountain slide back to the bottom.2. Eshkol Tower, HaifaThis is the main campus tower of the University of Haifa on Mount Carmel. The observation deck is on the 27th floor of the 102-meter high tower and gives you sweeping views down the mountainside and across Haifa. It was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and was the first building in Israel to use the curtain wall system. The observation deck is not always open to the general public so call the Hecht Museum ahead of time.3. Yefe Nof Balcony, HaifaLooking down the beautiful terraced garden past the golden-domed Shrine of the Bab in Bahai Gardens you can see the city below and the sea beyond that. On a clear day, you can see up and down the coast. Tel Aviv Port Area Aerial View. Photo byShai PalonUnsplash4. Azrieli Center ,Tel-AvivThe ultimate observation deck in Tel-Aviv (and perhaps the most famous in the country) is on the top floor of the Azrieli Center Circular Tower, Tel-Aviv’s tallest building. The tower is one of a complex of three towers, a circular, square, and triangular tower. The observation deck is completely enclosed and gives you a 360° view of the city below. It is on the 49th floor and also has a kosher fine-dining restaurant. There are telescopes and informative maps indicating the sites below. The observation deck is accessed by an elevator from the mall at the bottom of the tower.5. Rehavam Ze’evi Observation Point, JerusalemThis promenade on the edge of the Mount of Olives looks down over an ancient Jewish cemetery. You can look out across the hills of Jerusalem and across the Old City walls to the Dome of the Rock.Eilat waterfront with a whale in the Red Sea.Photo by Et Yan on Unsplash6. Mitzpe Ramon Visitor’s CenterPerched 300 meters above the Ramon Crater this center provides not only an amazing view across the crater and Negev Desert but also informative audio-visual presentations and models of the local geography. There is a rooftop observatory where you can look down onto the dramatic desert landscape of Mitzpe Ramon.7. Underwater Observation Tower, EilatOn a visit to the marine park where there are aquariums, 3D films, and many marine-related attractions you can also enjoy a view across the Eilat coastline. A distinctive white tower is located at the end of a walkway that juts out into the Red Sea. You can walk up a spiral staircase to the windy top of the tower and look out across Eilat. You can also descend beneath sea level and visit the underwater observation deck!View of Bahai gardens and Haifa Bay, Israel.Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash
Por Petal Mashraki

UNESCO Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel

The latest addition to the list of UNESCO sites in Israel are the caves on Mount Carmel which were honored in 2012 for their outstanding universal value as significant sites of human evolution. The caves show the longest sequences of human inhabitation in the region – up to half a million years of human evolution. Dating back to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic Ages, 500,000 BP ago, the sites were occupied by the Mousterian culture (250,000-45,000BP) and the Natufian culture (15,000-11,500BP).Mount Carmel, Carmel grand mall.The sites are unique in demonstrating the existence of both the Neanderthals and the Early Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Paleolithic framework. This makes the sites invaluable in research into human evolution. The caves have universal value as a central site of Natufian culture and shed light on the transition from nomadic Paleolithic life to hunter-gatherer settlements of the Neolithic life.Archaeological findings show the various adaptations made in the move towards agricultural life and animal husbandry. The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi al-Mughara cluster of caves is located on the western slopes of the Mount Carmel range along the south side of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara valley. They include the caves of Tabun (Oven Cave), Jamal, el-Wadi (Stream Cave), and Skhul. The site covers 54 hectares and the archaeological findings represent cultural deposits of human life covering a duration of about 500,000 years. There is evidence of Natufian burials as well as stone structures and terraced agricultural areas. Excavations uncovered artifacts, skeletal material, and fossils.Luckily the caves and their surroundings have preserved their integrity, they are intact and have not been damaged (except for graffiti in the Skhul Cave and trees grown around a water pumping station) or removed. Pollen traces and sea sand found in the caves indicate a warm climate in the region at one time and another layer of clay and silt indicates the colder climate during a period of glaciers. In the Tabun Cave, the remains of a female Neanderthal were found dating back to c. 120,000 years ago. Findings of a variety of types of flint, hand-axes, and arrowheads indicate the hunting and farming methods and the way these methods changed over time. Excavation of the sites began more than 90 years ago; findings have confirmed the site’s authenticity and yielded insight into the early human culture, biology, and lifestyle. Further archaeological investigation continues and more remarkable discoveries are predicted.
Por Petal Mashraki
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