If you’ve been there, done that, in the Golan, keep driving North to what will soon become the go-to staycation spot in Israel.
Metula, founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, is not only rich in history. Its location is fascinating, surrounded by Lebanon on over 75% of its borders. On a clear day, you can see both Lebanon and Syria, depending on which way you look. Situated on a hilltop, its mountain breeze is a welcome relief in the heat of summer – making it pleasant to dine outside, even in mid-August.
In the last two years, Metula has welcomed a burgeoning food scene thanks to two young entrepreneurs. This is complimented by the area’s waterfall-lined trails, and the youthful energy of the students from nearby Tel-Hai College.
Though perhaps not the first choice for tourists – based on the 48 hours I spent in Metulla, I firmly believe it’s Israel’s best kept secret.
On the way there
Heading to Metula from Tel Aviv, I had one goal, to check out one of the most talked-about food trucks in the country.
Tom Yum Thai Food Truck at Kibbutz Sde Nehemia usually attracts a waiting line of hungry people by noon. For six years, owner and chef Roy Bar Zohar has taken a no-nonsense approach to Thai street food which he believes should be both delicious and affordable. Order the Pad Thai with chicken or for coconut lovers, the Red Curry. You’ll shell out around NIS 45-50 NIS. The menu is small,but packs a punch, and truth be told, it rivals all the Thai food I’ve tasted in the country.
Although Roy won’t be bringing Tom Yum to the Center anytime soon, he does have plans to expand his business in the North.
Tip: Make sure to hit the food truck before 4 p.m., or it may all be gone.
Driving up the hill and into the village of Metula, I was struck by a few things. The maintenance of its historic stone buildings, the smell of fig trees in the air, and just how green this region is. Not to mention, the noticeable border security – you can not only see into Lebanon, you can wave to the locals.
Where to stay
If you’re in search of a stunning view and to stay with a local, look no further than Hamirpeset Metula. With three units, primed for two people per room, it’s the ideal choice for a group or couples. Owner Liat, who has lived in Metula for 25 years, runs the business with her two daughters. She became my ambassador to the village for the couple of days I was there. You’ll want to spend the morning and sunsets on the shared balcony or in the backyard, taking in the scenic landscape. The stay will run you NIS 500 a night during the week, and NIS 600 a night on weekends. A two-night minimum stay is required.
There are several more lodging options on the town’s main drag, from Mantur Metula by Selina which is decorated with vintage furniture and colorful walls, to the additional boutique hotels that dot Harishonim Street. There’s no shortage of accommodation in Metula.
Where to eat and drink
Metula’s up-and-coming food scene sits on the town’s main street where you’ll find two of the newest establishments to dig into, both with ambitious culinary entrepreneurs at the helm.
In the morning, head to Nusha. This boutique bakery has only been open for six months. Take the advice of 28-year-old owner and pastry chef Chen, and order the leek and bok choy broissant (a boureka and croissant combination). For those with a sweet tooth, nab the lemon pie, which even rivals those of the American South. These delights will cost you around NIS 30-35 apiece.
On the savory side, Hasimta is not to be missed. Arguably the best new burger in Israel, although not kosher, the menu is a meat-lover’s dream. Start with the jalapeño cheddar poppers, then order the flagship double smash cheeseburger with a side of fries. Everything, including the buns and finger-licking barbecue sauce, is made in-house by chef and owner Dor, who also sources the meat locally. Wash it all down with a HaGibor Brewery IPA from Karmiel. A meal will run anywhere from NIS 56-91 (and yes, vegan options are available). With this spot brimming with foot traffic, a wine bar will soon be opening up right next door.
For those who can’t make it this far North, don’t worry. Hasimta is coming to Tel Aviv later this year with a slimmed-down menu that will feature their signature smash burger and sliders. Post-burger, if you’ve still got room, head down the street to grab a pint and shoot a game of pool at the local pub החקורה.
Looking for something a bit more upscale? Only a 15-minute drive away is Focaccia, considered a local institution and adored for its non-kosher menu featuring shrimp, handmade pasta, focaccia bread, and desserts made daily by the in-house confectionery team. Order the skordalia-topped grilled cabbage and veal gnocchi while sipping on the all-you-can-drink NIS 70 wine-tasting option featuring local vino from the North.
Where to play
Start exploring Metulla by heading to two main lookouts, Dado Observation Point and Mitzpe Rotem. The latter is at the edge of the village’s newest community, currently under construction and soon to feature 75 new homes with a clear view of Lebanon.
Take a local guide and head to the Good Fence Memorial and defunct Israel-Lebanon crossing, through which goods and workers used to cross between the countries. In fact, many farmers came from Lebanon to work in the fields and orchards of Metula. In 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon, the crossing was shut.
End your village tour by exploring the apple orchards and biting into Pink Ladies which are rumored to have originated in Metula.
Nature lovers will enjoy Ayun Stream Nature Reserve and its waterfalls. The trail is enveloped in pink flowers, greenery, fig trees, and blackberry bushes. The moderate out-and-back trail can take you up to an hour and a half in one direction if you move slowly and snap tons of photos.
Prefer to spend the afternoon sipping some local wine outside? Pass peach orchards as you drive to nearby domestic, family-run Galileo Winery on Kibbutz Dan. Producing only 7,000 bottles per year, owner and winemaker Gil began making wine in the kibbutz’s bomb shelters. Make sure to taste the award-winning Jupiter blend and the homemade onion jam.
On the way back
When you’re ready to say goodbye to Metula, make sure to stop at Galil Mountain Winery. Omri Yizhak, sommelier and owner of Golan Wine Tours suggested I head there to enjoy its fresh approach to addressing the new generation of wine lovers, non-industrial lush vineyard view, and location near to the Lebanese border.
Australian-born winemaker Michael notes that the winery produces approximately one million bottles. Before heading home, make sure to try the sauvignon blanc, rosé, and Yiron.
With a calm, youthful, and dare I say, European air about it, Metula is on the cusp of exploding. Catch its small-town charm before everyone discovers it!
The writer is an avid traveler, travel writer, and VP of Communications at travel tech startup Faye Travel Insurance. Her travel tips have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and more.