Tour Israel: The bounties of the Yatir region

Yatir is a place for people who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, or to live their lives at a slower – but no less exciting – pace.

The synagogue at the archeological site of ancient Sussiya. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The synagogue at the archeological site of ancient Sussiya.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Just a 60-minute drive from the Center of the country lies a beautiful region that not many people have visited. Adjacent to the Green Line, you will find the Yatir region, an area best known for the colorful Yatir Forest, which happens to be in full bloom right now.
Over the years, the Yatir area has been undergoing development as more and more people have chosen to make their home there, either by making a go at living off the land, or in an effort to find a quiet, green space where it’s easier to breathe and relax. In other words, Yatir is a place for people who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, or to live their lives at a slower – but no less exciting – pace.
Many artists have built studios here, such as Sigalit Breyer, who fell in love with Yatir as an IDF soldier in the Nahal Brigade and returned to the area many years later to fulfill her dream.
Breyer is a potter who lives in a community called Livneh, along one side of which runs the Green Line and along the other sits the Yatir Forest. Three years ago, she opened her ceramic studio, The Other Side, which looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. Visitors to the studio, which is situated in the heart of the forest, are often excited to discover such amazing art out in nature. In addition to showing her artwork, Breyer leads potter’s wheel, painting and sculpting workshops for visitors.
Breyer’s studio is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week. To make an appointment: 052-364-4848.
THE YATIR region does not have a very developed tourism infrastructure, and as a result, it’s not so easy to find a decent place to stay overnight. Up until now, hikers and bikers have been forced to travel all they way to Arad to find a nice place to sleep.
But no longer. Recently residents in the communities surrounding the Yatir Forest have woken up and realized the economic potential, and they have opened a number of luxury bedand- breakfast country lodges. One bed-andbreakfast, called Had Ofen (or “Unicycle”), markets itself especially to the biker community, but also welcomes families. The lodge was built by Miki Itach, who has been living in Livneh for more than a decade since returning to Israel from the Caribbean.
Like Breyer, Itach fell in love with Yatir earlier in life: He visited there as a child on a Tu Bishvat field trip, and the memory of that day stayed with him all those years. Six months ago, he decided to build two bed-and-breakfast lodges for families, couples and bikers visiting the region.
The rooms are equipped with all the necessary facilities, and Itach has plans to build more units. In addition to offering sleeping accommodations, he offers guided culinary adventure tours, including a visit to a winery.
Price of overnight stay during the week: NIS 600 per couple and an extra NIS 150 per child. On weekends, price is NIS 800 per couple. For reservations: 052-459-4125.
AND SINCE we’ve just celebrated Shavuot, a holiday of great agricultural importance, we must not overlook the Yatir area’s most famous product: cherries. In the heart of the Yatir Forest, you will find Beit Yatir’s cherry fields (which produce fruit mostly for export) alongside its vineyards and nectarine orchards. The cherry crop has had a good year, and on Friday, Beit Yatir will be holding its annual cherry festival at the entrance to the Yatir Forest, just off of Route 80.
Throughout the day, families are welcome to come pick cherries, learn how to make cherry jam, bake pitot on a taboun, roast wheat seeds, play the darbuka, prepare wild fruit salad, compete in a cherry-painting contest and prepare pendants. There will also be a farmer’s market, walking tours led by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, bikes for rent, and bike tours.
Entrance to the festival is free of charge. The only activity that requires a fee is the cherry picking. Directions: Drive east on Route 31. Turn left at Tel Arad intersection onto Route 80. Drive past Tel Arad toward Mount Amasa. At the first intersection, turn left into the Mexico parking area. For further details: 1-599-500-037.
IN ADDITION to the JNF tours, I recommend booking a guided tour with a local tour guide, such as Nahshon Afik, who manages Hiking and Singing in the Yatir Region. As one can tell from the name of his business, Afik loves to sing and play the flute while he’s leading tours. You can call him at 052-823-9646 for more details or to book a tour.
If you’re interested in a tour that will take you back in time, Bney Adama was created just for you. Bney Adama reconstructs life as it was millions of years ago and leads tracking tours, bonfire- making lessons, herb-gathering walks and other adventurous and exciting activities that help you connect with nature.
For details about tours and workshops:
A SHORT drive from the Yatir Forest sits an extremely important archeological site: Ancient Sussiya. In a dig that commenced 40 years ago (and shows no signs of coming to an end), archeologists uncovered remains from the ancient Jewish city, including burial caves, ritual baths and a large synagogue.
Visitors are welcome to walk around freely and discover these artifacts. You can watch a show that tells about the ancient city, crawl through the caves, then rest in the visitors’ center, which was modeled after the ancient synagogue. The RonEl Café in the visitors’ center offers delicious dairy dishes all morning and afternoon. The café is run by RonEl Barak, who converted to Judaism and then made aliya from South Africa to Mitzpe Yatir with her family.
The site is open Sunday through Friday. Entrance costs NIS 21 for adults and NIS 15 for children and seniors.
AND IF you’ve already made it all the ways to Sussiya, you might as well travel five more minutes to Herbs of Kedem, a factory that produces medicinal and beauty products made from herbs that grow in the Judean Desert. The factory is located on Moshav Carmel, just at the beginning of the desert. Due to the particular climate and soil in this location, the herbs that grow there have extremely healthy qualities. The Herbs of Kedem visitors’ center holds guided tours and art workshops for children between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the week.
To book a tour: (02) 960-5040.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.