Tour Israel: No-hike outing

"I am dedicating this week’s column to the latter group of people, who tend to stay far away from long, arduous hikes, and instead prefer to be pampered."

Cafe Ma'arag is socially conscious and offers delicious food (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Cafe Ma'arag is socially conscious and offers delicious food
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The word “outing” can have a number of connotations, depending on whom you ask.
For some people, an outing means a trek that takes a minimum of 12 hours, whereas another person’s idea of an outing is driving to the nearest boutique winery to enjoy a wine tasting and maybe a few bites of cheese to go with the wine.
I am dedicating this week’s column to the latter group of people, who tend to stay far away from long, arduous hikes, and instead prefer to be pampered.
Olive boutique hotel, Nahariya junction
My recommended outing this week is to the Western Galilee, where you can stay in a new boutique urban hotel called Olive and enjoy a little art along with lots of good food and wine. I will start by describing the combination of the two words “boutique” and “hotel.”
Tel Avivians may think that the opening of a boutique hotel is not a big deal, since they pop up around central Israel all the time, but it is certainly a big deal in the North. I raised an eyebrow in surprise when I heard that an urban boutique hotel had just opened near Nahariya junction. Located just above the new Arena Mall, the Olive hotel was opened by the Olive Country Guesthouses chain, which has become quite well known in the rural tourism sector.
The new hotel is suitable for people on business trips or for couples looking to get away, although during the holiday season and summer holidays, families that prefer to stay close to the city also take advantage of Olive’s gorgeous facilities.
Olive boasts 24 beautiful rooms that are spread out on two floors, as well as a business lounge and a spa.
Because the hotel is small and intimate, guests interested in swimming in the pool or exercising in the gym will find these facilities at a nearby kibbutz.
But in my opinion, you shouldn’t be spending your precious vacation time working out inside a gym; you should be exploring the endless attractions in the area. And I must say, the location of the Olive hotel is fantastic.
The rooms are kept at an incredibly high level and feel more like luxury Tel Aviv suites and less like the wooden- paneled rooms you’ll find in abundance in the North.
From the hotel, you can take a short drive up to Mitzpe Matat, a town located near the Lebanese border that was built on top of a mountain that is 840 meters high. And believe it or not, in gematria the Hebrew “matat” equals 840, so I guess the town was not randomly given that name.
This relatively small town is home mostly to farmers and artists who enjoy the stunning scenery and amazing serenity day in and day out.
Yuval Telem is a local artist and blacksmith who offers workshops for groups and families. His wife, Mira, runs a café and gallery called Ruszka, which in addition to fine food also offers guests the opportunity to view many of Yuval’s artworks.
The gallery, which sits above the workshop where Yuval works, is open every weekend; and after you’ve filled your soul admiring the artwork, you can fill your belly with scrumptious quiches, salads, ice cream and desserts in Mira’s café, which overlooks Mount Adir. And on clear days, you can see all the way to the Hermon.
Reservations are recommended: (04) 953-1153.
Gallery Café Ma’arag, Kfar Vradim Apparently art and food are a winning combination.
A number of such establishments have opened recently in the North. Another similar juxtaposition of these two worlds can be found in Kfar Vradim at Gallery Café Ma’arag.
Run by the North Star nonprofit organization, Ma’arag was built so that people with mental disabilities could work there.
The young waiters come to the cafe from Sunday through Thursday, and during the day they also participate in a variety of creative workshops in music, sewing, computers, woodwork, ceramics and papier-mâché. In these workshops they make blankets, pillows, kitchenware and furniture, all of which can be purchased on site and at fairs.
If you’re interested in taking a tour of Ma’arag, you can preregister for a tour. At the Ma’arag Gallery, you can see the artworks – which are for sale – created by the workshop participants.
As a result of the warm and open environment in the café, people who otherwise would probably never have connected form bonds with each other.
The young people with special needs also happen to serve some of the tastiest food I’ve ever eaten.
And on Friday mornings, you can enjoy an incredible brunch for just NIS 55.
Address: 1a Meron Street (turn left after the 9th roundabout), Kfar Vradim.
Details: (04) 997-1369.
Stern Winery, Kibbutz Tuval
After enjoying the creative artwork and good food, it’s time to partake in some alcohol at Stern Winery.
Located in Kibbutz Tuval, northwest of Karmiel, the family boutique winery has been managed by Johnny Stern since it opened in 2004. The winery currently produces 25,000 bottles a year, which are then aged between 13 and 15 months.
Stern’s romance with wine began 30 years ago while he was carrying out his IDF reserve duty in the casbah in Hebron. Just before he was about to set out for home at the end of his shift, Stern saw men loading crates full of grapes onto a truck, and he decided that his next adventure would be in the world of wine. And so the next day he went to a wine-tasting workshop and began making wine at home.
Stern started out producing 100 bottles a year, which he distributed among his friends and family members. Over the years, he has been steadily growing his business into what it is today. After 15 years, Stern decided to learn oenology professionally, and this led to his opening of the Stern Winery. Since then, he has been producing award-winning wines.
Stern Winery produces 10 different wines, including white, rosé, red blends and single varietal wines.
Stern usually takes visitors on a tour of the winery himself, which ends of course with a wine tasting (for NIS 40 per person). And for the next 12 months, for each bottle of wine sold, Stern will donate a portion to the Shabtai Levi Home for children in Haifa, who’ve had to be removed from their home.
Details: 054-303-4361.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.