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.
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.