Heading North!

A taste of Acre and the Western Galilee region.

The tornado boat is a fun way to see Rosh Hanikra and the coast from a different angle (photo credit: Courtesy)
The tornado boat is a fun way to see Rosh Hanikra and the coast from a different angle
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The region of the Western Galilee has an enormous number of sites, with something for everybody: history dating back to biblical times, sea, mountains, restaurants and culture of all kinds. The area is home to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druse, Beduin, Circassians and Baha’i, with the holiest site for members of the worldwide Baha’i religion being the shrine and gardens in Acre, containing the remains of the founder of their religion.
A group of reporters recently participated in a press tour of sites in the area, designed to promote the many attractions – some new, some old – that the region has to offer.
The trip was organized by Ozrot Hagalil (Treasures of the Galilee), a philanthropic venture established by businesswoman Raya Strauss Ben-Dror – daughter of the founders of the Strauss dairy company of Nahariya – that funds tourism and cultural programs in the region.
Our tour began in the city of Acre – Acco – where we were met by local guide Nadine Assoune. A native of Paris, she says people are often surprised to hear that she much prefers Acre to Paris, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Acre, Assoune told us, has been a border town since biblical times. The region to the east was Israelite, whereas the western coastal strip was foreign and not subject to the mitzvot relating to agricultural produce of the Land of Israel. Acre was the “border,” the meeting place between nations and cultures. “[The tribe of] Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco… But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out” (Judges 1:31-2). This is still true today, after 3,500 years. Acre is a mosaic of religions and cultures, living in harmony.
According to Assoune, the city is famous for “nothing happening there,” with no problems or violence between Arabs and Jews during the intifada.
The Old City of Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Center, a historic walled city that has been continuously inhabited since Phoenician times.
In addition to the citadel, mosques and Turkish baths, the remains of the Crusader town are almost intact, both at street level and underground.
Our first stop was at the Hummus el Abed Abu Hmid restaurant in the main square next to the sea. Areen Abu Hmed Kurdi serves traditional Acre home-style meals in the restaurant established by her late father.
Not surprisingly, the restaurant serves hummus in many different styles, as well as meat and fish, and the local tamarind, or tamar hindi, cold drink made from tamarind (a pod-like fruit) mixed with sugar and water.
We then headed to the Studio for Israeli Creativity at Moshav Regba. Two years ago, Zohar and Anat Horesh converted a former chicken house into workshops for arts and crafts: jewelry, leather, pottery, carpentry, textiles, etc. In addition to workshops for adults and children that can be booked by groups and individuals, the studio hosts events such as birthday parties, bar mitzvas and even weddings. The gallery is free to look around, and there are many items for sale, including articles of furniture and upholstery made out of recycled denim fabric and reused pieces of wood. For information: 077-996-4456.
FOR SOMETHING a little more exciting, the Trek Yam company at Achziv Beach runs “Tornado boats” – inflatable powered craft that seat 10 passengers plus a crew member – that ride the waves at a speed of 60 km/h, fast enough to be fun but by no means extreme.
I was a little apprehensive, as I am not a particularly good sailor, but I didn’t feel the least bit seasick during the ride. Our half-hour ride took us near the islands off the coast between Achziv and Rosh Hanikra, nature reserves for local and migrating bird species where humans are not permitted to land.
This is an opportunity to enjoy an excellent view of Rosh Hanikra from the sea, as well as the fenced-off turtle reserve, where in July and August sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. We even saw a glimpse in the distance of the city of Tyre in Lebanon.
The boat rides are suitable for anyone aged three and up who is able to sit upright, but not for pregnant women and people with back problems.
The company also offers snorkeling trips. Booking is advisable: 077-996-4464.
We had a late lunch at Morgenfeld, a kosher Argentinean restaurant in Achziv. The restaurant, owned by Argentinean native Marcelo Morgenfeld, serves huge portions of traditional Argentinean food, predominantly meat but fish and vegetarian options are available. Tel. 077-996-4473.
A NEW venture in Acre is slihot tours. Slihot tours, in the period leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are well-known in Jerusalem and Safed, and they have now made their way to Acre as well. Participants walk along the narrow winding streets of Acre’s old city, accompanied by actors in costume, where they have an opportunity to learn something of the city’s Jewish history.
The tours, lasting around an hour and a half, include a visit to the 18th-century Ramshal Synagogue, where there is a performance by musimusicians using traditional instruments. The synagogue, which is of great architectural interest, is the only one in the old city and is no longer used as a house of worship, but serves as a visitors’ center.
The tours conclude with an opportunity to perform tashlich (the traditional casting of one’s sins into a body of water) on the seashore.
Although the city is a good base for tourism in the area, it still suffers from a shortage of guest accommodation. The Israel Youth Hostels Association hostel – which like all hostels belonging to the IYHA is of a very high standard – is always full. Acre is popular with all sectors of the population, and in the past three years religious tourism to the area has increased by 60 percent.
Some old stone houses have been converted into upmarket guest accommodation, providing an interesting alternative to more conventional hotels and hostels.
Acre is a surprisingly short drive from the center of the country. Using the Carmel Tunnels and the new Krayot bypass road, the drive from Tel Aviv is less than an hour and a half.
The city has good public transportation links, with a railway station and buses to the surrounding areas, all of which add another advantage to this beautiful place.
So if you’re looking for something off the beaten track, head north in this holiday season.
The writer was a guest of Treasures of the Galilee. www.ozrothagalil.org.il