Tour Israel by rejoicing in Yatir Forest

It’s wonderful to hear the wind blowing through the leaves of the oak, cypress and acacia trees of the Yatir Forest, and with luck, you might even catch a glimpse of deer, elk and rabbits there.

NAF NAF  (photo credit: ELHANAN AMITAI)
NAF NAF
(photo credit: ELHANAN AMITAI)
One of the lesser-known jewels in the Israeli hiking scene is Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest planted forest, which is located in the northwestern Negev, with more than four million trees spread out over 4,000 hectares.
It’s wonderful to hear the wind blowing through the leaves of the oak, cypress and acacia trees of the Yatir Forest, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of deer, elk and rabbits that live there.
There are also vineyards, fields of vegetables and even ancient ruins. In short, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Herbs of Kedem:
When you hear the word “Carmel,” you probably think straightaway of the mountains overlooking the Haifa Bay.
Well, there’s another Carmel in Israel – a moshav southeast of Hebron, which is located on the same spot as the biblical Carmel that is mentioned in the Book of Samuel as being the home of Naval, a rich, mean Carmelite who was killed for threatening King David.
At the entrance of the moshav, you’ll find Herbs of Kedem, which produces natural healthcare products.
We were met there by Dr. Amir Katrun, who has a PhD in chemistry and runs the herb factory. Katrun excitedly told us about all the herbs that naturally grow in the region, the unique properties of each one, and how they were used in ancient times.
Our visit began with an offer to sniff all of the rare herbs that he grows in the botanical garden. Next, we toured the processing floor of the factory, where we learned how the healthcare products were made from the herbs, which can be used to keep skin healthy, relieve joint pain, lower cholesterol, and treat diabetes.
Free tours last 75 minutes.
Location: Herbs of Kedem, Moshav Carmel.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Friday and holiday eves.
Details: www.kedem.bio, (02) 960-5040,
052-444-3110.
Har-Sinai Farm:
Dalia Har-Sinai’s life story could fill an entire book.
From a very young age, she was in charge of collecting the fresh eggs from the chicken coop every morning on her parents’ farm on Moshav Ometz.
After she married Yair, the couple moved to Carmel and began building up their own organic farm and herding sheep.
Unfortunately, when her husband was murdered in 2001 by terrorists, she was left alone to raise their nine children. Despite her tragic story, Dalia is able to put a big smile on her face as she continues to expand the farm she and Yair dreamed about creating together.
We were treated to a tour of the organic dairy, the water reservoir, the sheep pen and finally the expansive fields full of organic wheat that is grown without any chemicals or sprays. The Har-Sinai Farm produces a high-quality line of flour called Shirat Hadagan, and Dalia holds popular baking workshops on the premises. She teaches participants how to generate sourdough for bread, bake pitot on a saj and make couscous made from whole wheat.
Details: har-sinai.co.il, 054-980-5265.
Naf Naf:
On the edge of Moshav Ma’on, overlooking the Judean Hills, Sarah and Elyashiv Friedberg opened a meat restaurant called Naf Naf, whose desert atmosphere is felt both inside and outside in the restaurant’s huge Bedouin tent, where guests can enjoy their meal sitting at low tables.
A wood stove keeps diners warm as they partake in the smoked meats and sip the boutique wines made from locally grown grapes. Naf Naf also hosts performances by new and veteran artists.
Elyashiv and Sarah love being able to help guests connect with nature and the desert. Sarah, an art and dance teacher, also offers Middle Eastern dance workshops for women.
For now, Naf Naf is open to the public only on Thursday nights; the rest of the week the restaurant is open for private events with a minimum of 15 people. The menu features a meat platter including smoked mutton, entrecôte, asado, roasted potatoes, french fries, sourdough bread and an array of desserts.
Details: 052-300-3108.
Drimia Winery:
Elad Movshovitz, the owner of Drimia Winery who is following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, spent his childhood in and around vineyards. So, it was only natural that he, too, would study winemaking and open his own boutique winery.
Drimia, or “hatzav” in Hebrew, is the name of a flowering plant that is commonly found all over Israel.
During a guided tour of the winery, which produces 15,000 bottles a year, it becomes clear that Movshovitz truly loves making wine, working the land and living in the desert. With shining eyes, he talks about how lucky he is to spend so much time out in nature.
After the tour, guests are treated to a tasting of Drimia wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and some interesting blends.
Details: 055-882-4369; 054-227-1153.
Yatir Almond Tree Festival:
Now that Tu Bishvat has come and gone, all the almond trees around Israel are in full bloom. The height of the season will fall on February 21, and to celebrate Israel’s blooming almond trees, the public is invited to take part in the annual Yatir Almond Tree Festival.
There will be cameras set up to take pictures of you and your family with almond trees that are bursting with blossoms in the background. Your pictures, printed on magnets, will be available for purchase, and there will also be flower workshops, tours of the forest and a farmer’s market with lots of locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a crafts fair.
Date: Friday, February 21, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Advance purchase price: Children, NIS 30; adults, NIS 25 (children under 3 free), at: www.goyatir.co.il.
Details: (08) 625-4802.