The Golan Heights in the springtime.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI AND TOUR GOLAN)
One of the most gorgeous places to tour in Israel in the springtime is the Golan Heights. The streams are still full of water from the winter rains and the warm weather is perfect for kayaking. The fields are covered with beautiful flowers and the sun is shining – but not yet too hot.
One particular gem in the northern Golan Heights is Moshav Odem, which sits at the top of Mount Odem. This area is well known due to the large volcanic crater (a.k.a. the Big Juba) that is covered in luscious green and colorful vegetation this time of year. The mountain reaches 1,200 meters above sea level, and is home to numerous trails, the most popular one leading to the large crater (follow black trail markers). More than 20 craters have been found in the Odem Forest.
Another popular trail is the circular path that encircles the large crater (follow blue trail markers), which begins near the Odem Forest Junction. It takes about an hour to complete the hike, which passes through Tel El Katza.
Ayalim Forest Mini-Zoo
If you’re traveling with children, I recommend making an extra stop at the Ayalim Forest Mini- Zoo located on Moshav Odem, where you’ll find spotted, red and dwarf deer, as well as ibexes. Visitors are welcome to join a guided tour, or you can move around on your own in electric buggies that you can rent. In addition to looking around for the animals, you can go on a pony ride, jump in a moon bounce, spend time in the petting zoo and spread out your picnic and relax in the shade. For the courageous among you, Ayalim Forest also offers a rope course challenge and a zip line.
Golan Heights Hostel
Another option for sleeping is the Golan Heights Hostel, which is popular among young hikers. Liad Montzes opened the hostel five years ago upon his return from a long sojourn overseas. When he arrived home in Odem, he was heartbroken to find that the mini-market he had frequented as a child had closed, and so he decided to open a hostel that is run by volunteers and people visiting from overseas. He built three private rooms and three large dorm rooms. Like youth hostels overseas, the price is reasonable (NIS 100 for a bed in the dorm, and NIS 275 to 350 for a private room). There’s a shared bathroom and shower area, a kitchen, and even a minimarket where you can buy fruits, vegetables, drinks, snacks and canned food.
The nicest thing about the Golan Heights Hostel, however, is the feeling that everyone – guests and volunteers alike – helps to make sure the hostel is functioning properly. For example, after a free, basic breakfast, everyone cleans up after themselves. Most of the guests are attracted to the hostel not for its reasonable rates, but due to the feeling of community. No one stays there so they can brag about it later on Facebook.
Golan Heights Hostel: 054-260-0334
Bazelet HaGolan Winery
Of course, no trip to the Golan Heights would be complete without a visit to a winery, so I recommend stopping at the Har Odem Winery, or continuing along the new Golan Heights Wine Route. During the tour, you will get to visit a number of local wineries, such as Bazelet HaGolan, which overlooks the Kinneret. It was founded by Yoav Levy, who moved to the Golan in the 1980s and was one of the first people to open a boutique winery in northern Israel. Bazelet HaGolan currently offers two lines of wine and produces 85,000 bottles a year. Its vineyards are spread over 25 acres.
Price: NIS 25 per person
Wine is a very important part of life in the Golan Heights, but the region is also known for its top-quality meat restaurants. A new type of eating experience that is becoming popular is being hosted in the private homes of chefs. One such place is HaChef HaYoshev, a.k.a. Guy Elazari and his wife Liat. Guy received this nickname (“the Seated Chef”) since he gets around in a wheelchair. Guy and Liat prepare all the food in their home in Kela Alon and serve guests in their dining room or garden (weather permitting). They use only the best cuts of meat and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables and olive oil. They can accommodate groups up to 20 people and Guy is known for his entertaining stories and exciting conversations with guests. Meals, which are held only twice a month and are accompanied by Bazelet wines, cost NIS 250 to NIS 350 per person.
Guy Elazari: 054-755-3333
Location: Northern Golan Heights
Type: Hiking with option for overnight stay
Season: All year
Level: Easy, appropriate for couples and families
Directions to Big Juba: When you reach Odem Forest Intersection, turn onto Road 978 toward Moshav Odem. About 200 meters before you reach the moshav, turn right and park your car. Follow the black trail markers. Directions to Ayalim Forest: Turn right at Mahanayim Intersection. Drive along Road 978 and follow signs for Moshav Odem.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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