Head south to Timna Park and discover a new world

Timna holds great archaeological and biblical significance since it is the site of ancient copper mines believed to have been part of King Solomon’s empire.

Solomon's Pillars in Timna Park (photo credit: TIIA MONTO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Solomon's Pillars in Timna Park
After a challenging year of dealing with the pandemic, nothing could have been more soothing than the rugged beauty of Timna, which I was lucky enough to visit earlier this month on a press trip to Timna Park.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen spoke at a ceremony at the newly renovated visitor’s center at Timna Park on March 2, after which the assembled guests were free to explore the natural wonders of the park, which is located just north of the resort city of Eilat, in the Hevel Eilot region, now known as the Southern Arava.
The rolling red hills of the park are endlessly soothing and, since the park itself covers more ground than Tel Aviv, it is a wonderful place to visit when you would like to keep your distance from everyone but your traveling companions. In Timna, you can wander to your heart’s content and never feel crowded.
For many, combining a stay at the far more affordable Timna with a visit to Eilat will work out well, especially for families traveling with children. It would be possible to sleep and hike in Timna for a few days and make day trips to Eilat to see the attractions and shop with no VAT there. The Samarathon race, a desert bike marathon, will be held in the Southern Arava from March 17-20 (https://en.samarathon.co.il/).
Timna holds great archaeological and biblical significance since it is the site of ancient copper mines believed to have been part of King Solomon’s empire. About four years ago, Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University and his team discovered evidence that the mines may truly date back to the days of King Solomon. “Now we not only know that this was a source of copper, but also that it’s from the days of King David and his son Solomon,” he told National Geographic.
The new visitor’s center has exhibits that explain the significance of the mines and how they worked, as well as a movie projected on the floors, walls and ceiling  that dramatizes Timna’s copper history. While the movie is dazzling, it may be a bit long for the youngest travelers. The visitors center received support from the Tourism Ministry, the JCA Foundation, the Jewish National Fund and Eilot Economic Fund.
The park is a favorite for hikers of every skill level and most of the famous formations can be seen via a short and easy walk. Those so inclined can climb them, of course. The most famous spot in the park is Solomon’s Pillars, pillars formed out of the red sandstone that some believe are linked to their namesake. Another impressive highlight of the park is the mushroom, a huge reddish formation. But these are just two points out of thousands of notable formations and views in the park and the staff at the visitor’s center can help you plan hikes. There are bicycle trails throughout the park and roads for cars, so whether you are a seasoned hiker or a couch potato, you can enjoy Timna. Many of the rock formations are lit at night as well.
I stayed in the park at a site with caravans, a guest house and space for pitching tents and I was lucky enough to be assigned to one of the caravans. It featured a kitchen complete with a microwave and electric kettle, a bathroom with a toilet, hot water and a shower, a comfortable double bed with a shade separating it from the rest of the caravan and a triple bunk bed that children will adore. But the best part of it was actually the windows – you can look out anytime you feel like it during the night and see the gorgeous view of the night sky and stars. There was a table indoors and a picnic table outside.
WHEN IT was time for dinner, as part of the Taste of the Arava and Chef in the Desert program at Kibbutz Elifaz (https://arava-dromit.ussl.co.il/ ), we visited one of a number of private homes where expert chefs cook very special meals. This website also features information about culinary tours of the region, through the “Food Stories” program. Our chef, Robert Biton, cooks with his Indian wife, Shelly, in their garden. The meal was outstanding, much more varied and fresh than anything you would find in a restaurant. We watched the couple cook and ate right in the garden. Smoked meat and fish are his specialty and there were all kinds of starters as well, including vegetarian spring rolls. Everything was served with six different homemade sauces, including black garlic and a paste made of fresh olives. The Bitons were very attentive hosts. When Shelly noticed I was a vegetarian, she served me grilled vegetables, and vegetarians and vegans will have a wonderful meal here. Kibbutz Elifaz works with a number of
expert chefs who use local produce as much as possible. They recommend that you book with them as soon as you arrive at the park if you are interested.
Hevel Eilot offers other attractions, particularly for those interested in nature and sustainability. At the 5 Senses Greenhouse on Kibbutz Elifaz (http://elifaz.co.il/en/), visitors can learn all about organic farming and taste and pick the delicious seasonal produce on the spot, with programs both for children and adults. A trip to this farm must be booked in advance.
At Kibbutz Lotan (kibbutzlotan.com), we were treated to cups of their tea made with moringa leaves and learned about their sustainability initiatives. It turns out that the moringa plant contains calcium and many vitamins and nutrients. The staff at the kibbutz reeled off a list of the ailments it can cure or help, but I was skeptical until I looked up medical articles and discovered it really can help an extraordinary number of health issues. After I returned, my family and I tried the tea and let’s just say – I’m a believer. They showed us a teahouse and an entire Eco-Kef (Eco-Fun) playground made out of compost and cooking oil, which was very impressive. The kibbutz runs workshops at its Center for Creative Ecology for families, tourists and groups of all ages. These workshops would be a wonderful way to teach your children about the environment in a manner that will be enjoyable and interesting for them. Kibbutz Lotan has recently opened a food truck that serves its moringa tea and many other specialties
made with ingredients grown there, including a spicy soup in a bread bowl.
You will notice Neot Semadar (https://neot-semadar.com/) from the road because of a unique tower and plaza its residents have built. It’s hard to describe this structure, which mixes design elements from ancient Rome and the Middle East to form a cool, welcoming center. It also holds workshops on the arts and the environment and its residents farm organically and make wine, juice, jewelry and many kinds of crafts, all infused with their philosophy, which they will be happy to tell you about when you visit.
You can also stop off at the Yotvata Inn at Kibbutz Yotvata (https://yotvatapark.co.il/) for some of their famous homemade ice cream.
Whether you fly or drive, the Southern Arava could be the cure for everything that’s been bothering you for the past year. You may just find yourself wishing you could move off the grid and head south for good.