Under the radar

From nature reserves to an open-air market, Netanya is more than just a beach destination

Tourists from France France sit on the beach in Netanya (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tourists from France France sit on the beach in Netanya
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although some of us may be used to hearing about Netanya under unflattering circumstances, this coastal city is actually an interesting destination for a day trip. A popular destination for foreign tourists, it is, for some reason, less so among Israelis. Unbeknownst, perhaps, to many is that Netanya offers a plethora of activities for families and couples looking to escape from the daily grind and enjoy beautiful beaches and nature reserves, fun markets and a variety of cultural activities. In addition, a number of high-quality hotels have recently sprung up in the city.
The best place to start any trip to Netanya is, of course, at the beach – or, to be more specific, the promenade. In addition to relaxing on the beach, there are a number of other places of interest in Netanya that are also worth visiting. One of them is the monument at Yad Labanim, which commemorates the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
If this memorial was an attempt by the mayor of Netanya to gain favor with the city’s Russian Israeli population, he may have succeeded; Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the unveiling ceremony for the monument in 2012. The monument is set in a charming garden overlooking the sea, and there are placards that describe Russia’s contribution to overcoming the Nazis, as well as memorials to the Jews who died in the Holocaust.
If you’re traveling with curious children, I definitely recommend stopping at Planetanya, a science and space center that opened last June with the assistance of a $4 million donation from a Japanese businessman. Visitors can star gaze, watch a film about space and Earth, make their way through an interactive science station and even meditate in a Japanese garden.
The planetarium offers daily two-hour tours, a variety of workshops, and once a month on Wednesdays, visitors can look through a telescope at the stars and listen to a lecture about space. Planetanya is open Sunday to Friday, although Sundays and Thursdays are reserved for school trips. The rest of the week, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Price: NIS 35 to NIS 5 (from age five).
No outing to Netanya would be complete without a jaunt into nature, and there are two places I highly recommend: Winter Lake Park (commonly referred to as Park Hashlulit) and the Iris Argaman Reserve. Hashlulit is spread over 50 hectares and is filled with fruit trees and fun, wooden play structures. It also has a wheelchair-accessible playground, a skate park, a picnic area and a lake.
Just across the road is the Iris Argaman Reserve, which is covered with purple irises that are currently in full bloom. There’s a circular trail within the reserve, and you can easily spend three hours wandering the grounds. Toward the middle of the trail is a 55-meter-high lookout spot to the sea. In addition to the 16,000 irises that grow in the reserve, there are retama, anemones, cyclamens and tulips. There are also 30 different types of butterflies, gazelles, foxes, porcupines, turtles, and a variety of reptiles and migratory birds. The 4-km. long reserve ends at a wadi (dry riverbed), from which you can walk down to the shore.
If you get hungry, there are several nice eateries along the promenade. Yorgos, a kosher Greek restaurant, is the “in” place to eat these days. The authentic-looking Greek décor and music add a nice touch, too. Because the restaurant is kosher, the menu is limited and does not include dishes such as souvlaki and gyros. You can, however, find fresh fish and delicious Mediterranean style pasta and dairy dishes. There is live Greek music on Tuesday nights, and in the summer there are Shabbat festivities on Friday afternoons.
If you’re looking to stay overnight, I recommend the luxurious David Tower Hotel, which opened just this year. Part of the Sofitel chain, and designed by Michael Azulai, the hotel is located near Netanya’s central square and overlooks the sea.
Among the hotel’s amenities are a Turkish bath, a gym, a Finnish sauna, a Jacuzzi and an indoor pool. Prices begin at NIS 1,200 per night.
The hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the town’s open-air market, where you can find fruits, vegetables, fresh pastries and spices. The market is especially fun to visit on Friday afternoons, even if you don’t plan on buying anything. ■ Translated by Hannah Hochner.