Kibbutz Ortal

I’d like to take you on a trip to northern Israel, where there is a plethora of activities, gorgeous views and excellent food and wine.

Ortal winery (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Ortal winery
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The end of the school year is approaching, and hints of summer vacation can be felt in the air. Many of you are still planning your summer holidays and I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that instead of hopping on a plane to go overseas, it’s worth your while to look into the attractions and entertainment opportunities here in our small country that will leave your children happy and relaxed.
Today, I’d like to take you on a trip to northern Israel, where there is a plethora of activities, gorgeous views and excellent food and wine. One of my favorite places in the Golan Heights is Kibbutz Ortal, which is located near Mount Bental, Ein Zivan and Merom Golan. The kibbutz is near a number of nature reserves, water sources and hiking trails, which makes it an extremely attractive place to visit.
Usually, when people think of vacationing in the North, they picture small, one-room bed-and-breakfasts.
Kibbutz Ortal, however, offers spacious accommodations for the whole family.
Its Hanof Hatzfoni Village offers 42 large rooms that are perfect for families. There are large lawns and plenty of grills, so you can barbecue great big meals with friends or family. In addition, there are 10 Scandinavian- style log cabins located in the heart of a pine forest. Each cabin has a round wooden hot tub, and in the winter months special oil heaters make the cabins nice and toasty.
In addition to sleeping accommodations, the kibbutz offers a diverse mix of activities, including jeep rides, ATV rentals and a petting zoo.
Prices: Rooms start at NIS 390 per couple midweek.
Wooden cabins start at NIS 650 per couple midweek.
Prices include free entrance to a tour, grape picking and wine-tasting at the Ortal Winery. Details: (04) 696-0808.
Regardless of whether you’ll be traveling with kids, you definitely won’t want to skip a visit to Hai-Tal on the kibbutz.
Situated in a mostly shaded area covered with large trees, you’ll able to pet camels, ponies, goats, sheep, alpacas, turkeys and rabbits. In addition to the petting zoo, Hai-Tal also works in cooperation with supervisors from nature reserves and takes in wild animals that have been injured. And there are plenty of shady spaces you can have a quiet picnic. There’s also an option to take a guided tour of the nature reserve or go on a pony ride.
Hours: Sundays through Fridays 9 to 2; Saturdays 9 to 4.
For kibbutz hotel guests, entrance is free. For other visitors: NIS 10 to NIS 15.
Ortal Winery
Now that you’ve engaged in one fun activity for the kids, it’s time to do something fun for the adults.
Near Hai-Tal is the veteran Ortal Winery, where you can take a tour and participate in wine tasting.
Ortal Winery is a medium-size boutique winery that produces 30,000 bottles a year, including one white, one Viognier and six red wines (Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and two blends).
Vintner Ilan Za’afrani, a kibbutz member, studied oenology at Tel Hai, and after producing a modest number of bottles for a few years, the kibbutz decided to let Za’afrani expand the winery.
The visitors center is surrounded by vineyards and apple orchards, and has a gorgeous view of the mountains.
You can enjoy a glass of wine and snacks in the charming courtyard. During the tour, guests will learn how the kibbutz planted its first grapevines in 1983, making it one of the most veteran vineyards in the region.
The vineyard is located at an altitude of 900 meters above sea level, which makes the climate perfect for growing wine grapes.
Afterwards, guests can hear a short explanation of the wine-making process, from harvest all the way until the wine is bottled. Of course, no tour would be complete without a wine-tasting at the end (or, if you prefer, you can skip the tour and go straight to the wine-tasting).
Tours are available daily between 10 and 4. It is recommended to make a reservation.
Details: 052-561-2235.
Cherry picking
If you’re planning on traveling to the Golan in the near future, I highly recommend going cherry picking.
Cherry season began in mid-May, so we are deep into the season and the cherries covering the trees are now a deep red color and very juicy. Last week, the raspberry and mango-nectarine seasons also began.
Picking fruit is a really fun activity to do with the whole family. You can eat as much as you want while you’re picking, and then fill a container to take home.
And if you love climbing, you can climb up a ladder to try to reach the highest fruits you can. If you’re sleeping in the area, I recommend going fruit picking first thing in the morning, since the orchards tend to fill up as the day progresses. And of course, we are getting close to the end of the season, so don’t put off your trip to the North for too long.
In addition to the fruit picking, there’s a variety of activities for children, including an extreme park with a rope adventure course, a petting zoo, pony rides, tractor- drawn wagons, arts and crafts workshops, ATV rentals, go-karts, a café with a pleasant, shady sitting area, and an area with picnic tables and hammocks.
Hours: Daily from 9 to 4.
Price: NIS 33 for adults and NIS 29 for children.
Details: (04) 699-3610 .
Jordan River Rafting
Now that it’s June, the days are pretty long and hot, so I recommend spending the afternoon engaging in an activity that involves getting wet. There are a number of attractions along the Jordan River, my favorite of which is rafting. Israel did not receive an incredible amount of rain this past winter, so if you’re looking for rapids, this is not the place. But it is a great place to take the family for a really fun and refreshing day. At Jordan River Rafting, you’ll find rafting, zip lines, paintball, ATV and Ranger rentals, and archery.
Everything is in one large complex near Kibbutz Gadot, which is surrounded by lush green vegetation providing shade all day long. So even if you don’t want to go rafting, there are plenty of activities to choose from. But of course, if you like rafting, the 90-minute trip is definitely one of the most fun things to do in the North.
Open daily from 10 to 4.
Details: (04) 900-7000.
Where to eat
When you get hungry, you don’t need to go far since there’s an excellent restaurant called Iskander right inside the rafting compound.
Iskander is a meat restaurant that offers authentic Turkish food at reasonable prices. Through its large windows, guests at the restaurant are treated to breathtaking views of the region. If you prefer to sit out on the terrace, you can enjoy your meal overlooking the river.
Of course, no Turkish restaurant is complete without the large stone tabun oven at the entrance, in which they prepare Lahmacun – crispy dough baked in olive oil with minced meat, onions and tomatoes in spicy seasoning.
Hours: Sundays-Thursdays 12 noon to 8 p.m.; Fridays 12 noon until Shabbat begins.
Details: (04) 900-7020.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.