In Part 1 of our Insider’s Israel series we roamed from vibrant, modern Tel Aviv to ancient Haifa and Akko in the north. Next we’ll traverse near the sun-drenched border of Jordan to Jericho in the West Bank, en route to the Dead Sea, Masada, Yad Veshem and unmatchable Jerusalem. Israel is resplendent with historical tales, stunning natural beauty, unique architecture and welcoming residents – and signs are posted in English, Hebrew and Arabic, rendering it easy to get around.
West Bank ride
When traveling along the Israel-Jordan border to Masada and the Dead Sea, you’ll spot deserts, goat herders, goat farms, ibex, verdant farms, craggy mountains and even a camel or two at a rest stop in Jericho in the West Bank. If you feel like taking a camel break, you can ride one for a small fee.
Ride the Masada tram
Masada was King Herod’s massive desert palace/fortress located high up on a natural plateau with three tiers: the first to greet guests, the second for King Herod and his family, and the top for servicing staff (much like an ancient Downton Abbey between 37 and 31 BCE). Here King Herod fended off attacks from the Romans, wars were won and lost, and Masada became an enduring symbol of Jewish heroism for surviving Roman siege for 3 years. Learn how those at Masada survived in the desert, what they ate and drank, how they met their untimely demise, and much more as you trek around this fascinating mountaintop museum. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered nearby in Qumeran. In this area you can also indulge in cliff hiking and rappelling or explore the Dead Sea.
Read a book in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea divides Jordan from Israel and is aptly named because of its high salt level (at around 34%, 9 or 10 times more than ocean water). It’s the earth’s lowest point on land, which in itself is pretty incredible. As a result of the high salt level, the water provides comical buoyancy, enabling swimmers to read a book or newspaper as they float on top of the water. The mineral-rich black mud harvested from the banks of the Dead Sea is said to have medicinal properties, so slather it on to put it to the test. The teal water of the Dead Sea is gorgeous, and since it’s the lowest point on earth, the sun’s UV rays aren’t as potent as they are elsewhere.
Seaside spa and delicious food at Herod’s
The ultra-modern Herod’s Hotel on the Dead Sea offers myriad spa treatments, and the food offerings are both fresh and vast, encompassing everything from fresh fish and vegetables to local delicacies and global fare. This is a convenient and luxurious base for immersing yourself in the Dead Sea.
Jerusalem resonates around the world
On to Jerusalem, a gorgeous mosaic of a city that no one wants to miss when visiting Israel because its so rich with cultural meaning for people around the globe. It also boasts astounding architectural offerings such as Roman arches, Byzantine moats, Crusader walls and Ottoman ramparts. Shrines considered holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims include the Western Wall, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the golden domes of the city’s mosques on the Temple Mount, and the Shrine of the Book, home to the 2,000 year old Dead Sea Scrolls. Jerusalem even has a windmill. This bustling, diverse city melds old with new in an exciting way that both preserves the past and welcomes the future. Tourists gather with local Israeli high school kids on their educational school trips to holy shrines, perfectly underscoring Jerusalem’s universal appeal.
Stock up at the Machne Yehuda market
The markets in Jerusalem are colorful and filled with fresh food and goods, especially the central one, Machne Yehuda. The city has numerous fascinating museums, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the Israel Museum, the Islamic Museum, the Tower of David Museum, and the Biblelands Museum. You can also explore the dense Jerusalem Forest on the outskirts of town and the Jerusalem Mountains that surround the city and provide breathtaking panoramic views. There are always cultural activities to enjoy at any time of the year (music, drama, art) as well as tons of walking tours. If you love to walk or hike, Jerusalem is your dream city because there are special paths devoted to hiking in parts of the city.
relax at the Inbal Hotel
The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel is a gracious, welcoming place from which you can explore the best Jerusalem has to offer. This 5-star hotel offers a fitness room, pool, luxurious rooms, free wifi, a Spa, an outdoor patio, great gift shops and gourmet food. You may never want to leave the hotel, but of course you will because Jerusalem beckons.
Yad Vashem for remembrance
A visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is a reminder to examine history so we may recognize that each one of us has a responsibility to speak out against destructive evil — no matter what our background, religion, or where we live in the world. As somber as the experience is, it is also moving, enriching, educational and insightful. Expect some tears, but expect to be deeply glad you went as well.
Find various arts and artisans under one roof
The Jerusalem House of Quality at 12 Hebron Road in Jerusalem is a non-profit organization that houses an array of artisans to support the arts in Jerusalem. Here you’ll find artists who work in glass, ceramics, wood, painting, crafts, copper, jewelry, paintings, sculpture and more: http://www.art-jerusalem.com.
Goats and cheese pair well together
Who can resist the plaintive wail of goats? If you love cheese, or goats, then Seltzer’s Goat Farm in the Judea Mountains — just west of Jerusalem on Mount Eitan — is truly paradise. With 170 goats, panoramic views of Jerusalem, a 700-year-old cave, and delectable cheeses, this is a trek worth taking. Founded in 1974 by Shai Seltzer, his cheeses are renowned around the world and he is a member of the Italian Academy of Cheese. Read more about this fantastic business and farm at http://www.goat-cheese.co.il. When you sit at a table on this farm at dusk, pairing various cheeses with wine and looking down on the beautiful expanse of lights in Jerusalem, you’ll have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s all real. A few bleats from nearby goats will likely bring you back to earth.
distinctive food at The Brasserie
The Brasserie Restaurant in Jerusalem is located next to a spring in the heart of Ein Karem and marries a convivial atmosphere with fine food and wine. Decorated with interesting artwork, the food is also plated artfully and the chef is clearly inspired. Enjoy rooftop dining here on a sunny day, or intimate discussions at the big (almost) round table inside if you’re with a large party. Pasta dishes, desserts, seafood and wine are all recommended here.
You know you must return
Once you visit Israel, know that there’s a 100% chance you’ll want to visit again. In spite of the 10 hour El Al airline trip, 7 hour time difference to kick-start jet lag, and cute-but-screaming toddlers on your flight, you’ll dream of returning. You’ll miss the sunshine and the friendly people. You’ll miss the oversized fruit and vegetables that taste real and from the earth. You’ll miss the diverse architecture and intense natural beauty. You’ll miss the seas, cliffs, desert, artwork, wine, cheese and vibrant markets. You’ll miss everything about it, and you’ll start plotting your return almost immediately.
For excellent tailored tours:
VIA SABRA – http://www.viasabra.com
Twitter – @israeltourism and #goisrael