A Taste of the North

One of my favorite lines from the British sci-fi, Dr. Who, is when the Doctor’s companion, Rose Tyler, meeting the Doctor for the first time, asks him, “If you’re an alien, how come you have a northern accent?”. The Doctor’s brilliant answer is, “Lots of places have a north”.

Like the Doctor’s north, Israel’s north carries its own special flavor. When I have the urge to see rolling green hills and bubbling streams, the north is the place to be. While Eilat is Israel’s venue for party vacations, the north is the more pastoral option.

The best season for enjoying the beauty of the north is spring, when everything is covered in green and flowers in every color can be found wherever you look. But the summer is also a great time to cool down in one of the many watery attractions the north has to offer. In the winter, Mount Hermon is covered in snow. Okay, every season is a good season to go north.

My wife and I decided to take three days off to go up north and vacation last week. We’ll use this as an opportunity for me to take you on a short tour of some attractions in the north.

The places mentioned in this post are numbered and marked in this map:

Photo: derived from Google Maps

Photo: derived from Google Maps

Our first stop: Majrasa nature reserve [1]

We drive to the eastern side of the north end of Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee.

The Kinneret- The Sea of Galilee.

The Kinneret- The Sea of Galilee.

The Majrasa is a walking trail through the water in one of the tributaries of the Jordan, just before it runs into Lake Kinneret. In the summer, the water is up to waste-high. In the winter, part of the trail is restricted to age 13 and up and you may need to swim. Along the banks grow bushes of blackberries (“Holy bramble”, brought to the Holy Land by the Crusaders) and in the summer they add a culinary treat to the cool water walk, if you can get to them.

Dragonflies at the Majrasa

Dragonflies at the Majrasa

The entire left bank is covered in "Holy Bramble" blackberry bushes.

The entire left bank is covered in “Holy Bramble” blackberry bushes.

Staying in Ramot [2]

Choosing a place to stay depends, of course, on how spoiled you plan to be on your trip and how much you’re willing to pay. Putting up a tent on one of the beaches of the Kinneret is usually free. Tiberias has a large variety of hotels. But the best option by far, if you ask me, is a “Tzimmer”. Derived from the German word for a room, Google Translate translates a “Tzimmer” in Hebrew as a bungalow or a B&B (bed & breakfast), but that doesn’t capture the essence of a “Tzimmer”. It is usually a wooden cabin, but not always, usually equipped as a romantic getaway for couples, but there are also “Tzimmers” for families and larger groups. Some of them have Jacuzzis, some of them serve breakfast.

Many of the small communities in the north make a living from agriculture. They usually add tourism as an extra income. Building a Tzimmer on your land is a great way to make some extra money. The prices range from 350 NIS [NIS=New Israeli Shekel] per night (~100$) for a rather mediocre Tzimmer (from experience) to well over 1000 NIS (~300 $) for a truly relaxing experience.

Moshav Ramot overlooks Lake Kinneret from the north-eastern side, has about as many Tzimmers as it has residents and incidentally, is right next to the Majrasa nature reserve. We chose a Tzimmer in Ramot, which we visited last year and enjoyed immensely. It has a Jacuzzi, a small pool, TV and everything else we could want.

The pool.

The pool.

View of the pool from the Jacuzzi...

View of the pool from the Jacuzzi…

Aside from Tzimmers, the residents of Ramot also grow mangoes. Our Tzimmer is surrounded by mango trees. There is also an avocado tree right on top of our parking spot, laden with almost-ripe avocadoes.

Avocados on the car

Avocados on the car

Nightlife in Tveria (Tiberias) [3]

The downside of Ramot is that if you keep kosher, there aren’t any culinary options nearby. For dinner, we’ll drive over to Tveria (Tiberias), a half-hour drive to the opposite bank of the Kinneret. On the way out of Ramot, the sparkling lights of Tveria in the distance make a spectacular view, the glory of which sadly cannot be captured by my cheap camera.

The lights of Tveria in the distance

The lights of Tveria in the distance. My camera doesn’t do them justice.

Along the way, we pass by Kfar Nahum (Capernaum), the site of an ancient Jewish fishing village, which is mentioned in the New Testament as being the home of a number of the apostles, and Tabgha, which is believed by Christians to be the site of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes [4].

Tveria is the largest city in the vicinity of the Kinneret. The center of tourism is at the waterfront. Sadly, Tveria doesn’t get as much tourism as Eilat in the south of the country, and much of the lower part of the city is relatively undeveloped. Over the past few years, the city has been undergoing extensive renovations, but mostly in the immediate vicinity of the promenade. During the three weeks between Tisha be’Av and the first of the Hebrew month of Elul (usually falls sometime in July-August), when all the Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas have their summer vacation, the promenade in Tveria is packed with vacationers.

The promenade offers a large selection of restaurants and bars, clothes shopping, ice cream parlors, a trampoline and various water attractions, such as boat rides in the Kinneret. There is a large variety of hotels within walking distance of the promenade.

A restaurant and hotel on the promenade. The old buildings in Tveria are built of the local basalt stone.

A restaurant on the promenade. The old buildings in Tveria are built of the local basalt stone.

Can you paint slushies with all the colors of the wind?

Can you paint slushies with all the colors of the wind?

Clothes stands on the promenade

Clothes stands on the promenade

Boat rides on the water

Boat rides on the water

Tveria does not have a large English-speaking community and many of the restaurants are not accustomed to catering to English-speaking tourism. My wife and I have found that a great activity when visiting Tveria, is finding all the mistakes in the Google-translated menus of the restaurants.

How many mistakes can you find on this page?

How many mistakes can you find on this page?

How about on this page? I took two more photos of this menu, but I think you get the picture.

How about on this page?
I took two more photos of this menu, but I think you get the picture.

 Until very recently, when Israel began desalinating water, the level of the water in the Kinneret was a cause of great public concern. The Kinneret was the source of 1/3 of Israel’s drinking water. In rainy years, the waterline could reach almost up to the edge of the promenade, in which case the dam in Deganya would be opened so that water could flow out through the Jordan and into the Dead Sea. In dry years, the dam is closed, but the water recedes and large areas that had been underwater are uncovered. The bottom “red line” is at 213 meters below sea level (almost 700 feet). The upper “red line” (when the dam is opened) is at 208 meters below sea level. There is an electronic sign on the promenade indicating how high the water is, 210.36 meters below sea level. In comparison, when we visited Tveria last year, the water was at 212 meters below sea level.

-210.36 meters

-210.36 meters

Day 2- The Golan Heights

The Odem Winery [5]

On the second day we drive further north, up into the Golan Heights, to Moshav Odem, at the foot of the towering Mount Hermon. Odem is home to the Odem winery, which is our first stop. The winery has a visitors’ center where visitors can taste the award-winning wines (for free), as well as their wonderful cherry wine (the Golan Heights is one of the main places where cherries are grown in Israel). Visitors can also take a tour of the winery with the wine maker (requires a reservation and costs money). You can, of course, buy the wines, but be warned, they are not cheap.

Berry picking

Another attraction, only a 3 minute walk from the winery, is berry picking. As I mentioned in an earlier post, berries are rather hard to find in supermarkets in Israel and are not cheap, but berry-picking tourism is starting to become fashionable. You pay a small fee to get in, you eat as much as you like while you’re there, and you pay for what you take home by weight. We walked out with about 875 grams (almost 2 pounds) of blackberries and a similar amount of raspberries. Sadly, there weren’t many ripe blueberries, so we didn’t pick many.

Blackberries. Yum.

Blackberries. Yum.

 On the road out of Odem, we come across a small tourism center which has a large spice shop, with the largest variety of spices I’ve seen. If you’re into spices, it’s worth the visit.

Moshav Aniam [6]

For dinner, we drive to Moshav Aniam, a thirty minute drive north of Ramot, which has an artists’ colony and two kosher restaurants (one dairy, one meat). The restaurants, as well as the artists’ studios are situated around a courtyard at the entrance to the Moshav.

Day 3- The beach

On our last day of vacation, we check out of the Tzimmer in Ramot, and drive for five minutes to the closest beach and enjoy the water. Use sunscreen generously.

Because the water level keeps changing, trees that grew on the shore in previous years are now under water.  At about 2 PM, a strong wind started up and the water became choppy.

Because the water level keeps changing, trees that grew on the shore in previous years are now under water.
At about 2 PM, a strong wind started up and the water became choppy.

Our vacation is over. On our drive back, we pass by the magnificent cliff of Mount Arbel [7], which is just north of Tveria, overlooking the Kinneret.

Mount Arbel (on the left)

Mount Arbel (on the left)

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One comment

  1. Hey, I got to eat from those very berries, they were delish!

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