Springtime is probably the nicest season to go hiking in Israel. So many trees and flowers are blooming and filling the air with a heavenly floral scent.
But flowers are not the only thing blooming these days. Now that Passover and Independence Day are over, this is the season when all the regional festivals take place – some of which have been going on for decades, others are just making their debut.
One of the most exciting of these is the Desert from Within Festival, which will take place on May 19-21 in various locations in the South, including Mitzpe Ramon, Sde Boker and Yeroham. There will be a variety of workshops, such as art, energy, astronomy, geology and agriculture. Visitors are invited to take part in guided tours of southern cities, or participate in desert explorations with Jewish and Bedouin tour guides.
There will be nighttime stargazing tours at the Large Crater and Hatzinim Cliff; a tour of ancient altars, for which you drive in your own car; a lantern tour in the ancient city Avdat; a nighttime tour with music and night animal sounds; and a visit to Nabataean water cisterns. There will also be farmers markets with local produce for sale in Yeroham, Mitzpe Ramon and Sde Boker.
In the past, Mitzpe Ramon, which is located on the edge of the Ramon Crater, was just another place where people would stop for a cold drink on their way to vacationing in Eilat. In recent years, however, it has become much more popular, especially among young people who’ve decided they don’t want to live in the Center. This influx of new younger residents has led to a spike in the city’s tourism industry.
1. Inside Mitzpe tours
One of the best ways to become acquainted with Mitzpe Ramon is by joining an Inside Mitzpe tour. The tours, which take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, are free, although the guides surely won’t mind if you give them a tip at the end.
These types of tours are commonplace in European cities, and it’s great that they’re becoming more popular here in Israel, too, since they’re a great way to learn about local history.
Inside Mitzpe tours are run by Eyal Alexander and Shir Amir, licensed tour guides who recently moved to the city after falling in love with the people and the mesmerizing desert.
The two-hour tours introduce participants to the narrow streets that wind through Mitzpe Ramon, and to local residents and entrepreneurs who love to talk about their lovely hometown. For example, the tour will bring you to the garden of Nahliel, a revered English teacher who feels that she was welcomed so beautifully by residents, and this is her way of giving back.
2. Ha’agala grocery
Another stop is Ha’agala, a unique cooperative grocery store that is run by local residents.
Most of you will remember how a little over a decade ago there were demonstrations against the high cost of living, even including basic grocery items. Local Mitzpe residents recall that in 2010, there were no grocery stores in the area that offered products at reasonable prices, and so they joined forces to form a consortium that purchases bulk items and then passes these savings on to customers. Each member commits to working two hours a month in exchange for being eligible to purchase items at low prices.
3. Acrobatics workshops
During the tour, participants will also meet with local artists, such as Yonatan Francis, who offers acrobatics workshops for the whole family. Yonatan moved to Mitzpe four years ago to take professional circus classes. During these two-hour sessions, Yonatan “teaches people how to fly” (NIS 450 for two people).
4. Spice Quarter
The Inside Mitzpe tours usually end in the Spice Quarter, where you’ll find a plethora of art galleries, cafés, bars and boutique shops. For example, you can visit UMA, a café/gallery where you can purchase works of art made by local artists and grab a coffee or a snack.
The gallery is open Sunday-Friday. On Thursdays (4 p.m.-6 p.m.) and on Fridays (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) children can take part in art workshops (NIS 20-NIS 65) or buy kits so your kids can be creative at home, too.
Location: 5 Har Boker Street, Mitzpe Ramon.Details: 054-740-8511.
If you haven’t had enough of art galleries, then I recommend going to Backstage, a café/gallery located in the Spice Quarter.
Roni Herman, who runs the café with his partner Eliane, is a one-of-a-kind video artist who came to visit Mitzpe for a weekend eight years ago from Tel Aviv and just never left, after falling in love with the enigmatic desert and the warm and loving people who live there.
Location: 8 Erdon Street, Mitzpe Ramon.Details: 052-813-0301.
6. Noam in the Desert
And if you’re already in Mitzpe, then you absolutely must visit Noam in the Desert, a farm located just 10 minutes from Mitzpe. Depending on the season, there is self-picking of plums, grapes and sabra fruits. There’s also a boutique winery, where you can purchase olive oil and jams, all made locally.
7. Almog Catering
You’re probably hungry by now, after a long day of touring in the desert. I recommend ordering a scrumptious meal from Shamayim Va’ochel, where Almog, who moved here two years ago, will prepare for you a vegetarian or vegan meal and even bring it to wherever you are. Alternatively, you can join Almog for a meal of hummus and sushi in his home.
Almog is also an astronomy enthusiast, who loves to combine his two loves, and offers a guided viewing of the stars at the end of the meal.
Price: NIS 1,500 for between seven and 12 people.Details: 054-744-9792.
8. Bool Ba’emtza
Another great family activity is learning archery with Ben Hadani and Max Zaslovski, who run Bool Ba’emtza. Ben and Max, both professional archers, run a 90-minute workshop during which participants learn the correct techniques for shooting with a bow and arrow (appropriate for ages four to 104). No previous experience necessary.
Price: NIS 400 for six participants (each additional person NIS 70).Details: 054-437-0776.
Additional information regarding the Desert from Within Festival
All workshops that will be held during the festival will be under three hours. Most activities cost NIS 30 for adults and NIS 15 for children.
Details for Desert from Within Festival: www.desertfromwithin.orgDetails for Inside Mitzpe: 054-450-2483.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.