Dark skies in Mitzpe Ramon

Mitzpe ramon at night  (photo credit: MAREK SHANITMAN)
Mitzpe ramon at night
(photo credit: MAREK SHANITMAN)
Israel may be a small country, but nevertheless we are home to a plethora of natural treasures. We are the proud location of the lowest place on earth and our capital is Jerusalem, a holy city for three religions. There are a number of world-recognized heritage sites in Israel, and less than a year ago, the American International Dark Sky Association declared the Ramon Crater to be an international “Dark Sky Park.”
In fact, the Ramon Crater is the first site in the Middle East to be bestowed with this honor, which is shared by 54 others in 15 countries around the world for sites where conditions for planetary gazing are close to ideal most of the year, i.e. without light pollution.
This is not the only reason to set out on a trip to the Mitzpe Ramon region this month. This also happens to be the month the earth crosses the orbit of Comet Swift–Tuttle where every year asteroids enter the earth’s atmosphere and then burn up (which we usually refer to as shooting stars).
In an effort to celebrate this natural wonder and enjoy the magic of the sky, the public is invited to attend the Summer of Stars, a series of events that will take place on weekend evenings in Mitzpe Ramon and Ramat Negev.
On Thursday and Friday nights in August, the Mitzpe Ramon Spice Route Quarter will be darkened and the surrounding desert area will fill up with night activities for the whole family. There will be an astronomy complex with telescopes through which visitors will be able to gaze up at the stars; films about planets and constellations; sunset hikes; musical performances and a safari trip to track scorpions. During the day, guests can visit the planetarium, work on art projects at the arts-andcrafts station, wade in the kiddie pool, pet the alpacas and have fun jumping in the moonbounces.
There will also be a special telescope through which you can look at the sun, theatrical tours of the ruins and a desert escape room.
There are three focal points: The Spice Route Quarter in Mitzpe Ramon; Hurshat Be’erotayim on the Egyptian border; and – for the first time – the Shanti House in the Desert.
Details: On Facebook or 073-374-2022.
If you drive south on Route 40, just next to David Ben-Gurion’s grave, you’ll find the Desert Shanti House, which was established in 2001 as a youth home where residents would help fulfill Ben-Gurion’s vision of making the Negev desert bloom.
When you first walk in, you feel as if you’re looking at a mirage, a gorgeous green oasis in the middle of the brown desert. There’s a vineyard surrounded by low buildings built out of mud.
The guided tour begins in the beautiful Friendship Tent, where guests are greeted with incredible hospitality.
There the Shanti staff will tell stories about the village and the teens who’ve grown up in the Shanti TOUR ISRAEL House in Tel Aviv, after which the desert village was designed. The Shanti House will be offering tours every Thursday when Dark Sky Park events take place.
Details: www.shanti.org.il
Another exciting place to visit just off Route 40 is the Kornmehl Goat-Cheese Farm, which is situated on an isolated hill that can be reached by climbing a narrow path. Visiting the farm established by Anat and David Kornmehl is quite an experience. The couple is known as the best goat cheese producers in the country. They took two old train cars and turned them into a dairy restaurant where they serve cheeses produced on site. Guests are welcome to sit inside or outside on the shaded balcony overlooking the gorgeous desert landscape.
At the Kornmehls’ restaurant, guests can enjoy cheese platters, pizzas made with melted goat cheese, phyllo dough pastries filled with cheese and served with a garlic yoghurt dip, calzones filled with tomatoes, spicy roasted peppers and fresh salads.
Details: (08) 655-5140, www.kornmehl.co.il
The Desert Shade EcoCamp is an ecological accommodation with an intoxicating view overlooking the Ramon Crater. Couples and families are welcome to stay in Eco-Tents, which are a unique combination of simple construction and walls built with recycled materials mixed together with mud. These special walls trap heat during the day so that they can keep guests nice and cozy even on cold nights. In the desert, temperatures drop precipitously as soon as the sun goes down.
Nearby, there is a boutique winery called Rujum, which began operating in 2009 and currently produces 4,000 bottles of wine a year from grapes grown locally and handpicked.
Details on summer specials: 054-540-0195, www.desert-shade.co.il/summer-of-stars NANA WINERY Nana Winery’s vineyards are located in Mitzpe Ramon, at 800 meters above sea level. Eran Raz, the vine-grower, loves to tell stories about the winery. He talks about what it’s like to plant a vineyard on sandy ground in extreme climatic conditions and how against all odds he’s succeeded in producing quality red and white wines. Raz’s stories of determination and Zionism are quite inspiring.
Price: NIS 60 per person for wine tasting, NIS 120 for full meal.
Details: 054-444-4037, www.nanawine.co.il
Translated by Hannah Hochner.