Last week, I described a number of incredible places to visit in the southern Arava region. Since there is so much to see in this area, this week’s column will continue to cover places there where Israelis created attractions that showcase the desert’s natural beauty and uncommon features.
1. Kibbutz Neot Smadar
Located on Route 40 near Shizafon Junction, you’ll find Kibbutz Neot Smadar, which was established in 1989 by a group of ideological young people who met while living in Jerusalem and were in love with the desert. The kibbutz was named after Smadar Safra, one of the founding members. The founders shared a love of the desert, the desire to set up a communal community and to create an oasis in the southern Arava. The enthusiastic kibbutz members created organic farms, engaged in agricultural waste recycling and built eco-friendly homes.
From the moment you enter the kibbutz, your body relaxes as your eyes sweep over the green lawn and then focus on the pink tower, which is the kibbutz’s Art Center. The Art Center was gradually constructed by kibbutz members over a period of 15 years. The tower, which at first glance appears to resemble India’s Taj Mahal, is kept cool using a unique desert evaporative cooling system. There is also a balcony at the top of the tower, from which you can look out over the expansive desert surrounding the kibbutz. The Art Center serves as a gallery and studio for all of the artists living on the kibbutz, who work a variety of materials, such as glass, wood, ceramics and paint. Many of their works of art are on display in the gallery located on the ground floor of the tower.
You might be interested to know that Israel’s most southern winery is located at Neot Smadar and produces both wine and cider. Due to its unique ecological conditions, the grapes in the vineyard are harvested two months before the harvest season begins in northern Israel. Furthermore, because the grapes are exposed to a large amount of sunshine, they are extremely sweet and the wines made from them contain a higher than usual amount of alcohol. In fact, Neot Smadar’s dessert wines are the winery’s flagship products and include their classic Muscat wine; their Muscat Shemesh that was “forgotten” in a barrel that sat in the sun and has a unique honey flavor; a port wine made from 22 medicinal herbs; a sparkling wine; and an alcoholic cider.
If you fall in love with the kibbutz while visiting the winery, you’ll be happy to learn the kibbutz offers 18 eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast units with gorgeous views that overlook the fields. Each unit has its own balcony and herb garden. There is a communal kitchen outfitted with appliances, kitchenware and a communal dining area, and prepared meals can be booked ahead of time.
Guests are welcome to walk around the kibbutz and visit the Art Center, where they can climb to the top floor and enjoy the great view, then watch a film about the kibbutz. As well, wine tastings take place at the winery.
Dates: Sunday–Thursday 10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Friday 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.Price: NIS 30, children 11 and under free.Details: Neot Smadar website www.neot-semadar.com
2. Pundak Neot Smadar
Not far from the kibbutz and located right on Route 40, you’ll find Pundak Neot Smadar. This is a great venue for people visiting the region to taste delicacies and produce that are made and grown locally, and there are plenty of vegetarian options, desserts and coffees available for purchase.
Dates: Sunday–Thursday 7 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.–3 p.m., Shabbat 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
3. Five Senses Garden
Located in the heart of Kibbutz Elifaz, whose groves are filled with palm and pomelo trees, you’ll find the Five Senses Garden, run by Aviel Pipman. Open from October to May, visitors are invited to join an hour-long tour, during which they’ll learn about the unique vegetables and spices that are grown in this arid region. Guests can engage in fruit picking and taste seasonal crops, such as cherry tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cauliflower, radishes, kohlrabi, broccoli, and spices and herbs, which are great for making herbal teas.
A new attraction at Kibbutz Elifaz is Chef Hashemesh, an oven that was built from glass baking tubes. The tubes are heated by the sun and can reach a temperature of 200°C. Visitors are welcome to take vegetables they have picked, cut them up, season them with spices and put them on a tray that’s inserted into the tubes. And, of course, eat the vegetables when they’re done cooking.
There are plenty of places to sit and relax in the shade and kids can join a tractor ride. Guests can buy sweet and spicy hot tea, as well as purchase crafts and produce from local farmers.
Dates: Open every day 10 a.m.–2 p.m., with tours every hour.Price: NIS 38, under 2 free. Preregistration required.
Another new trend that has reached the Arava is food trucks. Chef Robert Biton, a member of Kibbutz Elifaz, makes the rounds of the various communities in the Arava with his truck, from which he offers hamburgers, hamburgers in a tortilla, chicken shwarma and beet burgers for the vegans among us. Biton claims that his love of cooking began when he was just a little boy and would help his mother out in the kitchen. In more recent years, he has worked as a chef in a number of successful restaurants in Tel Aviv.
Price range: NIS 45–55.Details: 053–771–0006.
Another food trend that has popped up down south is Israel is home hospitality. Two years ago, just as COVID-19 came into our lives and restaurants were forced to temporarily close their doors, Dana Turjeman moved to Be’er Ora with her husband and children. Dana, whose roots are in Russian cuisine, began welcoming guests to enjoy a tasty meal in their home, which include a plethora of Moroccan delicacies that she learned to prepare from her mother-in-law.
Price range: NIS 100–120 adults, NIS 50 children. Preregistration required.Details: 054-945-2060
If you haven’t stopped off at Pundak Yotvata since your class school trip, you absolutely must go and see the four new interactive rooms, including the kibbutz and milk production plant, the desert, renewable energy and the cowshed. Once you’ve finished walking through all the displays, you can move on to the shop where you can purchase Italian gelato that’s made daily from fresh milk. For those of us who don’t eat dairy, there are also a number of carbonated beverages and other unique drinks available for tasting.
Dates: Open all week long.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.