Has glamping come to Israel?

Israel’s Galilee brings glamping, chocolate and the American summer camp experience to the Middle East

Chocolate making at De Karina Chocolate Boutique (Yvette J. Deane).
Summer’s in full bloom in Israel and so is the camping season at Blum Village, the new camping site at the northern edge of the country that offers all the amenities and fun of an American sleep-away camp.
Blum Village at Kfar Blum Kayaks is part of Kibbutz Kfar Blum, a kibbutz in the Hula Valley right on the bank of the Jordan River. Named after Leon Blum, a Jewish socialist and former prime minister of France, the kibbutz was originally made up of Anglo and Baltic immigrants. While agriculture is one its main sources of income, the kibbutz has increasingly geared its self to accommodate tourists, with a hotel, café, recreational sports, rafting and now its new camping and glamping sites.
Glamping, or glamorous camping, is the idea of camping in luxury and style. While Blum Village is not quite luxurious, it does provide its visitors with modern amenities not often found at a typical campsite. Air conditioning, lights, outlets, refrigerators, beds and pillows are some of the few comforts that separate Blum Village from your average campground.

Inside Blum Village air conditioned tents
“It’s the atmosphere of camping, but with beauty,” said Guy Yarmak, CEO of Blum Village at Kfar Blum Kayaks. “The trend of sleeping in nature has been gaining momentum in recent years, many families are looking to spend quality family time and can’t always agree on where to go.”
Yarmak isn’t wrong; there’s quite a market in Israel for those who want to be one with nature, but can’t give up on 20th century inventions. An Airbnb search in Israel would show the variety of Yurts (Mongolian tents) one can stay in across the country, with beds, air conditioning and modern plumbing.
Blum Village has all those conveniences along with the standard camp ground material, including fire pits, BBQ pits and a snack bar with hamburgers and hot dogs – for that worst-case scenario when you can’t get your fire started. Not to fear, camping purists can join the fun by just renting a standard tent with outlets. All of the camping grounds share communal bathrooms and showers, a short walk away, which sometimes feels longer when you have to go. What truly makes Blum Village glamorous is its activities. Blum offers rock climbing, rafting down the Jordan River, zip-lining, a ropes course and a 3D movie.

Rafting at Kfar Blum Kayaks
Trying out the rafting, ropes course and zip-line, the attractions seem fun for all ages. The 3D movie – which is an “interactive” rafting ride – pales in comparison to the real thing, but could entice a younger audience.
“This is an experience that you will remember for life,” Yarmak continued.
Ropes course at Blum Village
Alongside the Jordan River, there is Tayellet Ami, a beautiful 1 km. promenade, ornamented with plaques with verses from the Bible. The esplanade is named after Ami Peled, a high school student who died in a car accident while riding his bike to Blum Village. This walk is great for families, a morning jog or even a romantic sunset stroll.
Just a short 30 minute drive away, more family fun awaits, with the De Karina Boutique Chocolate Factory. When Karina and Gyora Chepelinski founded the factory, it was no big surprise, as chocolate has always been in head chocolatier Karina’s blood. A third-generation chocolate maker, Karina is part of a 100-year tradition. Shortly after World War I, Karina’s grandfather fled Germany for Argentina. He opened a small chocolate factory, “in the backyard of our house,” which eventually grew to employ more than a hundred workers. When Karina made aliyah in 2002, she wanted to continue her family’s legacy.
“Why did I make aliyah?” Chepelinski told The Jerusalem Post. “There were so many reasons. First of all, Zionism. My second reason would be that I wanted to make a significant change in our lives. We were in our 30s, we saw that we wanted to change the way we educated our children, and also the security situation in Argentina – now it’s even worse. There are so many reasons that made this the right moment to make a change, and we didn’t want to wait.”

Karina making chocolate at De Karina
In 2006, she and her husband opened the doors of De Karina. Chepelinski felt right at home.
“This is my place on this Earth,” Chepelinski said of her thriving factory and of living in the Golan Heights. “This is my place.”
Today, children and adults alike can stop by Kibbutz Ein Zivan for the boutique chocolate café, a factory tour or the special workshops that the factory offers. There are three main workshops, one for children, one for adults and the VIP Truffle Master Course. The first two workshops barely differ besides that children receive molds with kid-friendly shapes. Adult workshops also include the option to fill three little chocolates with either berry or Dulce de Leche fillings. The VIP classes get more complex, with groups making truffles and pralines as opposed to the more standard chocolate bars.
Visitors can also get a tour of the factory, and learn how chocolate is made and see some mekupelet chocolate made in real-time. Of course, the factory tour includes a tasting, and then the option to buy more in the gift shop/café. Chepelinski even puts her own unique flavor into the café selection with Argentinian ice cream, which looks like American soft serve but with a more bitter and sophisticated taste.
De Karina is opened from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays in the summer. The adult and children chocolate workshops including factory tours range from NIS 64-68, tours alone are NIS 25 per person.
NOTHING CAN BE more American than chocolate, camping and the good ole’ outdoors, but somehow I was in the Golan. With its American summer camp feel, Blum Village seems great for families, ideally if there are exactly five of you. Guests pay per-tent, with each air-conditioned tent housing one double bed and three single beds. When invited to the kibbutz, I stayed in the air-conditioned/non-purist camping tents. The room was sparse but clean, equipped with only a mirror and a shelf, aside from the beds. The tents feel like a small NYC or Tel Aviv apartment, airy and light, with room to stand up straight and that’s about it. The “room” is roughly 130 square feet.
The tent includes a pad lock for security, but best not to bring too many valuables, as the tents can easily be zipped open regardless of the lock. Sleeping in the tent was peaceful and a bit chilly, as I forgot my sweatpants at home. Campers beware – regardless of the frills, it’s still camping. There will still be crickets at night, a few mosquitoes and the occasional howl of wolves that sung me to sleep around 12 a.m.
This is true of the bathrooms as well, relatively clean, but definitely still communal and still camping. Our group shared the camping area with teenagers at an Israeli democratic school. While there wasn’t the techno trance music playing, a rite of passage for Israeli campers, there was a bit of noise that comes with big student groups.
However, the way the campsites are designed gives each group or family a bit of privacy, with three campgrounds and around 20 tents per gated area. One of the camping grounds housed the 20 standard tents, with room to build your own tent. The other two compounds housed air-conditioned tents, one with 20 tents and one with 15, with the cost of NIS 1,290 per tent a night. This not only included the tent, but also the amenities like the ropes course and rafting trip. The standard tents cost NIS 690, and NIS 390 without the activities.
This writer was a guest of Blum Village and De Karina Boutique Chocolate Factory.