A day out in historic Binyamin

There are many incredible activities in Binyamin for adventuring type.

SCALING THE ROCKS in the Canaan Desert near Ma’ale Adumim. (photo credit: ELI PECHTER)
SCALING THE ROCKS in the Canaan Desert near Ma’ale Adumim.
(photo credit: ELI PECHTER)
So many interesting events happened in Israel’s Binyamin region during biblical times and in recent years that a number of tourist attractions have been established in the area, many of which commemorate these events in some form or another. Bordering the hills north of Jerusalem, the villages of the southern Shomron and the Judean Desert, you’ll find gorgeous desert landscapes in Binyamin that are dotted with natural pools and streams.
We’ll start our day by driving on Route 465, known by local residents as Chotzeh Binyamin (the trans-Binyamin). This modern paved road passes through ancient communities where you will see both desert landscape as well as greener areas covered with grape vines and olive trees.
If you are a water lover, you’ll be happy to know that there are 15 different springs along the road and at the most easily accessible one you’ll find five small wading pools. Further on, you’ll reach the Neveh Tzuf Forest, one of Israel’s first official nature reserves, which is full of indigenous trees and a large variety of flora and fauna. Flowers, including a number of types of orchids, begin popping up here in March, which makes this an incredible place to stop for a picnic.
Further down the road, at the entrance to Shilo, you’ll come upon Merlot, a kosher dairy restaurant, which despite its name, is not a wine-focused establishment. The restaurant offers a variety of salads, pastas, pizza, stir-fry and fish dishes at reasonable prices.
Merlot is open Sunday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Shilo ATVs
The next stop is Shiloh ATVs, which organizes two-hour jeep and ATV tours along the Shiloh River valley. Guests can drive the vehicles on their own or benefit from a guide. Each car is supplied with a two-way radio, on which guests can listen to explanations about the region, unique geological phenomena, local vegetation, and Shiloh’s rich history.
Along the way, you can stop at one of the vineyards. If it’s the right season, you can even taste ripe merlot grapes. From there, you can continue toward the lovely Ein Az spring, a beautiful pool where you can take a dip, relax or have a picnic.
The spring water flows off the cliff and into a small, hidden pool that drains into two round pools. The larger one is two meters deep after the rainy season, and the smaller one is shallow and perfect for small children to play in.
This is an absolutely magical spot and I recommend allocating time to relax there. Next, it’s time to go back to your car and drive up to an incredible lookout spot. From there, you’ll return to the starting point.
Price: NIS 210 per person. Hour-long tours cost NIS 145 per person.
Another option is renting electric bikes from Shiloh ATVs and riding around the dirt trails with a guide. The two-hour, medium- difficult tour is appropriate for good riders who’d rather not expend all their energy on pedaling. The electric bikes can go up to 25 km/h without having to use a great amount of force.
Groups consist of four to six participants and prices are NIS 140 for two hours or NIS 80 for one hour.
But that’s not all: Shiloh ATVs offers a third activity – paintball. For details: (02) 992-0235.
Canaan Desert Tourism
Canaan offers jeep rides, desert excursions and rappelling, just to name a few of the options available. We decided to expand our horizons and go rappelling in the middle of the desert. Our trip took us through the Valley of the Hyenas, which is mentioned in the Book of Samuel.
As its name suggests, packs of hyenas wander through this valley. As we drove to our destination, our tour guide regaled us with biblical stories that took place in the area. With our deep Jewish connection to the Land of Israel in mind, we began our trek to the waterfall. The trail was not difficult, but hot in the sun.
When we reached the waterfall, our guide set up all the rappelling equipment, helped us into our harnesses, and explained exactly what we needed to do on the descent to the bottom. Once I was able to overcome my fear, I found that this was one of the most exciting experiences of my life, even though it only lasted a few short minutes.
We climbed back up to our starting point on a dirt path. Rappelling is possible for all ages, and the guide is in control of your descent at every stage, so it’s quite safe.
Price: NIS 1,400 for up to 10 people. Guide spends 2.5 to three hours with the group. Details: (02) 535-5351.
Now that you’ve expended a tremendous amount of energy, you’ll probably be starving and ready to sit down for a nice, hearty meal. There aren’t too many restaurants in the area, and the few times that I ate at one I wasn’t overly impressed; so when I ate recently at Hacanaanite in Kfar Adumim, I was pleasantly surprised. This kosher meat restaurant, which attracts diners from all over the country, also offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes, as well as its specialty, Mama Ganush (eggplant stuffed with meat, pine nuts and tahina).
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. until the last customers finish. Before 5 p.m. by appointment only.
Location: Binyamin region.
Level of difficulty: medium-difficult.
Type: Tours involve bicycle riding, light walking, and riding ATVs.
Appropriate for families, friends and couples.
Season: All year round.
Length: Half-day.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.