There is so much more to food in Israel than hummus and falafel. Because it’s good to remember that Israel’s melting pot is a delicious pot, with historical influences on cuisine from North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. That’s a lot of flavours. So open your minds and then open your mouths. You will be more than pleasantly surprised.
Not often thought of as a hiking destination, you don’t need to spend 40 days in the wilderness to appreciate the beauty of Israel. But it’s tempting. Follow pilgrims around the Sea of Galilee, go exploring out into the Negev Desert, or through the almond and olive groves of the Jerusalem Hills. You definitely want to hike with an expert guide in Israel though. Some places are, sadly, very much out of bounds.
The Negev Desert stretches over half of southern of Israel, and is home to over 175,000 Bedouins. This arid, mountainous landscape feels more Grand Canyon than Sahara, with wadis and deep gorges carved into the reddish rock. The Judean Desert is also part of Palestine, and stretches down to the Dead Sea where the eponymous Scrolls were discovered at the ancient city of Qumran, on the Sea’s Palestinian shores.
Some of the archaeological sites in Israel are one offs, such as the collection of ancient cities piled one on top of the other at Meggido. Or the Crusader remains in Caesarea, not forgetting the city’s fine array of Roman ones too. It really is worth having a guide with you who is totally switched onto archaeology and history, otherwise it can all be a little overwhelming.
Also known as the Salt Sea, which is pretty much doing what it says on the tin. Some beaches get really overcrowded, so seek out a quiet one to have your floating experience, cover yourself with healing mud and then treat yourself to a salty spa nearby. The biblical Dead Sea Scrolls, found in nearby Qumran Caves, on the Sea’s Palestinian shores, are now stored in Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book.
It’s not that we ‘rate’ it – we just think it is almost disrespectful not to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Centre. Its location on Mount Herzl – the Mount of Remembrance – is beautiful, overlooking the Judean Hills on one side and Jerusalem on the other. The history museum will leave you speechless and the art museum, with the largest collection of Holocaust art in the world, will leave you humble.
Jerusalem may be a city divided, with the west home to Israeli Jews, and the east to Palestinians, but opinion is never divided on the spiritual nature of its mosques and churches, Wailing Wall and Way of the Cross. Surrounded by 17th Century Ottoman Walls, the Old City is divided into four Quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and Christian. Head up the Mount of Olives to see Schindler’s grave. And for best views.
No less than 20 Christian churches revere the city’s most famous resident, the big one being the Basilica of the Annunciation, on the site of where it is said Mary saw the Angel Gabriel. Meanwhile it is also a bustling, modern city and the largest Israeli-Arab city in the state. Seek out the Old City with ancient alleyways, Ottoman architectural hangovers and contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine and artisan shops.
Israel has its share of fly and flop hotels that not only are not only eyesores on the Mediterranean seascapes of Eilat, but also on the Dead Sea. Indeed they are a dead form of tourism when it comes to sustainability, with less than 10 percent of daily tourist spend trickling into the local economy. Go kibbutz or homestay, desert camps or small locally owned hotels instead.
Haifa, Eilat and Ashdod are havens for the types of floating liners that were recently described by UK charity Tourism Concern as ‘floating abominations’, not only because of their environmental track record or the lack of tourism money going into the local economy but also because of labour abuses. In our books, cruise liners of this giant, floating hotel nature, are highly irresponsible ways to vacation.
Eilat, on the Red Sea, translates beautifully as a ‘grove of tall trees’, and may have been once. Now it’s a grove of ghastliness. A concrete mass of resorts, popular with European sun seekers during the winter months. Scuba diving is big business but ensure that operators adhere to responsible diving practices. It’s a money spinning town of duty free shops, cruise liners, cocktail bars and, oh yes, a biblical theme park.
Just as the crowds dissipate, and you manage to grab a moment of quiet contemplation in Jerusalem, taking in the archaeological magnificence of the Tower of David, the queues start to form for the ‘Night Spectacular’. A 45 minute nightly projection, creating a trompe d’oeil storybook effect about the story of Jerusalem on the walls, with a soundtrack booming through 14 speakers.