In the heart of the Negev, where musicians and hikers meet

The 10-day musical journey will take hikers along the desert highlands between Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon before they head east to the Arava Valley.

The international group Tournee des Refuges (photo credit: TOURNEE DES REFUGES)
The international group Tournee des Refuges
(photo credit: TOURNEE DES REFUGES)
Some 35 hikers will trek 150 kilometers from Sde Boker to the Arava Valley between January 26 and February 4 on a musical adventure that brings together instruments and the rugged mountain terrain.
The 10-day musical journey, played by the Tournée des Refuges (Tour of the Refugees) ensemble, will take hikers along the desert highlands between Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon, across the Ramon Crater, before they head east to the Arava Valley. They will start in the Zin Valley and go down the dramatic descents into the Ein Ovdat Canyon.
Musicians and music-lovers will have a chance to enjoy hypnotic desert views. They will also spend the night at a Bedouin tent, hike through ancient Nabatean routes, climb up gorges, camp under the starry desert sky to the tunes of balalaika, violin, guitar and more.
The story of Tournée des Refuges began in 2013.
French musician Gaspard Panfiloff grew up in the mountains of southern France. When he completed university, he said that he dreamed of taking musicians to the mountains where their tunes could be inspired by the landscape and views. So, he returned to the the mountain range of Taillefer in France to set out on what became his first musical expedition.
Joined by a handful of other musicians, they created the
Tournée des Refuges.
Panfiloff decided to merge two of his passions: music and mountaineering. The idea, he claimed, was “quite simple: musicians walk with their instruments and go on tour around mountain refuges – they hike, appreciate landscapes and play breathtaking music.”
The musicians hiked for 10 days across the French Alps, carrying their instruments, playing and performing in different refuges along the mountain path.
Six years and 219 concerts later, the ensemble has ventured into the heart of the French, Spanish, Swiss and Italian mountains, covering 4,500 km. of land carrying the most varied instruments on their backs and inspiring hundreds of brave and committed music-lovers.
“The experience is a lot about commitment, not only from the musicians, but from the public as well,” project manager Bruna Gehlen Korb told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s not just to take a bus and drive a car to a concert. People need to hike for hours and days. They commit to the mountains and to the music. In a sense, we motivate people to appreciate the music more.”
The ensemble is now being brought to the area by the Sde Boker Field School in Midreshet Ben-Gurion, whose guiding department head Ziv Sherzer was moved to recreate an experience he read about in Dani Rabinovich’s memoir Ruach Sinai (Sinai’s Soul).
In the book, Rabinovich describes his summer of 1979 when, as a staff member of the Tsukei David Field School in Santa Katarina – on what is thought to be Mount Sinai – his school was evacuated by the Israeli government:
“Summer 1979,” Rabinovich wrote. “Santa Katarina. (…) There was silence, and there were whispers of excitement. Everyone knew that what was about to be played would not resemble anything anyone had ever heard before. A chamber concert four thousand kilometers from Vienna. Two hundred from Eilat. A hundred and twenty from the asphalt road. Three hours walk from the nearest phone. Two hundred and fifty paces from the Byzantine path. Close to the summit. The music was about to touch the moon.”
“The arches were hoisted and the instruments were brought to the mouth, and the granite began to splash out the sounds of cello and violin and flutes,” the memoir continues. “A woman rises and dances to the notes. In the moonlight the sights and voices were frozen in the memories, etched into the hearts like tombstones.”
Sherzer recently traveled to that same location and imagined himself on that last day in Sinai, when a group of people gathered in the heart of the desert for one last concert before abandoning it forever.
“The image stayed with me,” Sherzer told the Post.
Then he learned about Tournée des Refuges and his first reaction was to reach out and bring them over to Israel.
“It wasn’t hard to convince them to come, given the lure of the Negev Desert,” he said. “It’s the beginning of an idea that the memoir sparked – combining journeys and music and exploring the culture of the Negev and it is an opportunity to encourage the already existent culture by bringing more artistic gatherings to the desert.”
Tournée des Refuges’ Korb said on this musical hike, “we don’t know what to expect.”
“We are used to the European mountains,” she said. “The desert is a completely different experience for us and our instruments. It will be a new landscape by which to be inspired.”
Before heading to the Negev, Tournée des Refuges will also perform in Tel Aviv on Friday, January 25 at 1 pm at The Zone. For tickets: