The surprising variety of Negev attractions

The northern Negev has many interesting and exotic attractions, restaurants and parks to visit.

Ostrich on El Haya’en Ostrich Farm (photo credit: OSNAT GUETTA)
Ostrich on El Haya’en Ostrich Farm
(photo credit: OSNAT GUETTA)
The anemone festival in the northern Negev – which took place last month – drew over 100,000 people to see the beautiful fields of anemones as well as to enjoy the open markets and many exciting attractions. There are farms with not-so-typical livestock, spas that draw on age-old remedies of relaxation, and innovative restaurants, the possibilities seem endless.
El Haya’en Ostrich Farm
One of those attractions is the El Haya’en Ostrich Farm, which is located near Besor Park, within Eshkol National Park.
The farm is open to visitors all week long and offers an experience that helps city dwellers connect with nature, including feeding the ostriches and enjoying a nice meal in the Ostrich Coffee Bar.
El Haya’en was founded by Mike and Tsophia van Grevenbroek in the 1980s and was one of first ostrich farms in Israel. The two of them learned how to raise ostriches when they worked on an ostrich farm in South Africa more than 30 years ago.
When they arrived in Israel, they decided to set up a single-family farm in the Negev. They bought ostrich eggs from South Africa that they smuggled into the country on a commercial flight. To their surprise, the chicks hatched unexpectedly while still on board, and their business got off to a quick start.
Two years ago, due to heavy lobbying by environmental groups, the sale of ostrich meat in Israel was banned, and the van Grevenbroeks were forced to reduce the size of their flock. Their main source of income is from the export of ostrich eggs to Europe, and the farm is open to visitors on the weekends. Mating season, which is in the spring, offers a unique display of the male ostriches strutting around and doing their best to attract the attention of the females.
Details: 052-690-1660.
Tze’ela Dairy
You can’t drive near the Besor Park and not stop for a visit at Tze’ela Dairy, just five minutes from Moshav Ein Habesor.
At the visitors’ center, which is open on weekends (it’s best to call ahead), you can hear a brief explanation about the cheese production process and receive a guided tour of the sheep pen. The dairy holds cheese-making workshops on the weekends and you pay according to how much cheese you take home with you at the end. You can order a basket with cheeses, whole-grain bread, butter, olives, jam, fresh vegetables and drinks ahead of time.
Details: 052-847-8935.
Tze’elim Hamam
Another fun weekend activity is a visit to the warm-water hamam (“steambath”) on Kibbutz Tze’elim. The hamam is open every weekend and sports a number of naturally hot mineral pools, a large green grassy area and a dry sauna. It’s the perfect place for families and small groups of people to relax after a tiring hike in the desert.
For those looking to stay overnight, there’s an adjacent area where you can sleep in giant tents.
Prices: NIS 50 entrance to hamam.
NIS 80 to sleep overnight in tent.
Details: (08) 998-9268.
In Ora’s Yard
At the entrance of Kfar Maimon, Ora’s Yard has a lovely organic garden with exotic fruit trees. The owners, Reuven and Ora, have been living in Kfar Maimon for many years and have lots of fascinating stories to tell about their lives. Ora was born in Yemen and immigrated with her family when she was three, and Reuven is a Holocaust survivor from Poland.
The two of them met in the army and are proud parents and grandparents, who offer their visitors something a little off the beaten path. Reuven offers guided tours of their exotic garden and Ora prepares authentic Yemenite delicacies.
Cost of tour plus drink: NIS 30.
Cost of authentic Yemenite meal including liqueurs and fruits: NIS 125.
By appointment only. Closed on Shabbat and holidays.
Details: (08) 994-1285.
Artichoke restaurant
A restaurant has opened up on Moshav Ge’a that offers an array of tasty Italian dishes. The owner, Ira Kovlova, is very excited to provide visitors and local residents with a taste of faraway places.
The restaurant is open daily from 9 a.m.
to 10 p.m., including weekends.
Details: 053-722-6605
Translated by Hannah Hochner.