Festive weekend getaway in the Western Galilee

A three-day Christmas and Hanukka Festival offers visitors a taste of the Western Galilee’s finest attractions

December 18, 2016 01:32

A RIMONEY HAGALIL jeep tour in the Western Galilee. (photo credit: YOAV ZAKS)

The “Western Galilee Now” Foundation, an association that aims to bring together boutique businesses in the Western Galilee and promote tourism and recreation in the region, is hosting its fifth annual winter holiday festival December 22 to December 24. A cooperative effort between local businesses, this Christmas and Hanukka Festival offers visitors a taste of the Western Galilee’s finest attractions. The three-day festival includes more than 30 events. Visitors can take part in culinary workshops, craft workshops led by artists, musical tours in churches, group singing and storytelling evenings, meals and feasts, tours and more.

ON EITHER end of the journey, make sure to stop by Acre’s Old City. There you will find a bustling market, beautiful historic buildings, a seaside promenade by the port and delicious food. One great dining spot is Kukushka, situated in the renovated Turkish bazaar. This “premium snack bar” offers exceptional fresh and original street food. Indulge in the blue crab falafel, unlike any other falafel you have tasted, or in the delicious herb-marinated shrimp skewers. If you’re not a seafood lover, go for the moist Spanish burger, Greek-inspired beef souvlaki or homemade sausages. Don’t forget to try Kukushka’s boutique house beer made by Malka breweries, and have a chat with the incredibly friendly owners Maya and Gil Roditi. With the prices so reasonable, this is a great activity. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Info: (04) 901-9758

A CONCERT and tour event takes place in Acre on Saturday, December 24, as part of the festival. Enjoy a performance by the Naama Women’s Choir at JNF’s Western Galilee Tourist Information Center followed by a tour of the Old City’s alleyways. The center, which resides in a beautiful historic building, is operated by the Western Galilee Now Foundation and offers visitors information about special activities, wineries, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and help with planning an unforgettable one-ofa- kind trip in the area. Concert and tour: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; NIS 80 for concert only (NIS 90 on day of concert); NIS 130 for concert and tour (NIS 140 on day of concert and tour); half price for children. Information and reservations: (04) 601-5533 or westgalil.org.il. Tourist Information Center opening hours: Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m Info: (04) 601-5533.

ON THURSDAY, December 22, an event called “Flavors, Stories, Lights” will be taking place. First, a tour of the Christian village Mi’ilya with tour guide Ayelet Bar Meir will take visitors for a stroll down the village’s Christmas-decorated side streets and alleys. Participants will learn about the history of the area, visit the old Crusader fortress and church courtyard, see the impressive decorated Christmas tree and take part in a Christmas singing event. Following the festive tour, visitors are in for a unique dining experience in the adjacent town, Mitzpe Hila. La Pampa restaurant is located in the beautiful terrace of Ilanit and Eran Tabenchik’s home, which offers a stunning view, even at night. The restaurant has a fixed menu, with the focal point being their delicious smoked meat. The dining experience is slow-paced and relaxed. Eran, a native of Argentina, passionately prepares Argentinian food with hints of Galilean flavors. First, diners are given a warm loaf of bread with dips and an eggplant salad, then homemade empanadas and moist smoked chorizo sausages. The diners are given time to savor the starters before the real treat arrives – a large platter of smoked cuts of meat, smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes. The cuts of meat, which vary from week to week, lie in the smoker for many hours, resulting in a slow rendering of fat, succulent meat and a distinct yet not overpowering smoky flavor. For dessert there is a choice between alternating deserts.
Ilanit and Eran are very warm, and can be seen walking around and getting to know all the guests. It is clear they care deeply about creating an enjoyable experience for diners. As part of the festival, visitors will enjoy not only the meal but also hear Galilean tales about people, legends and flavors. On Friday, December 23 La Pampa will host an evening of dining and wining in cooperation with Kishor Winery also as part of the festival. The tour starts at 6 p.m. NIS 200-220; Reservations: La Pampa 052-295-1177 or westgalil.org.il via the festival schedule under the events tab.

IF YOU’RE looking for an outdoor activity in the Western Galilee that doesn’t require tramping by foot across the hilly terrain, a jeep tour is a great option. On December 24, Rimoney Hagalil, a company specializing in outdoor activities and jeep tours, is offering a special jeep tour of the Ga’aton River area for a reduced price for festival guests. Participants will cross the river, drive up to the beautiful Sursock Farm mansion next to the Ga’aton springs and hear the history of the place and the people who lived there. The tour will continue further up the riverbed through a thick grove with unique Arbutus trees. Rimoney Hagalil also operate guest rooms in Kibbutz Yehiam’s “Nature in Yehiam,” which includes a kosher kitchen, swimming pool and breakfast. Tours leave at 9:30 a.m., 10:40 a.m. and noon. Each tour is approximately an hour and 15 minutes. NIS 75 per person for the jeep tour (minimum participants required); NIS 265 for a night in a double room with breakfast and the jeep tour included. Information and reservations: (04) 952-4566 or westgalil.org.il via the festival schedule under the events tab.

YUVAL AND Mira Telem’s Rushka Gallery in Matat showcases Yuval’s metal work and is home to Rushka’s Café, offering freshly prepared vegetarian dishes with a stunning view spreading from the Carmel mountains, to the Upper Galilee mountains and even to the Golan Heights and the Hermon.

Visitors are welcome to stop by Yuval’s workshop and see him in action. Yuval also teaches private and group workshops, if you book in advance.

Telem is a blacksmith with some 30 years of experience who creates both artistic pieces and what he calls “practical art” – bed frames, chairs and tables and much more.

His pieces are sold all over Israel and abroad. The couple operate guest rooms and invite people to stay at their property and enjoy a special metalworking workshop and the beautiful view.

During the festival on December 22, the gallery, in collaboration with Ma’ale Yosef Community Center, will host an evening in memory of Nachum Heiman, who died this past year. Nachum, or Nakhche, composed many songs that have become classics and part of the history of Israeli folk music. Participants will sing his songs along with singer Dorit Farkash while enjoying coffee, tea and light snacks. 8:30 p.m. NIS 50. Information and reservations: 054- 437-1414/5 or westgalil.org.il via the festival schedule under the events tab. Café and gallery opening hours: Fridays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guests are welcome to visit the gallery during the week by coordinating with Yuval and Mira in advance.

NOT FAR from Matat is Kibbutz Sasa, where you will find Buza’s (ice cream in Arabic) workshop, store and factory. Buza produces fresh, seasonal, local Galilean ice cream that is a collaboration between owners Alaa Sweetat, a Muslim from Tarshicha and Adam Ziv, a Jew from Kibbutz Sasa. Try one of their unique flavors such as Cashew-pia-vanilla ice cream with cashews and salted toffee. They also sell winter treats such as sachlav, “the hot chocolate of the Middle East.”

Workshops for children and tours of the factory in Kibbutz Sasa are available with advanced booking. Buza has stores in Ma’alot Tarshica, Hula Valley and Tel Aviv (for those who can’t make it up north). Information: Buzaisrael.co.il

IF YOU plan on attending the festival with your family, or if you’re visiting the Western Galilee on any other occasion with your family, Bar-On Family Holiday Homes in Moshav Ben Ami is the perfect accommodation. The property offers four modern, well-decorated and clean villas that can host up to eight people each. The villas include a fully equipped kitchen, laundry and washing machine, TV, WiFi and even board games. You will also find an entertainment center on site with a pool table, ping-pong, life-size checker board and a huge trampoline. The center is perfect for a mini-event, such as a birthday celebration.

Guests can cook in the fully equipped kitchen or cook out on the BBQ. Bar-On also offers delicious breakfasts prepared by Chef Yaron Chen. Owner Amit Bar-On will make sure your stay is as comfortable as can be and is always happy to give great recommendations.

From NIS 500 per night, minimum of two nights. Third night is free until January 31. Reservations: www.barfam.com

The writer was a guest of the Western Galilee Now Foundation.

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