(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
The end of winter and the start of spring are often jumbled up together in Israel. The best example is occurring this year due to our good winter. The spring is already here and yet we are still experiencing some coolness and rain. That means that this is an ideal time to climb up to the upper Galilee and explore the city of Safed and its surroundings where spirituality and nature create a wonderful mix, much like the seasons.
Two to three days on the move with many outdoor activities will ignite your interest in what this piece of land has to offer. Start with a climb to the top of Mount Meron and the summit trail (shvil hapisga).
This is a circular trail which makes it convenient for a family or small group travelling with only one car.
The trail is signed in red very clearly along its 2 kilometers and 1200 meters elevation. We hiked the summit trail on a rainy day which afforded us its own magical views and colors of the lush forest. On a clear day you will pass through several spots with a view in all directions including Safed which was our next stop.
Safed is an ancient town that has been inhabited for thousands of years. It’s the highest city in Israel and is cool in the winter time and pleasant in the summer with a maximum elevation close to 900 meters.
The old city which is built on the mountain slope is the center of religion, architecture and history. Its sights, sounds and spirituality are woven into the ancient stone houses. There are a few ways to explore Safed either on your own or with a knowledgeable guide. If your time is limited, book in advance with Hana Karo of Ruach Tsfat (www.tsfat.org.il) or Eyal Karoutchi (www.greenbook.co.il) to coordinate your tour.
In the old town you will find many galleries of local artists. Some are on the main street of the old city while others are between the residential houses. The General Exhibition - Artist Colony is a good place to enjoy local art and styles and get a feel for the story of this magical city.
Safed is often well known as the home to Kabbalah. At the Kabbalah Center you can deepen your knowledge of this once secretive world that in the past was hidden from the regular people and only accessible to the righteous giants of the Torah. Here the Kabbalah’s wisdom is offered through workshops, lectures, games and other activities led by Rabbi Eyal Riess.
After engaging the mind it is time to go back to nature and its special beauty. Enjoy the rough wilderness of the Upper Galilee on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Dishon ATV's has the best trips to offer and will lead you to the mountains and streams through valleys boulders and forests. A few stops along the way will ensure you listen, hear and touch the beauty of nature that surrounds.
For your overnight stay in the area, consider one of the boutique choices like Olive chain’s Rosenthalis Hotel. Different style rooms spread over 3 complexes will give you multiple options. Decorating the hotel are the paintings of Rosenthalis himself. The location is great as you can walk a short distance to explore every site in the old city without worrying about moving your car or parking which is tricky in an old city like Safed.
Before leaving Safed, peek into some of the interesting sites like the Ancient Tzfat Winery with their unique wine and the lovely family that run the winery. Another one of a kind family owned industry is Hameiri dairy which has been making cheese since 1840 and produce the original Tzfatit cheese.
The house and dairy has a visitor center (coordinate in advance), a small dairy museum and even an open natural spring in the basement. Another stop not to be missed is Abuhav synagogue that has been operating since the 15 th. Century.
If you opt for a guided tour of the city, make sure to ask about trying on some of the local costumes at the Jewish Wardrobe. More than just on Purim, this small stall in the old city allows you to dress up like one of the local characters with outfits from Jewish life around the globe.
With still a lot more left to see and do on your next visit to Safed, it is time to climb down from the mountains. In the Jordan valley just near Gadot on road 918 finish your trip with a little more activity outdoors at Jordan River Rafting. Attractions include mild or white water rafting, paintball, kayaking and other extreme sport activities. After that you are sure to be hungry so on site is the Iskandar restaurant.
Delicious treats with a Turkish flare are served up alongside a great view of the Jordan River just below.
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