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You've decided to head up to the Galilee for a few days of off the beaten path exploration that might include biking, or hiking the Gospel Trail or perhaps other attractions in the area. Where to stay?
Here's an answer: Barbakfar
A few kilometers east of the Gospel Trail within Moshav Sharona, lies Barbakfar, a small bed and breakfast that offers very comfortable lodgings, excellent food and tremendous service (including transportation to and from the trail). The quaint property is the brainchild of owner Nili Bar, an 11th generation Israeli. Her husband's family also dates back many generations and they were founders of Kibbutz Ein Gev and she grew up in Rosh Pina and then moved to Ginosar where she went to school. For a number of years she worked as a tour guide all the while dreaming of opening her own guesthouse with her husband Dov. In preparation for the anticipated tourism boom for the year 2000, they began planning their own guest house and eventually opened their own guesthouse with six units. Over the years they've added their private home to the mix, enabling Barbakfar to accommodate up to 40 people.
The guesthouse is set on 24 dunams and the setting is reminiscent of Tuscany. The landscaping is lush and abundant and visitors can lounge in the pool overlooking the vineyards while enjoying the view of Mt. Tabor lying prominently in the distance. Grapes grown on site are blended into a fine Shiraz wine that is produced under their own private label, aged and produced on site. Approximately 3,000 bottles of year are produced at their winery on site.
The Bar family is intimately involved with the day to day operation of the guesthouse. Yuval Bar handles the front of the house operation, graciously chatting with all the guests individually at breakfast as he walks from table to table. If asked, he'll happily advise on how he produces his wine and proudly takes those interested into his wine manufacturing area. In the meantime, his brother, Uri, oversees the kitchen where his mother's breakfast recipes are duplicated by their cooks, who come from nearly Kfar Cama.
For travelers along the Gospel Trail, Barbakfar is a wonderfully convenient and relaxed location. Transportation to and from the Gospel Trail can be arranged through the guesthouse at a nominal extra charge. Simply let Yuval or Nili know that you will need to be picked up at the end of your hiking day and they'll be there. And in the morning they'll take you back.
Barbakfar, which happens to be rated quite high on TripAdvisor, offers romantic units for couples, larger units for families that sleep four and one huge cottage unit that sleeps four couples plus children. Each unit contains a private enclosed terrace with a large jacuzzi, a television, and an equipped kitchen area. A complimentary half bottle of wine, chocolate and full, cooked to order breakfast is provided. Prices begin at approximately $160 per night per couple.
Anyone seeking to explore the area of Mt. Tabor and nearby Tiberias will be quite content staying at Barbakfar.
Barbakfar, Moshav Sharon, 052-2262754 www.barbakfar.co.il
Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you."
Eduward has been in Israel for three months, living in Jerusalem and volunteering for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, before he made his first trip to the Galilee.
Like many tourists, the Galilee was not at the top of Eduward's list of things to do. However, after an invitation to walk the newly redeveloped Gospel Trail prompted him to visit, Eduward quickly realized that the Galilee offers much more than he had ever anticipated.
Walking where Jesus walked was an emotional trip and the high point of Eduward's visit to Israel.
"I'm recommending the Gospel Trail to everyone - Christian and even Jewish people as well, so they can experience where Jesus walked, see the scenery and hike the trail," Eduward told Travelujah.
Photo Courtesy: Travelujah - The Gospel Trail
Jesus spent the majority of his life growing up in Nazareth, working in the community, walking the countryside, bringing his ministry of teaching and healing throughout the region and performing numerous miracles along the way from Cana to Tabgha. Even still, Nazareth and the Galilee as a whole have not yet evolved as an international destination and tourism to the region pales in comparison to Jerusalem. While more than 87 percent of Christian tourists visit Jerusalem, only 60 percent of Israel's Christian tourists visit the Galilee, up from less than 50 percent in 2009.
Why does the Galilee attract fewer Christians despite the fact that Jesus spent most of his life there?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Galilee region, despite offering an abundance of important sites, is relatively "off the beaten path' and not as easy to navigate on foot as Jerusalem, which hosts a concentration of sites proximate to each other.
In an effort to address this, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with its partners at the Jewish National Fund, began planning the Gospel Trail, a 60-kilometer hiking trail, 10 years ago. However, once the second intifada took root prompting a sharp drop in tourism plans for the Gospel Trail were put on hold.
Fast forward several years to 2010. Israel had experienced a dramatic rise in Christian tourism culminating in a record-breaking 2.3 million Christian tourists, representing two thirds of the 3.45 million tourists who visited the country in 2010. The Christian sector was demonstrating the strongest growth of all sectors too. While Jewish tourism had grown from 800,000 to 1 million in the last five years, Christian tourism was up over fourfold, from just under 500,000 tourists in 2005 to 2.3 million tourists in 2010. Tourism officials made the Gospel Trail a priority and, at a cost of $600,000, the well marked trail was unveiled a couple months ago.
Photo credit: Travelujah.com Bishop Marcuzzo, Noaz Bar Nir and Rafi Ben Hur unveiling the new Gospel Trail marker
The Gospel Trail begins at the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4:14-28, Jesus was rejected by his townsmen who threatened to throw him over the mountainside. The trail travels down the ancient "Pilgrims Path" 500 meters to the Jezreel Valley below, and continues along the Nazareth Range providing views of the Mount Tabor, Kafr Kanna and travels, via the golani Junction to the Horns of Hattin site of the clash between the Crusader forces and the Muslim armies under Saladin. It continues past the antiquities of Magdala to Tabgha, the Mount of Beatitudes, eventually ending at Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.
The Gospel Trail experience offers the Christian faithful a unique opportunity to take a similar path to the one that Jesus would have trodden.
Additional branches of the trail will allow visitors to access other important sites. A new dock alongside Capernaum allows visitors to include a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where according to Mark 4:35, Jesus calmed the sea. With a ride to Ein Gev or Tiberias, groups can have the possibility of including prayer time or singing on the boat. Scripture readings, safety barriers, shaded rest areas and safety features are to be included and are expected to be in place along the trail shortly.
Photo Credit Travelujah.com Bishop Marcuzzo leading mass on the Sea of Galilee
The Gospel Trail is part of the Israel Ministry of Tourism's effort to broaden Israel's tourism product and reach new market segments like hikers and Christian youth groups. Pilgrimage is viewed as a natural means to self discovery and attracts young people seeking to connect to their spiritual roots.
Father Atuire, director of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican pilgrimage organizer responsible for organizing programs for 750,000 pilgrims annually, has been actively seeking to reach out to more Christians including youths, by offering alternative journeys of faith such as walking pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela as well as social justice tours of Nepal and packages to World Youth Day.
The Gospel Trail is envisioned to serve a similar purpose: to connect youths to pilgrimage by walking in Jesus' footsteps. Pilgrimage is viewed as a natural means to self discovery and attracts young people seeking to connect to their spiritual roots.
Latin Patriarchal Vicar Bishop Boutros Marcuzzo accompanied us along a leg of the Gospel Trail and echoed his desire for young people to have a direct and spontaneous interaction with nature along the way.
Travelujah CEO Elisa Moed and Bishop Marcuzzo on the Gospel Trail
"We want young people to come," he told Travelujah. "And this trail is very encouraging for young people."
The Gospel Trail was developed in consultation with Evangelical, Protestant and Orthodox church leaders and provides pilgrims and others an opportunity to experience the Holy Land on foot while connecting in a spiritual and physical way to the Biblical landscapes that feature in Jesus' life.
The Gospel Trail comes on the heels of another popular northern Israel hike also catering to Christian tourists, the Jesus Trail. The Jesus Trail follows a similar route as the new Gospel Trail and to a large extent serves the same function. However, the Jesus Trail encourages a bit more diversity as it passes through some outlying Arab villages in the Galilee while the Gospel Trail, focuses more on exploring the indigenous nature of the region.
By highlighting their connection to important holy sites, both bring a much-needed awareness to the Galilee, a region that is still often overlooked by visitors to Israel, though, perhaps, not for much longer.
"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."
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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah -Holy Land Tours (http://www.travelujah.com). A 24 year tourism consulting veteran, Elisa has worked for many international chains, banks, developers and hotel management companies in her role as a specized hospitality ndustry consutlant..
Travelujah is the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy |Land.
Israel - arguably the world's largest small country and
certainly its most diverse - is a hiker's paradise. Paths like the Bible Trail
on Mount Gilboa, the Gospel Trail or Jesus Trail in the Galilee, (published in the article "Hiking in the Spiritual Backcountry" June 23, 2012 published by the New York Times) link
sites sacred to Jews and Christians while passing through breathtaking mountain
landscapes. The Kinneret Trail and the Jerusalem Trail, both currently under
development, will respectively encircle Israel's largest freshwater lake and
the country's historic capital. Even more ambitious, the Abraham's Path links the
route of patriarch of Jews and Muslims across, Turkey, Syria, the
Palestinian Authority territory, Israel and Egypt.
But the mother of all hiking paths in the Jewish state is the Israel National Trail, known in Hebrew as Shvil Yisra'el, a 940-kilometer long path that begins in Dan near the Lebanese border in the north and zigzags its way across the entire country before ending in Eilat at Israel's southern tip on the Red Sea.
Head waters of the Jordan at Dan; courtesy Travelujah
The trail, marked with its distinctive white, blue and orange stripes, takes between 30 to 70 days to finish if hiked continuously - depending on one‘s stamina and grit. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are in the process of hiking the trail, one weekend at a time.
Tourists are equally welcome to start the process. For foreign visitors the Israel National Trail offers the chance to see the real Israel - without any coach buses, guided tours or crowds, and often no cell phone reception or running water. Instead, there is a chance to discover Israel's people, history and culture on the country's less-traveled paths.
Inspired the Appalachian Trail in the United States, the Israel National Trail was inaugurated by President Ezer Weizman in 1994. It was an intiative of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel conceived as a way to allow Israelis to experience the entire breadth and variety of their land firsthand. Parts of the trail follow camel or goat paths, while others follow dirt roads and others no recognizable path at all. In true Israeli style of improvisation, the various sections of the trail have been added organically over the years. Thus in 2003 a portion of the trail was diverted west from the Sharon coastal plain to run along the Mediterranean where it offers beautiful beach vistas.
This article details the trail in 11 sections, any one of which promises a challenging trek for hiking devotees. None of the sections traverse the Golan Heights or the West Bank.
Naftali Ridge and Ramim Cliffs (Upper Galilee) - On the eastern slopes of the Ramim Cliffs are a series of springs and observation points overlooking the Hula Valley - known by bird watchers as place to observe the spring and fall migrations from Europe to Africa and back. The Israel National Trail here passes through planted forests and natural undergrowth. The area ranges from a deserted sandstone quarry above the city of Qiryat Shmona, at the height of 280 meters above sea level, southward towards the Yesha Fortress, a Taggert fort built during the British Mandate that was the site of a bloody battle during Israel‘s 1948 War of Independence. In the autumn, the trail is rich with early blossoming cyclamens.
Kadesh Ili stream and Yesha fortress (Upper Galilee) - This challenging section passes through a limestone canyon shaded by the treetop canopy.
Meron stream to Ein Zeved (Upper Galilee) - This circular trail on the eastern slope of Mount Meron, Israel‘s tallest mountain, is blanketed during the spring with a variety of wild flowers including orchids. Towards summer different flowers appear and colour the area yellow, followed by the ripening of the raspberries as the fall approaches.
Mount Tabor (Lower Galilee) - As the Bible says in the Book of Jeremiah, "As Tabor among mountains", it's impossible to ignore the presence of Mount Tabor as it looms up from all directions. The hike up Mount Tabor offers staggering views while the peak is crowned by the Church of Transfiguration and various antiquities.
Tzippori stream (Lower Galilee) - The trail here covers one of the geographical areas least familiar to hikers. In this area of gall oaks (known in Hebrew as Alon ha-Tavor - Tabor oak), you can also find birch trees and carpets of blossom in winter and spring. In the Lower Galilee there are Bedouin settlements. Along the trail are streams of flowing water, improvised water pumps and a castle which is named the Monks Mill and the remains of another impressive gristmill at Khurbat Alil.
Ma'apilim / Nakhash stream (Mount Carmel) - A walk through Nakhash Stream provides an almost complete representation of Mount Carmel's hidden treasures: From the top of the trail and while walking down the ravine, you can see an impressive view of the northern Coastal Plain and the Lower Galilee. The path exits near Kibbutz Yagur. You can also see a vertical karstic hole, the "Arbutus Curve" and at the end of the trail in Yagur, a slick (secret weapons hiding place) from the pre-state Haganah underground. "Nakhash" means snake in Hebrew though your chance of encountering the venomous Palestinian Black Viper are slim. Following statehood, the stream was renamed Nahal Ma'apilim after the illegal Jewish immigrants who attempted to slip ashore in defiance of the British Royal Navy's embargo on immigration.
After this section, the Israel National Trail continues south through the Sharon plain, through the urban sprawl of Gush Dan and greater Tel Aviv, and the Shephaleh lowlands. Those who prefer trekking in pristine landscapes will want to skip this section.
Range (Judean Mountains) - Trekking
along the Shayarot Range provides views down to the Coastal Plain and up to the
Judean Mountains, hundreds of kilometers of mountain dirt tracks, walking
routes, caves, and an abundance of flowers in the spring. The trail passes
through the Burma Road - a goat path widened to barely allow trucks to pass
that lifted the Arab siege of beleaguered Jerusalem in 1948. Here you can climb
to the military posts overlooking Rte. 1, today the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv
expressway but six decades ago the scene of savage fighting between Arab
villagers and the soldiers of the Palmach's Har'el brigade.
Yatir ruins to Dragot Quarry - This segment of the Israel National Trail goes from Khurbat Yatir, one of the Levite cities in the land of Judea on the eastern brim of the Yatir Mountains ridge, through the Yatir Forest, the largest forest planted by the Jewish National Fund, to the Mount Amsha nature reserve, which has impressive views and unique plants. It also contains the remains of the Roman "freeway" Ma'ale Dragot.
Mamshit stream (Negev) - The trail passes through the 2,000-year-old ruins of the Nabatean city of Mamshit. Its alleys, churches, stables, houses and administrative structures, though damaged in the massive earthquake of 749, are still impressive. You can visit the ancient dams at Mamshit Stream - designed to capture every last drop of precious water in the desert, walk through the beautiful narrow canyon of the stream, and see the remains of ancient ancient agriculture.
Mitzpe Ramon and Ramon Crater (Negev) - The desert city of Mitzpe Ramon is a meeting place for artists, a station for people heading south to Eilat, and a base for visitors to the Ramon Crater - better known to geologists as a makhtesh or erosion cirque. Ibex - mountain goats with huge horns - scamper freely on the cliffs, while the crater's colours change with the passage of the sun.
Kisuy stream and Uvda Valley (Negev) - While the Negev is a rock desert, in the Uvda Valley you'll encounter towering sand dunes reminiscent of the Sahara. The Neolithic "leopard" temple here attests to early human occupation.
Shkhoret stream (Eilat Mountains) - The final section of the trail is the most geologically diverse: here you'll find Israel's only granite formations, as well as the more common limestone and dolomite. Hiking at night, one encounters a surprising array of nocturnal fauna proving the desert is hardly a lifeless wilderness.
Reaching the port and resort of Eilat with your dusty hiking boots, you'll realize civilization isn't necessarily such a good thing. In Israel, with all its varied attractions, nature is near the top of the list.
Interested in bringing your ministry or group on a biblical walking tour of the Holy Land or adding a one or two day hiking component into your Holy Land tour program? Contact Travelujah at email@example.com.
Gospel Trail - A 62-Km walking trail from the Mt. of Precipace to Capernaum in the Galilee
Abraham's Path - 1,200 km hiking trail from Syria to Egypt (currently 70-Km inside of the Palestinian territories)
Jerusalem Trail - A 42-Km walking ttrail around Jerusalem
For more information on arranging biblical walking or hiking tours of the Holy Land, contact Travelujah-Holy Land tours
All Photos: Courtesy: Travelujah
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Gil Zohar writes regularly for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.
He said to them, 'Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.'" Mark 1:38
With a heart full of emotion, Valeries Ramirez, 24, looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Genasseret Valley on the path Jesus likely took from his hometown in Nazareth to meet the residents living in the seaside villages along the Sea of Galilee.
"To walk where your savior walked - it's a very beautiful experience and something that will change your life," Ramirez said about her visit along a portion of the Gospel Trail, the newly completed 65-kilometer path inaugurated last week by Israel's Ministry of Tourism.
The Gospel Trail is part of the Tourism Ministry's effort to attract more Christians to Israel in general, but more specifically to the Galilee, which does not attract the high number of tourists that Jerusalem does, despite the fact that Jesus spent most of his life in this region and walked the very countryside that Ramirez was walking.
Ramirez was visiting Israel as part of a 70-person tour organized by Pastor Alberto Mottesi, a radio and TV personality and Evangelical minister from Santa Ana, California, who led a group of 70 believers from Latin America and the United States on a 10 day journey to Israel on what he estimates is his 15th visit to the Holy Land.
Alberto Mottesi and Travelujah Founder Elisa Moed, Photo Credit Travelujah
Mottesi's radio program ‘Un Momento Con Alberto Mottesi' (A Moment with Alberto Mottesi) is transmitted approximately 2000 times daily throughout Latin America, USA, and Spain. His new television program Café Libre can be seen on 5580 channels in 57 countries.
"The first time I came to Israel I wanted to experience the Bible exactly as it is," said Pastor Mottesi.
And to do that one must feel the land. Even Jesus and his disciples couldn't rely on cars to take them around the Galilee 2,000 years ago, which is why Mottesi felt it was important to include the new Gospel Trail as part of his group's itinerary.
"When we walk here, Israel opens up in front of our eyes," explained Mottesi.
The Gospel Trail provides an unparalleled opportunity to replicate Jesus' probable footsteps from Nazareth to the villages in which he ministered along the Sea of Galilee.
The 65-kilometer trail begins at the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4:14-28, Jesus was rejected by his townsmen who threatened to throw him over the mountainside. It crosses part of the Galilean landscape providing views of many important holy sites and places where Jesus performed miracles and taught. The trail dips into part of the Jezreel Valley and continues along the Nazareth Range providing views of Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured and the village of Cana where he performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.
It passes nearby to the Horns of Hattins, the site of the clash between the Crusader forces and the Muslim armies under Saladin, and past the antiquities of Magdala to Tabgha, and below the Mount of Beatitudes, eventually ending at Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.
Those who prefer to add a bit more adventure to their Gospel Trail experience can do so by taking on the trail by bicycle or even horseback. Bikes can be rented in Nazareth and Tiberias. Horseback riding can be arranged through Vered HaGalil, about 5 minutes from the Mt. of Beatitudes. Gospel Trail maps can be viewed online and are available through Ministry of Tourism offices.
Israel Minister of Tourism Staz Misechnikov trotting the Gospel Trail Photo courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah
Father Juan Solana, director of the Legionaries of Christ, said the Gospel Trail is "a great initiative."
"You can't follow the footsteps by car - only by walking or biking or horseback riding," he explained.
The Gospel Trail will pass by Father Solana's new Magdala project, Notre Dame du Lac, which is under construction just north of Ginnosar on the Sea of Galilee.
Sunset on the Sea of Galilee; Photo Courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah
The Ministry of Tourism spent 3 million shekels ($750,000) upgrading the trail, much of which is also part of Israel's National Trail. Separate signs, rest areas and other enhancements were added to the Gospel Trail in order to cater to the Christian tourists anticipated to hike the trail.
Archaeological excavations at Tel Kinrot, on the Gospel Trail; Photo Courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah
The trail was planned more than 10 years ago but was shelved due to the second intifada. It was revived a couple of years ago when, coincidentally, another hiking trail - the Jesus Trail - created by two young entrepreneurs, began generating much buzz and interest in the area. The Jesus Trail follows a similar route as the Gospel Trail and serves the same function and market, though the Jesus Trail encourages a bit more diversity and interaction with the local population as its path passes through some outlying Arab villages in the Galilee and passes many more churches.
The Ministry of Tourism route, which was planned and completed with the help of KKL, Israel's forestry organization, focuses more on exploring the indigenous nature of the region and includes many forests. Be forewarned though: The trail itself offers no infrastructure such as bathrooms, hotels or restaurants so travelers must bring supplies with them and carefully plan their journeys themselves or hire a specialist to coordinate the logistics of the trek.
While no one really knows the exact paths Jesus took, according to Yisca Harani, a Christianity expert, consultant to the Ministry of Tourism and instructor at the Avshalom Institute, it is quite likely that he traveled on or near either of these paths.
Jesus spent most of his life and performed many of his miracles in this very region yet the Galilee attracts far fewer tourists than Jerusalem. Although if it was up to Pastor Mottesi, all Christian tourists would some spend time in the Galilee.
"People must come here to walk the same trail Jesus (walked)," he explained. "That's all I have to say to convince them (to come to Israel)."
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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian travel network focused on connecting Christians to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.