As the winter sun sets over the Hula Valley Park and Nature Reserve in the Upper
Galilee, the evening air fills with the sound of thousands of cranes calling out
to each other. The sky teems with the long-necked birds, whirling and spinning
in effortlessly choreographed spirals toward Agamon Lake.
Inbar Rom, our
Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel-Jewish National Fund guide, can look up into the sky
and tell you how many cranes are flying overhead. On the day we visit, Rom has
been out in the nature reserve since 4:30 a.m.
counting the cranes. As
she talks, she looks upward, pointing out rare birds of prey and a flock of
migrating pelicans flying high above the park.
The guided tour to the
Hula Valley is just one of many options on offer for Israelis and foreign
visitors who want to spend a weekend off the beaten tourist track.
Israelis, a typical weekend break in the north of the country might bring to
mind small wooden cabins, local food and pot-luck entertainment, while
international tourists rarely visit the North, preferring to spend time in
Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. However, the Upper Galilee region is reinventing itself
as a luxury holiday destination with a difference.
KKL-JNF has partnered
with Galilee tourist agencies, hoteliers and attractions to offer individually
tailored short breaks that incorporate stays at five-star boutique hotels with
visits to local KKL-JNF run beauty spots, nature reserves and historical
To complete the package, KKL-JNF has teamed up with several other
local tourist spots and some of the Upper Galilee’s best five-star boutique
hotels, a growing trend in northern Israel.
Anat Nissim, CEO of tourism
association Land of the Galilee, says the boutique tours should give Israeli and
foreign visitors to the Galilee a different picture of the region, as well as
bringing more tourist trade to local businesses.
Tourists visiting the
Hula Valley in winter, for example, can have a special KKL-JNF guided tour of
the Hula Crane Project, which gives the migrating birds a safe haven in the
Galilee while preventing them from damaging local agriculture.
Nature Reserve’s attitude to human-nature coexistence can also be seen in its
treatment of another inhabitant of the Hula Valley – the nutria, also known as
the coypu or the river rat.
Though in many countries nutria are
considered a pest and have been eradicated, in the Hula Valley they are
Jewish immigrants brought the nutrias from
Russia to farm them for fur, overlooking the extreme differences in climate
between Siberia and the Hula Valley. The entire business model collapsed,
however, when the nutrias refused to grow any fur. Resembling a cross between a
large, overfed mouse and a beaver, Hula’s nutrias waddle around, gorging
themselves on grass and ignoring human visitors.
Another local beauty
spot that is well worth spending a day exploring is the Biriya Forest near
Safed, home to some 50 million trees covering around 2,000
KKL-JNF, which planted the forest in the 1950s, is now
developing several tourist sites, including a walking trail to the Biriya
Fortress, a major city in talmudic times and the spot where Rabbi Joseph Caro
wrote part of the Shulhan Aruch.
Mountain bike enthusiasts can enjoy a
22-km. biking route through the forest, and there is a shorter trail for
For those less inclined to walk or cycle, KKL-JNF is developing
a 12-km. scenic route that can be completed by car with stops for picnics or
strolls. Dubbed the Path of the Righteous, the route incorporates several
important Jewish sites, such as the ruins of one of the Galilee’s most ancient
synagogues at Naburiya, says Aviram Zuck, who heads KKl-JNF’s operations in the
Visitors to the forest can also stop off at the tomb of
Rabbi Yonatan Ben-Uziel, a popular pilgrimage site for those wishing to pray for
a good marriage partner. Those already married can pray for
After a hard day exploring nature, tourists can enjoy a leisurely wine-and-cheese tasting session at the small family-run Adir Winery in
Dalton near Rosh Pina. On offer are Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon
wines made from hand-picked grapes.
Those who want to spend the night in
the region can choose from an increasing number of boutique hotels. A growing
trend in the area, these hotels combine five-star accommodation, kosher dining
and spa treatments with beautiful views of the scenic surrounding
Among the best of the hotels is Bayit Bagalil, a stone
chateau-style house perched high on a forested hilltop above Hatzor Haglilit.
Owned by New York businessman Richard Cohen, the hotel is an elegant 26-room
kosher oasis, complete with spa, outdoor pool and breathtaking
Children under 16 are not allowed to stay in the hotel (except on
Jewish holidays), though Cohen allows guests to book the entire hotel for
special occasions lsuch as birthdays and bat mitzvas.
hotel, Amirey Hagalil, is situated between Karmiel and Safed and welcomes
children aged 12 and over. Small and cozy with just 17 rooms, the hotel is in a
Turkish khan-style building, with an ancient olive tree growing in the lobby.
The hotel also offers spa treatments, and its kosher chef’s restaurant serves a
hearty meatbased menu.
For those who prefer to be slightly closer to
nature, the Vered Hagalil Guest Farm offers accommodation in wooden cabins or
stone cottages designed especially for couples, with views overlooking Lake
Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and an opportunity to partake in daytime or
moonlight American ranch-style horseback rides. The ranch also hosts Christian
guests keen to walk the Jesus Trail. In keeping with its ranch theme, the kosher
restaurant serves hearty American-style fare, such as Southern fried chicken and
apple pie. The writer was a guest of KKL-JNF.