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May 27, 2010May 27, 2010  0 comments  Geography

Dry weather and an army drill contributed to a fire on Thursday that swept across the Golan Heights and threatened the Gamla Nature Reserve, home to vultures and waterfalls.



The afternoon fire is believed to have destroyed vegetation in the reserve, but, thankfully, the Nature and Parks Authority saved 15 vultures that were hatched in captivity. The vulture population is in danger of extinction.



Israeli news sources reported that the Fire Service believed the fire began when shells were fired in an Israel Defense Forces drill. Also on Thursday, a dry heat system blanketed Israel, contributing to an easy spread of the flames.



Gamla, which sits on the edge of a rocky plateau, was excavated in 1968. The residents of Gamla  kept the Romans at bay for more than seven months during the revolt in 66 AD. The city was the last one standing in the Golan, but the Romans eventually breached the city walls. Many of the residents were believed to have committed suicide by throwing themselves over the edge of the hillside to their death rather than surrender to the Roman army.

Tags: gamla golan heights 

August 7, 2013August 7, 2013  0 comments  History

Imagine a weekend surrounded by rugged mountain landscapes, rustic yet comfortable wooded chalets, ripe berry orchards, boutique wineries, waterfalls, history and star-filled night skies? Sounds like Italy, or North Carolina, right? Wrong. This is the Golan Heights, a basaltic plateau region in the northeast section of Israel . Despite the fighting going on in Syria to the east, the Golan Heights (and the rest of Israel) is quite safe, and depending on your interests, can make for a perfect long weekend almost anytime of the year.


Increasingly Christian tour groups are including the Golan Heights on their Holy Land tours and the reason is obvious. The region is rich with attractions that run the gamut from biblical sites to adventure sports, impressive culture, filled with ancient and modern historical sites. From history buffs to biblical buffs, there is much to see. The only problem is time. You've only got 48 hours, what are you going to do? Below are Travelujah's recommendations on how to plan your two days north.


Big Juba - Begin the day with a drive towards Odem and visit the Big Juba, a dead volcano, with a beautifully lush park inside. The big Juba is one of 23 Jubas discovered in the area. and has a diameter of 250 meters and depth of60 meters. The view is impressive and deep vegetation grows deep inside the juba. There is a well paved trail that takes you inside the park and you'll pass cows grazing in the fields. During the spring time the fields are carpeted with anemones. The short walk will take no more than 30 minutes but is well worth the view into this unique geographical formation. For more information on the walk click here.


El Rom - To really understand the Golan Heights take some time to learn a bit about the geopolitical situation of the region, especially given the current situation in neighboring Syria. Begin by seeing the 30 minutes movie about the 1973 Yom Kippur War at Kibbutz El Rom. The movie, OZ 77 tells the true story of the Israeli tank unit by the same name that fought 600 Syrian tanks equipped significantly advanced Russian weaponry including night vision. After the movie (which offers an English translation) the kibbutz member that runs the movie will gladly speak to you about the fierce battle that took place there. Should you wish you can drive across the street and go to the look out known as the Valley of Tears where a memorial to the fallen soldiers is located. Another alternative, would be to rent bicycles at nearby Odem, and make your way around on your own. There are marked trails that will take you by deserted bunkers as well as to the memorial.


Odem Fruit Picking - Depending on the time of year the surrounding orchards offer ‘you pick' fruits. During the summer months cherries, raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries and more are available for picking. The fall apple season brings visitors as well.


Ready for lunch?


Head north to Masade for some local Druze food. Don't miss Nidal's a small, mostly outdoor restaurant that serves up the best labane (a local creamy goat's cheese dressed with olive oil and zaatar) in the country. The family run establishment serves grilled chicken, lamb and other local favorites and is very reasonably priced. Vegetarians will be satisfied with the variety of salads, humus, and other specialties that are also available. If you prefer to picnic at one of the nearby parks or on your hike, simply ask them for a number of falafels, a container of humus, israeli salad, and pita and you are good to go.


Time for a hike

If you are traveling with 2 cars, park one at the banias parking lot along route 99 and take the second car and drive up about two kilometers past Nimrod's castle. There you will see a sign for , there is a parking lot there. Perfect for summer or spring, the Nahal Sa'ar hike begins at the gravesite of Sheik, and winds its way down through a riverbed that has water flowing through much of the year. The 4 - 5 hour hike is good for ages 10 and over. You'll need to use your hands a bit as you climb over some rocks. Make sure to where good walking shoes that can get wet because you'll be criss crossing the river as you make your way down towards Banias national park.


Where to sleep

For comfortable accommodations at a reasonable price, look no further than kibbutz Gonen, or Nofey Gonen, according to their website. Situated in the Golan Heights, the kibbutz guesthouse offers large wood chalets with terraces overlooking the wooded countryside and unmatched views towards the Hula valley below as well as the Galilee mountains to the west. Each chalet unit is equipped with a large jacuzzi, flat screen television, mini refrigerators, coffee,tea and microwave. There is a half wall which provides some separation between the parents area and the living room. If you are traveling with children the living room area can sleep another three people. The huge pool is open during the summer months. The guesthouse accommodations are provided on a half board basis, (breakfast and dinner), making it very convenient.

The dinner buffet has an abundance of fish, chicken and meat as well as the regular staple of Israeli salads and vegetable side dishes.

Day 2

Ein Zivan -You've learned about the border now its time to actually visit the border. Begin your morning by taking a jeep tour, or if you prefer, rent dune buggies (seat 2 people) at kibbutz Ein Zivan and take a guided tour of the area. You can drive up to the border , scale a bit of mountains by jeep, or blaze a trail through some the dry or rain-filled riverbeds areas depending on the time of year. No matter what driving option you take you're sure to have fun. The Ein Zivan guides are very good and they'll give you a thorough perspective on life in the Golan as well as the reality of the border. And onc you are done with your off road adventure, make sure to stop off at the Peltours winery, and taste some of the regions best wine. Tal, one of the owners of Peltours, will be happy to give you a tour of his winery. Whether you are traveling with young kids, as a couple, or even on a pilgrimage tour, you might want to include a stop at De Karina, the specialty chocolate factory located in Ein Zivan, and participate in a homemade chocolate workshop.


Head south to Katzrin Talmudic Village and tour the fascinating archaeological excavations of this second temple synagagogue, still intact. You'll see ancient olive presses and other findings but frankly, like many of the other archaeological sites in the Holy Land, its best to tour Katzrin with a tour guide who can really bring in a depth of content and understanding that will otherwise be lost. Katzrin offers a number of places for lunch.

Spend your afternoon at Nahal Gilabon, the second highest waterfall in Israel and location of one of the best hikes in the Golan Heights. You can do it a couple different ways. Either park one car at the north end of the trail and another car at the south end and then hike the trail beginning from the north end down to the south. You'll take the marked trail down into the river bed and see the Deborah falls. Don't swim in this area, rather continue until the very large Gilabon waterfall situated further to the south. The waterfall is the second highest in the Golan and has a refreshingly cold spring, that is a popular venue for swimming during the summer months. The whole hike takes about 2.5 hours and offers some shade along the way but can still be quite hot during the summer months. The uphill climb at the end takes about 15 - 20 minutes. The park does not have an entrance fee as of yet so there is no entry fee at this time. if you do go, make sure to do the hike at the beginning or at the end of the day but leave yourself enough time to complete the hike by dusk.


No matter what time of year you take your Holy Land tour, there are a number of wonderful sites and experiences that can be enjoyed in the Golan Heights. Travelujah is here to help you plan the most memorable and safe visit possible.

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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the largest Christian social network focused on Holy land tours. People can learn, plan and share their holy land tour and travel experience on Travelujah.


September 9, 2009September 9, 2009  1 comments  Nature

Escaping the heat of the last weeks of summer and looking to travel north? Sound familiar? Just like Americans and others who must cope with the summer heat, Israelis too head to the hills during the summer in order to enjoy the nature, the breezes, the serenity, family and of course, the WATER. Abundant, flowing water - something you don't see much of in Israel, is a beautiful site to behold in the north and the country's residents, Arabs and Jews alike, appreciate it. You want to see how people mix? Head to the campgrounds, and to the sites where there is water, several of which we visited during our brief weekend stay, including Horshat Tal, Banias (Caesarea Philipi and Tel Dan).


Camping is complicated, especially with kids. We chose the campground of Horshat Tal, a beautiful park, located in the Northern Galilee and  one of Israel's most popular nature reserves. Horshat Tal, Hebrew for "Forest of Dew",  is situated along the Dan River, one of three major tributaries that join together,  forming the Jordan river to the south.  The name is taken from Psalms 133 "the dew of Hermon" because of its proximity to Mount Hermon, which stands majestically and quite picturesque in the background. The mountain is similar to a sponge and absorbs rain and snow that falls on it and the water percolates through the limestone and emerges as springs at the foot of the 1615 meter high mountain. These springs create the Dan, Banias and Hastzbani Streams - all of which combine to form the Jordan River to the south. The 500 dunam (120 acre) nature park is primarily known for its ancient and enormous oak tress which provide wonderful shade during the summer months. The refreshingly freezing cold Dan river winds its way throughout the park, which also includes a large man made pool, waterslides, refreshment stand, picnic grounds, showers, and washroom facilities.


After several trips back and forth to the car, we unloaded our gear, including our enormous American sized tent that came complete with a porch in the front offering shade from the blistering sun. Jewish and Arab residents from around the country, strolled by and asked us where we'd purchased our unique shelter. "Costco", we replied, clearly a disappointing response to our inquirers who thought they might be able to pick it up at the local Metayel store. My husband and I had a brief though heated argument over where to pitch the tent; I had identified what I thought was a cool and shady spot directly on the river banks with the water rushing in the background. "This was perfect", I said "if we had noisy neighbors, the sound of the water rushing would surely drown any noise." My husband, though, insisted that it was too "tzafuf" or crowded, and selected another spot nearby. Needless to say the next morning, when we awoke at 6 am because of the sun and noise from our neighbors, the spot I had targeted was shady and cool. So we moved.


That aside, what really struck me about camping in Israel on the weekend, were the number of religious people who camped out. Camping is not easy, but camping and keeping the Sabbath at the same time presents even more challenges. Interestingly, where there is a will there is a way. Friday afternoon, before sunset, I noted the number of crock pots and "platot" or heating trays that suddenly appeared by the main kitchen / gathering area - the place where you could rent a fridge, wash your dishes, fill up water, etc. All the crock pots were lined up and inside each were vegetables and meat chunks that were slowly being cooked so that families could indulge in a proper Sabbath lunch of cholent the next day, Saturday. As we walked around the campground that night, we saw families enjoying their Friday night dinners, many of which had been prepared in advance for that evening.


The preceding two days were spent quietly relaxing at the campsite, early morning swims at the freezing pools and then onto explore the area. The first day we went to Banias, also known as Caesarea Philippi, a second of the three head waters of the Jordan. Banias has been extensively excavated and offers a variety of walking trails, ranging from one half hour up to 1.5 hours, or even longer. Many people will walk one of two 45 minutes circular trails, or the longer 1.5 hour trail.  Among other sites, the trails lead by the ancient Crusader Palace of Agrippa II and to the Crusader gatehouse along the bank of the Sa'ar Stream.  The 1.5 hour trail passes under an ancient Roman bridge, flour mill, and further down along the the Sa'ar Stream until climbing down into the valley where the magnificent Banias Waterfall is hidden. There is a moat and a Crusader wall and other remnants along with extensive foliage and animal life.


As noted by the archaeological findings, the areas location by the spring and rich vegetation prompted its early development by the Greeks and later, the Romans. Josephus Falvius, the historian during that period wrote that Herod built a temple close to the springs and dedicated it to the roman emperor Augustus. When Herod later died, the region was awarded to his son Philip who made it his capital and called it Caesarea Philipi. The original Greek name, Paneas continued to be used, and the "p" was pronounced a "b" by the native population and thus the name Banias persisted.



According to Christian tradition, this is the site where, after Peter stated that  Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus answered him: "Blessed are  you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt 16:17-18). 


Our second day outing was spent at the Dan River Nature Reserve, the site of the largest and most important spring feeding the Jordan. Until the 1967 war, this river was the only source of water for the Jordan that was controlled by Israel. The reserve covers only about 120 acres  yet the abundance of water and location supports a unique ecosystem containing rare plants and animals. Archaeological findings here indicated that Dan was a city that first developed around 2700 BCE and the findings on site include an ancient Canaanite gate from the eighteenth century BCE that is completely intact with an arched entry. An Israelite gate, from the First Temple period, was also discovered.


A walk through Tel Dan can be as a quick as an hour to a full days activity. Trails range from 1 to 2.5 hours and are easy and family friendly, though not completely wheelchair accessible. The park offers a lot of shade as well as a fresh water fed wading pool  that is perfect for kids and adults alike.


It's  pretty amazing how easy it is to teach your children about the rise of ancient civilization on a summer day spent wading through water or walking by riverbeds. When they see the ancient palaces, gates, walls of civilizations dating back thousands of years ago, and they look around and see the water and beautiful foliage, they get why these locations emerged as so important. They know how valuable water is ( especially now when they read daily about how the government is imposing  $500 fines if we use too much water at home). Water is a valuable resource. And here, in the north, where its green and comfortable, it's easy to understand the evolution and strategic important of these ancient communities. Its all about the water. Still is.


Horshat Tal

Opening Hours:
08:00 - 17:00 (pools closed at 17:00 for those who are camping at the site as well)

Camping Costs: 55 shekel ($15 per adult and 45 shekel ($12) per child and includes entrance fees to the water park, electricity, showers. Refridgerator rental ($5) extra.

Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 99 from Kiryat Shmona to Mount hermon and after 5.5 KM make a right turn (south) to Hurshat Tal Phone: 04-6942360  Fax: 04-6959360

Hermon Stream Nature Reserve:

Opening Hours - 8:00 to 17:00 (no entrance after 16:00).

Winter Hours- 8:00 - 16:00 (last entrance at 15:00)

Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 99 from Kiryat Shmona to Mount Hermon and after 8.5 KM make a left turn into the main entrance of Banias. Tel: 04-695-0272

Tel Dan Nature Reserve

January to December: 8:00 to 16:00 (entrance until 16:00). On Fridays and holiday evenings the reserve closes an hour earlier.

Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 9 from Kiryat Shmona towards Mount Hermon and after 7.5 KM make a left turn (north) to Tel Dan. Tel: 04-695-1579



October 12, 2009October 12, 2009  1 comments  attractions

It is traditional to eat sweet foods during the Jewish high holiday season. Certain items are very prevalent throughout the country and show up on almost everyone's feast table at some point - such as apples, honey, chocolate, honey cake, figs and other specialty items. As part of our celebration of the holiday season combined with the fact that all the schools are out for vacation for almost two weeks, we opted to take a couple days to travel to the north and enjoy the celebrations that were going on. While many venues were offering special festivities during the weekly succot holidays - all of these venues are opened year round, for the most part and are highly recommended for visitation by individuals, groups and families alike. If you are a foodie - even better - you'll love learning about the many products that are organically grown in this region. Below are a couple interesting places that we visited last week.


Bustan HaGolan - Located just off of Highway 98, this wonderful outdoor attraction lies on the easternmost border of the Golan Heights, overlooking Syria. The fields offer abundant peach and apples  - we picked huge granny smiths and star kings as well as massive white peaches which were likely the last of this season. Within this large farm grapes are being grown on the fertile fields. Numerous activities await families with small children that can enjoy spending an entire day at the property. For an entrance price of approximately $8, children can ride ponies, visit the petting zoo including the alpacas and llamas, make candy apples, eat apple pie and pick apples as well as play on the well maintained playground. Parents will also enjoy the relaxing atmosphere that offers a stunning view overlooking Syria and the new city of Quneitra as well as the UN facility and hydro-power plant that provides electricity for the entire area. 04-6993612 


Ein Zivan - This quaint kibbutz settlement is situated approximately two kilometers south of Bustan HaGolan, off of highway 91, also in the eastern Golan Heights. The kibbutz is known for the famous private chocolate factory that was built on its grounds by a 3rd generation chocolatier from Argentina that made aliyah to Israel a few years ago. The factory is known as Pri Village and offers chocolate workshops for adults and kids that include a movie of the history of the Pri Village, a tour through the factory as well as a hands on workshop where participants learn to make their own handcrafted chocolates. A large chocolate shop featuring a variety of different products is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. The factory is kosher and closes early on Friday (at 3) and remains closed all of Saturday (sabbath). The factory offers special programs for school children from throughout the country (and, in fact, our daughter participated in a workshop on the chemistry of chocolate making). Because we arrived late we were unable to attend the workshop, however our tour included the 8 minute movie, a tour of the factory as well as a tasting (which was delicious). 04-699-3622



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