(photo credit: Roy Katlan)
With summer at the doorstep, the mass migration is set to begin. Charter flights are packed, national parks overwhelmed and prices for accommodations throughout the country skyrocket. Many are looking for the hot new attraction, while others seek out time-tested classics. A tested one is Vered Hagalil.
Fifty years ago an American transplant decided to bring a taste of American life to Galilee and Vered Hagalil was born. The resort sits atop the hills surrounding Lake Kinneret. Many of the rooms have adjacent balconies enhancing the idyllic atmosphere. After soaking in the breathtaking views, slip over to the Jacuzzi in the robe and slippers provided for some jet therapy.
In many ways the breakfast spread looks more Israeli than American, with its wide variety of salads, fish and cheeses. While the kosher kitchen does not offer American breakfast staples such as sausage links and crispy bacon, it does have eggs cooked to order, pancakes, and delicious French toast topped with powdered sugar and served with real maple syrup. A true Israeli-American fusion.
The resort has an array of options for daytime activities. The spa facilities offer a full selection of treatments and the location is just around the corner from a variety of Christian and Jewish holy sites as well as stunning natural hikes and viewpoints. However, what truly sets Vered Hagalil apart is its ranch facilities.
Entering the stables feels like entering the American Southwest. Plaid-shirted, hat-wearing wranglers straight out of a Marlboro ad give a short tutorial on riding and then introduce each rider to his steed. With a “yee-haw!” and a kick of the horse, the ride sets off on a trail through the rocky highlands of the Galilee. In springtime the trail is surrounded by thistles and wild mustard flowers in bloom. The yellows and purples of the blossoms contrast beautifully with the green grass, the gray dolomite rocks and the blues of the sky above and the Kinneret in the valley deep below.
Casual banter in the tranquil setting is intermixed with alternate tugs and cajoles of the horse. The experience is refreshingly organic, getting out of the office and away from the car to a horse ride in the late afternoon sun. The only regret is that the ride is but an hour, though there are options for longer rides.
After a return to the room and a soak in the Jacuzzi, dinner awaits in the wooden cabin of the restaurant. The décor matches the rustic American menu, but the menu cannot hide its Middle Eastern influences like the delicious grilled eggplant served with tehina and herb salad. Also a rare find on an American rustic menu is the lamb osso bucco with home-made couscous served with root vegetables in a red wine sauce, delicious, wonderfully tender and richly flavored. For an American dish, try the 300-gr. grilled pepper entrecote steak cooked in beef sauce and Madagascar pepper served with roast potatoes.
It is never easy to end a weekend like this at Vered Hagalil; however, on the long journey home through the Jordan Valley top it off with one last idyllic meal at Rutenberg.
At the site of Old Gesher, near the old Naharayim electrical plant, the non-kosher restaurant is named for the father of electricity in the Holy Land, Pinhas Rutenberg. The building is a historic construction renovated to highlight the shrapnel wounds from the War of Independence.
Inside there is a rustic and intimate setting with a menu inspired by
French and Mediterranean cuisine according to the tastes of chef Lior
Bachshean. With flowers on the tables and a cool, spring breeze flowing
through the windows down from the mountains, this restaurant is the
perfect coda to a Vered Hagalil weekend.
The freshness of his ingredients can be appreciated in the green apple
salad with sweet and sour beets, lettuce and Roquefort cheese, a simple
dish that allows the mixture of the natural flavors to interact
throughout the dish. Another fine starter is the pickled red tuna on top
of an avocado salad. For the main course, indulge in the beef fillet in
black pepper sauce, mushrooms, potatoes and a touch of cream for a
satisfying, well-spiced steak.
At Rutenberg, dessert is absolutely mandatory. The berries and fresh
cream were excellent and refreshing after a heavy meal. However, the
semifreddo brulee filled with wild berries is the kind of dessert that
brings a nostalgic sigh when mentioned long after the fact, as will this
entire weekend getaway.
More information can be found at veredhagalil.co.il and www.rest.co.il.
The writer was a guest of Vered Hagalil and Rutenberg.