Travel: Gilboa in the summer

What to do in the Beit She'an Valley locale of Emek Hama'ayanot.

Weitzman Boutique Winery (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Weitzman Boutique Winery
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Location: Emek Hama’ayanot
Length: Half day
Season: All year
Difficulty: Easy, appropriate for families, includes easy walking, and driving
Emek Hama’ayanot, located in the Beit She’an Valley in the North, attracts an incredible number of hikers in the winter months when the hills are green and the rivers are gushing with water. But it’s also a wonderful place to visit in the summer, when you can visit the Barkanit Dairy in Kfar Yehezkel, a small operation owned by Avinoam and Michal Barkan, who have been producing quality goat cheese for almost 40 years. Their cheeses can be found in delicatessens across the country, but there’s nothing like a visit to their dairy to get a taste of these high quality cheeses. The Barkan family produces hard and semi-hard cheeses, such as Camembert, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, blue cheese and Manchego. In addition, the Barkans opened a small shop next door where guests can sit and enjoy a platter of cheese and vegetables.
Barkanit, Kfar Yehezkel.
Visits by appointment only: (04) 653-1431.
Although most people are familiar with the green foliage that covers the Gilboa in the winter, the end of the summer is also a wonderful time to visit, since this is when the dates are ready to be harvested. Pretty much everywhere you go in the region you’ll see date trees bursting with fruit, and diligent agricultural workers harvesting, sorting and packing them in containers. The date harvest season takes place from mid-August through November, and so many kibbutzim in the area hold festivals during the intermediate days of Succot during which visitors can partake in the harvest. I’ll be giving more details in my column about these events in upcoming weeks – so stay tuned.
When we think about Israeli wine, the first image that usually pops into our heads is the idyllic landscape of the Golan Heights. However, you might be surprised to know that some of Israel’s best wine is produced in Beit She’an at the Weitzman Boutique Winery, which was founded 15 years ago by Itzik Weitzman.
The winery offers a series of red wines, including an excellent three-year-old port. In addition, Weitzman produces Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Verdot, as well as a few blends. Despite the wide variety, the winery only produces 10,000 bottles a year.
Itzik, the owner, was bitten by the wine bug as a young boy when he used to watch his father producing wine at home. When he was ready to make his dream come true, he knew that if he wanted his business to survive, he’d first have to study. So, 10 years ago, Weitzman signed up for the Tel Hai wine-making program, and then continued his training in France. He grows his grapes in Ramat Naftali and the Eila Valley since Beit She’an does not have an appropriate climate.
27 Ben-Gurion Street, Beit She’an. For appointments: (04)658-1123.
Of course, no trip is complete without eating dinner at a great restaurant, and I happen to have found a lovely place near the Naharayim Bridge that overlooks the Jordan River. The restaurant, called Rotenberg, is owned and run by Yizhar Sahar. The menu focuses on local ingredients and includes pickled, smoked and salted dishes. This is an incredible place to enjoy the enchanted landscape and sophisticated cuisine.
Rotenberg, Old Gesher. Details: (04) 675-2237.
And for those of you who aren’t ready to call it quits until you’ve found a natural spring to jump into, you’ll be happy to know that there are quite a few to choose from in Emek Hama’ayanot. If you’re short on time and are looking for a quiet place that requires only a five-minute walk, you can go to Ein Moda. The water flows quickly through the spring, and as a result is crystal clear and clean. There are also picnic tables and shade from trees at the site. To reach Ein Moda, drive on Road 669 and then turn towards the Mesilot Cemetery and follow signs for Ein Moda. Park your car in the parking area and continue on by foot.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.