The Israeli Opera’s annual festival certainly has to be the only one in the world to span three ancient World Heritage sites: Masada, Jerusalem’s Old City walls (Sultan’s Pool) and the Knights’ Hall in the Crusader Fortress of Acre. Of the three venues, the Knights’ Hall is the most intimate, with acoustics that lend the open-air auditorium a range of musical performances.
This year, the Acre home of the opera festival comprised three rather different shows.
The main event was Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, innovatively staged by young director Itay Tiran. The opera alternated with a concert by a trio called The Three Tenors, while a Saturday afternoon was devoted to a live musical version of Cinderella, produced especially for families.
One of the festival’s sponsors was Ozrot Hagalil, Treasures of the Galilee, a nonprofit organization established to promote tourism to the Western Galilee. Ozrot Hagalil is funded primarily by philanthropist Raya Strauss, of the family that owns the Nahariya-based food conglomerate.
According to Yariv Hame’iri, directorgeneral of Ozrot Hagalil, the opera festival is responsible for generating NIS 1 million in revenues for the region over the course of the long weekend’s events. And the organization wants to help visitors to the area get the most for their money.
“We provide training and support for businesses that cater to visitors,” says Hame’iri. “Those that meet our standards are featured on our website, which is an excellent tool for planning a trip to the Western Galilee.”
The bilingual website (www.ozrothagalil.
org.il/index.aspx?LangID=2) lists dozens of hotels and B&Bs, restaurants, tour guides and other services and attractions, including those supplied free of charge by Mother Nature. A similar website, with slightly less content, is maintained by the Tourism Authority of the Mateh Asher Regional Council (www.bgalil.co.il).
The Ozrot Hagalil website encourages people to register and compile a Treasure Box of places to include during a visit. One may build an itinerary around an attraction, accommodations or an activity of special interest. Treasures of the Galilee monitors the quality of every business recommended on the site.
A cornerstone of the Ozrot Hagalil lodging category is the Shtarkman Erna Boutique Hotel (www.sernahotel.co.il/en) in Nahariya.
A fixture of the hotel scene in the beach resort town since 1959, the Shtarkman Erna – with 30 guest rooms – is a cozy alternative to larger, more impersonal hotels.
The family-owned hotel recently completed the second phase of refurbishing the entire premises, a process that spanned two years and left the hotel looking brand new while retaining a timeless, classic decor.
Among the guest units are three suites, including one with a luxurious double bathtub.
The in-room amenities include Sea of Spa toiletries and an espresso machine.
There are some nice bonuses that come with staying at the Shtarkman Erna: entrance to a restricted beach and swimming pool two blocks away and free use of bicycles to pedal around the quaint town.
And the cultural and historic attractions of Acre are a short 15-minute drive away.
There is no need to travel to Acre in search of an excellent restaurant, however. Banahala (http://banahala.co.il), situated on a Nahariya country lane, serves food worthy of a sophisticated eatery in Tel Aviv. With its expansive lawn and children’s playground, the restaurant attracts vacationing families; but its alfresco dining and pleasant interior, with relaxing soft rock music playing in the background, are equally inviting to couples enjoying a romantic getaway.
The service is attentive, and the staff made sure we could enjoy a leisurely dinner and still make it to the opera on time. We tasted dishes from every category on the menu – starters, salads, fish and meat main courses and desserts – and we can honestly say there was not a single one we did not like. Among the dishes we would particularly recommend are the Druse pita stuffed with lamb; the house salad, overflowing with fresh vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and goat cheese; and sirloin medallions on chestnut puree.
Banahala takes pride in featuring wines exclusively from the Galilee, primarily from boutique wineries.
Like everything on the menu, the desserts are made onsite from scratch. The homemade sorbets and chocolate mousse on nougat crunch were especially noteworthy. The family-owned restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week but Sunday.
Since we were spending the next day sightseeing in the verdant hills of the Upper Galilee, Ozrot Hagalil booked our lunch at 300 Grams (www.300gram.co.il), a steakhouse in Moshav Betzet.
Chef-owner Itay Hasson honed his skills in the kitchens of the Dan Hotels chain before opening his own kosher (mehadrin) restaurant on a hilltop in the Western Galilee.
There can be little doubt as to what to order here: The inspiration for the name of his restaurant, as chef Hasson points out, is “the most popular portion size when ordering beef or steak.” The entrecote at 300 Grams is grilled to perfection: juicy and flavorful.
The excellence of the main event notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to skip the appetizers. The onion mousse is as delicious as it is unusual, and the same can be said for the honeydew melon seasoned with chili and cilantro and the hummus with chimichurri.
The Galilean influence resurfaces here as well, in the form of 300 Grams’ mouth-watering version of ground lamb on tehina.
Finally, having been tempted to learn more about boutique Galilee wineries, we paid a visit to the (http://kishor-winery.
com), another recommendation of Ozrot Hagalil. The wines have won acclaim and are definitely worth tasting. Since taste in wine is so subjective, I will refrain from giving my own opinions, except to note that the rosé is worth a try here. Kishor raises this much maligned stepsister of the wine family to a level worthy of respect, alongside the reds and whites.
The visitors’ center here is inspiring in a way that few others are. The video presentation tells the story of Kishorit, the magnificent social experiment that makes this hilltop community unique. Most employees of the winery, kennel, bakery and dairy are adults with special needs, who are given a chance to shine and excel as equal contributors to outstanding enterprises. If your schedule is flexible, Thursdays are a good day to go there. In addition to the wines, Kishor’s artisan breads and goat cheeses are also for sale.
The writer was a guest of the places mentioned.