This may be the driest winter on record thus far, but there is still plenty to see and enjoy in Tiberias.
The ancient city huddles along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, with the lake’s gently lapping waters providing aesthetic rewards for sore eyes and an excellent spot for engaging in all kinds of water sports, from skiing to power boating.
A lot has happened in Tiberias in recent years, and the authorities seem to be investing great effort, and no small amount of cash, in upgrading the city and its environs to provide visitors from all over the country and around the world with fun and interesting things to do and beautiful and intriguing places to visit.
The city’s principal attraction is Lake Kinneret and all the facilities laid out around its shoreline. Until not so long ago, visitors looking to lay their hands on souvenirs of their trip to the Galilee city would have to pick their way through all manner of oddly positioned and often ramshackle structures near the water’s edge where the owners purveyed their goods.
But things have been sorted out, and anyone interested in going home with a handsome bit of Tiberias now has plenty of wares to choose from, and in the most user-friendly way.
“It used to be a bit of a mess down there. Anyone who wanted to just put up a stall anywhere they wanted, but now it is all organized,” says Tiberias Municipality spokesman Eli Sabti.
There is, it appears, some important added value to putting the lakeside sales facility house in order.
“The idea was take people who had fallen into a life of crime and offer them the opportunity to rehabilitate their life by running a stall by the lake,” he explains.
The plan seems to be a winner for all parties concerned.
Naturally, the lake also provides prime positions for dozens of hotels to offer their clientele scenic views, as well as ease of access to the sweet water. There are now more than 30 hotels in Tiberias of all types, grades and sizes, capable of accommodating around 4,000 guests, from spacious five-star luxury facilities to more intimate boutique hotels.
According to Tiberias Hotel Association director general Joanne Smadar, the hotel sector is spreading its wings, and the latter form of accommodation is becoming increasingly popular.
“The Astoria Hotel has just received a permit to build 17 new rooms, and they are starting work on that now. And former mayor Zohar Oved is building an amazing 28-room boutique hotel,” she reports.
Oved’s project, says Smadar, is feeding off one of the city’s most valuable assets, its history.
“The new boutique hotel is being built in an old building that is being preserved,” she continues. “Tiberias has a lot of beautiful old building, and Zohar’s hotel is preserving the appearance of the building. It's wonderful to see an old building that looked run-down and is now absolutely gorgeous.”
And an announcement was made just last week about plans to build a new four-star boutique hotel in Tiberias called Vista the Sea of Galilee. The project will cost NIS 70 million, and the 120-room hotel, which takes in the preservation of a nearby old building, will open its doors in summer 2015.
And there’s more.
“Leonardo are going to pull down their hotel right by the beach and are going to put up a 60-room boutique hotel,” says Smadar. “That's a prime location. And there’s Emily’s Hotel, which is a beautiful boutique hotel that opened a year and a half ago. And let’s not forget the Scots Hotel, which is also excellent.”
But Tiberias and its environs are not just about luxuriating in sumptuous accommodation, however wonderful the view may be from the rooms’ balconies. Many of the close to two million tourists who flocked to Tiberias in 2013 spent time in the city enjoying some of its unique spa facilities, such as Hamei Teverya and Hamat Gader, just a few minutes’ drive to the south. They also used the city as a base for exploring some of the sights and tourist attractions in the vicinity. These include several sites of great importance to Christian tourists but can be enjoyed by members of other religions as well, such as Capernaum National Park on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The park contains the restored remains of several ancient synagogues and churches, and there is an abundance of rich vegetation there, too. Other beauty spots of particular Christian interest in the area include Tabgha on the northern shore of the lake and the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount, and affords of lovely view of the lake.
The Golan Heights lie just across the Kinneret and offer a multitude of tourist sites, trails, beauty spots and sites of historical interest. The latter include the Galgal Refaim ancient circle of stones, the Sussita archaeological site that also offers breathtaking views of the whole region, and the site of the ancient Jewish settlement of Rehavam’s Arches. And, of course, there is Mount Hermon, rising majestically to the northeast, and an abundance of springs and natural pools dotted around the area.
Burial grounds for one of the most significant personalities in Jewish history, Maimonides, may be found in Tiberias. The Maimonide’s Heritage Center which honors his burial site is now a place which inspires visitors to come and learn. The center is small and includes a fascinating walk through the life of Maimonides, his literary and professional legacy and his impact on Judaism, medicine and philosophy.
Closer to the hotel accommodation, the promenade around the lake offers a relaxing and fun way to take enjoy the view and get some gentle exercise in the process. Those looking for something a bit more strenuous can take advantage of the lakeshore bicycle trail.
There are various local bicycle rental facilities, such as the Aviv Hotel housed in a preserved old building, which has more than 300 bicycles for rent. More serious mountain bikers can take advantage of the trails that criss-cross the Swiss Forest on the slopes beneath Poriya to the west of the city.
After all that exercise, no doubt vittles will be in order, and there is no shortage of restaurants, cafes and other eateries right by the lake and around town to suit all palates and pockets.
For more information: http:// www.gogalil.org/tiberias.asp, www.tiberias-hotels.co.il