Make a date with the Date Festival

In celebration of the harvest season, communities in the southern Arava will welcome guests for an exciting three-day celebration.

The Elifaz palm plantation welcomes visitors to its sprawling fields. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The Elifaz palm plantation welcomes visitors to its sprawling fields.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to find another reason to celebrate.
To help us out, residents of the southern Arava and the Eilot region are getting ready for the Date Festival, in celebration of the end of harvest season.
As you might know from previous road trips to Eilat, the southern Arava is adorned with bountiful palm groves. In fact, most of the work on area moshavim and kibbutzim revolves around dates.
The climate in the Eilot region is perfect for growing majhoul dates, and Kibbutz Elifaz is home to the largest date fields in Israel. Udi Pinzler, a tour guide from Elifaz, told me that his dream is to build a visitors’ center on the kibbutz, and the upcoming Date Festival is the first step toward receiving recognition as a bona fide tourist attraction. The goal is to entice tourists to stop for an authentic desert experience on their way to Eilat; if the kibbutz succeeds, the festival will become an annual event.
Because the Eilot region is not exactly “on the way,” kibbutz members are preparing a three-day festival – with one night’s accommodation and tasty meals – to make it worth the detour. The festival begins on Thursday, October 30, and will continue through the weekend, commencing at Kibbutz Elifaz.
Children and adults alike will be invited to participate in sand surfing and kite flying on the warm, silky sand dunes nearby. Guests will then make their way to an eclectic dinner held outside, in the date fields, accompanied by live music; they will then retire to the various kibbutzim where they’ve booked accommodation for the night.
The second day of the festival will begin Friday, with a morning tour of the fields and an afternoon visit to Timna Park, with explanations from a private guide. Later, a festive Friday night dinner will take place at Kibbutz Eilot.
On the third and final day of the festival, there will be a huge happening in the Kibbutz Elifaz date groves. Guests may relax in the cozy area set up with pillows and rugs, or walk around and buy a yummy morsel from the food stalls.
Kids will be kept busy making art projects (bracelets, bookmarks, scented mobiles to hang in cars and baskets), climbing through a rope maze, learning to shoot a bow and arrow or sliding down a zipline.
Guests who’d like an experience not connected to dates can go on a guided tour of the kibbutz’s pomelo orchards, or participate in a tour of solar farms that are part of the Arava renewable energy project. Of course, a visit to a kibbutz would not be complete without getting one’s hands dirty, so guests are invited to join kibbutz members in the field where they can help pick fruit.
Dates: October 30–November 1
Kibbutzim offering accommodations: Eilot, Lo tan, Yahel, Ketura and Elifaz (also offers camping)
Price: Couples – NIS 1,560 for half- BOARD at Elifaz, including all festival activities; Children – NIS 495.
If you’re already in the southern Arava, a number of attractions are worth a visit:
Bird-watching park
Located just a five-minute drive from Eilat, the amazing bird-watching park offers a short hiking trail that no nature- or bird-lover should miss; a great perk is that entrance is free.
Inside the park, you will find lookouts from which you can watch dozens of species of birds making their way south towards the Sahara Desert.
And don’t worry if you don’t end up going during migratory season – there are birds hanging out in the park all year long.
Interestingly, the park used to be home to the Eilat city dump. One day, someone noticed that flocks of birds were gathering there; now, the well-preserved and maintained site is Israel’s best location to observe feathered friends on their journey south. This is because the land is perfectly dry and just salty enough to attract birds to this narrow area connecting Africa and Asia. Today, authorities especially salt the ground to attract the birds.
The park is currently abounding with flamingos and seagulls enjoying a rest on the lake before continuing to their final destination.
Avrona Nature Reserve
When you leave the bird-watching park and drive north away from Eilat on the old Arava Highway, take note of a family bike path alongside the road; it leads to the Avrona Nature Reserve.
Ibex and hyena freely roam around the reserve, so it’s best not to disturb them while they sleep. If you continue along the road (by car or bike), you will soon reach Be’er Avrona, believed to be one of the places the Israelites passed as they wandered through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The reserve also houses the Avrona Farm, built centuries ago by Muslims to serve pilgrims on their way to perform the Haj in Mecca.
Yotvata For some history on the Eilot region, take Yotvata’s 90-minute tour, where you will learn about settlers’ initial efforts to plant and grow date palm, citrus and pomegranate trees. Kids can expend energy by climbing up (and sliding down) the sand dunes; there is also a lookout from which you can view the Jordanian village of Rahma. Afterwards, you will pass the horse stables and reach an observation post from which you can see the Yotvata factory and surrounding hills. From there, continue on to watch the cows being milked, and finish the tour with a delightful hot chocolate.
Recently, Yotvata has begun offering chocolate workshops for small groups (up to five people), in which one can also learn how mascarpone fig ice cream and date yogurt are produced. Of course, the milk used in all these products comes from cows milked on the premises.
Cost: NIS 40.
Details: (08) 635-7449 or 054-979- 8491 (Reut). Pre-registration necessary; tour taken in private car.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.