I pulled into Nazareth…

Filled with famous attractions, the Galilee city offers many more undiscovered gems for local tourists.

By JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN
May 12, 2011 08:15
4 minute read.
NAZARETH’S CHURCH of the Annunciation

Nazareth 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Long overlooked as a tourist destination despite its religious and historic significance, Nazareth drew me in to seek what it might offer outside of the obvious, the Church of the Annunciation. What I found was a selection of yet undiscovered gems worthy of an extended visit to rival the finest tourist destinations of the country.

I stayed at the brand new Golden Crown Hotel, standing on the southern cliffs of the Galilee’s mountains with a spectacular view of the Jezreel Valley, the Carmel ridge, Mount Ephraim, the Gilboa and Mount Tabor. The stunning views are combined with top notch facilities and a kosher kitchen to cater to any client. In fact, the hotel was booked with haredi groups throughout Pessah.

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The hotel introduced me to Nazareth-born tour guide Ghada Boulos for a sojourn off the beaten path to discover the variety of experiences the famed city has to offer. Ghada intimately knew the hidden secrets of the city and shared them with an irresistible eagerness and extensive knowledge.

We began our journey at the Musmar Pottery workshop to witness its unique manufacturing process and machinery. The equipment dates back to early industrial days yielding a rare combination of industry and handiwork for wonderful ceramic products from a bygone era.

Next we continued to the Mahroum Baklava factory to observe the making of traditional Arabic desserts. A young haredi man mingled with the predominantly Arab workers certifying the kosher nature of the treats enjoyed not only in Nazareth, but throughout Israel, exported abroad, and very often served with El Al’s in-flight meals. Everywhere I looked phyllo dough was being layered, pistachios crushed, wheat shredded and nougat prepared to bring about the variety of treats associated with the Middle East, and no one has done it better than the Mahroum family since 1890.

In the center of town, by the traditional site of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she had immaculately conceived Jesus, we entered a souvenir shop on Mary’s Spring Square called Cactus. During the construction of the shop, the store workers discovered a Byzantine bathhouse under the building’s foundations. For a small fee I could climb underneath the modern floor into a stratum 1,500 years old to explore the remarkably well intact hypocaust system, which in ancient times heated the caldarium for a shvitz that epitomized the finest in Byzantine luxury.

For lunch we sat at a local favorite called Tishreen. The small restaurant had a quaint décor with wooden shutters and fresh flowers at each table. A refreshing glass of white wine from the fine wine selection accompanied with a tasty eggplant stuffed with pesto and cheese proved a much needed refresher to continue on our exploration into the heart of Nazareth.



Just around the corner lie the spices of Elbabour at the Galilee Mill. Built by a German Templer in the late 19th century, the building retains its early industrial charms.

Today the current proprietors from the Arab Kanaza family have filled the space with sacks of spices, nuts, dried fruit and teas to rival any spice shop or local market in the country.

Within a few blocks we rested at Sudfeh, a gourmet Arabic restaurant roofed by ancient Ottoman arches dating back to the early 19th century. The restaurant fuses traditional Middle Eastern cuisine with modern gourmet to offer the classic Arabic dish of roasted eggplant in a tehina sauce along with Shrimp Tajin with onion and tehina.

Managed by Maria Abu Jabbar, Sudfeh draws Nazareth’s finest who swing by to dine and have a drink of locally produced Kawar Arak, triple distilled for a remarkably pure aperitif. At dinner I had the pleasure to meet Tareq Shihada, the general manager of the Nazareth Cultural and Tourism Association. Shihada has been involved for decades in enhancing Nazareth’s allure as a tourist destination. Lobbying for government funding and facilitating the addition of top accommodations, Shihada is paving the road for Nazareth to be an indispensable stop on any itinerary to the Holy Land, and rightfully so.

Close by, in the heart of the city is the Al Mutran guest house, a lovely alternative lodging for those who prefer intimate accommodations filled with local charm as a opposed to the Golden Crown’s modern luxury. The guest house is located in a 200-year-old mansion with Arabic tiles, grand pointed arches and Levantine comforts.

It is ideal for couples seeking out a romantic weekend in Old World style.

The name Nazareth is known the world over as much as Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee, and with so much to offer historically, archeologically and culturally Nazareth is positioning itself for the projected increase in the number of tourists to Israel in the years to come. Go to Nazareth for the world famous Church of the Annunciation, but stay for the contemporary cultural scene blossoming throughout the city.

The writer was a guest of the hotel and restaurants.

Establishments are not kosher except where otherwise stated.

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