Despite the less-than-average rainfall this winter, Israel’s North is blanketed with groves of trees dotted with historical sites and flowing springs.The Western Galilee, which encompasses the Mediterranean coast north of Haifa and stretches inland toward the Upper Galilee, has plenty of attractions for visitors during the intermediate days of Passover.On a press tour organized by Otzrot Hagalil (Treasures of the Galilee), a sampling of the region’s wide-ranging highlights was presented.Otzrot Hagalil was founded in 2013 by philanthropist Raya Strauss Ben-Dror. She is the daughter of Dr. Richard and Hilde Strauss, who immigrated from Germany to Nahariya in the 1930s and established the Strauss Dairy, which evolved into the Strauss Group, a major food concern.Ben-Dror grew up in Nahariya and today continues the values of her parents’ community involvement in the Western Galilee – an area with potential to attract many tourists.The dedicated staff of Otzrot Hagalil mentor and offer support to the local businesses and artists of the diverse populations of the region. Its website lists about 340 attractions, among them restaurants and accommodations, hiking trails and historical sites, tour guides and artisans, workshops and museums – all matching the high-quality standards of Otzrot Hagalil, which then gives its stamp of approval.“Since Otzrot Hagalil’s founding and the publicity from the website, there has been an increase of 60% of tourism to the region,” says Yariv Hameiri, director of Otzrot Hagalil, which works in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and local municipalities and regional councils.
IN RECENT years, the city of Ma’alot-Tarshiha has become synonymous with its annual International Sculpture Festival “Even Bagalil” (Stone in the Galilee), taking place on Hol Hamoed around the Montfort Lake. Artists from Israel and abroad create stone sculptures from huge blocks of stone.This year’s 26th festival takes place from April 24 to 26.“The theme of the sculptures in this year’s festival is liberty, representing such ideas as freedom and equality,” explains Rachel Getz Salomon, curator of the festival. A Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design graduate, she was inspired by the annual event to eventually study art. Growing up in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, she recalls seeing the first festival as a child.“It was a great experience, as it still is for the city’s residents. This year sculptors from 11 countries started working on their creations at the beginning of April. They will still be working on the sculptures during the festival when visitors can meet them.”The artists hail from China, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany, Spain, Israel, and for the first time Vietnam. Following the festival, the sculptures will be placed throughout Ma’alot-Tarshiha, joining some 360 sculptures from previous festivals that line the roads and squares of the city.Another attraction at the festival will be the creation of a sculpture by well-known Dutch balloon artist Guido Verhoef. Together with his international staff, he will create a 20-meter sculpture resembling a dove – from some 30,000 balloons – with the participation of the public. Verhoef designs and creates tremendous balloon sculptures around the world.The festival includes a plethora of shows and activities for the family: two children’s plays, magic shows, and entertainment. The shows begin at 11 a.m. Entrance to the festival and the attractions is free. Around the lake, the artists fair will have display stands with works of ceramics, glass, clay, wood, jewelry and more for sale. Other attractions (for a fee) near the lake include an ice skating rink, pedal boats, and rides to forested areas near Ma’alot-Tarshiha.Ma’alot, established as a development town in 1957, merged in 1963 with the nearby Arab town of Tarshiha. Mayor Shlomo Bohbot is the most veteran of Israel’s mayors, and since 1976 has led the city, which today also attracts English-speaking residents.Miri Eliyahu, the municipal spokeswoman, describes the city’s development plans.“Once branded the ‘Pearl of the Galilee,’ today its slogan is ‘Land of Ma’alot Tarshiha – Come and Discover.’ Plans around Montfort Lake include hotels, restaurants, an artists’ village, a national ecological farm, and water falls. There is construction in three neighborhoods of more than 2,500 units.”THE KZIV RIVER is the longest in the Western Galilee – 20 kilometers. Its beautiful trail has plenty of greenery, shade, flowing river and springs.The river is part of the popular Sea-to-Sea trail that many young Israelis trek before attempting the Israel National Trail. Sea-to-Sea begins on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and goes through the Galilee to Lake Kinneret.One of the entry points of Nahal Kziv is near the Ein Ziv spring. The winding narrow road leading to the spring has been closed to the public for a while. To make it accessible to visitors, Otzrot Hagalil is offering the public shuttles free of charge from the parking area. In cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the shuttles have a recorded explanation in Hebrew during the slow drive down to the Ein Ziv spring.Remember to take notice of the green trees and foliage on the mountain’s slope during the steep descent. It is hard to believe that a mere 70 years ago, this area was nearly bare of foliage until the passing of the 1953 law for nature preservation, reinforced by the Nature and Parks Authority and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.Once off the shuttle, the pleasant walk passes the spring, a flour mill – one of 12 in the area – flora, and small fish.From April 23 to 28, free shuttles will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., leaving the parking area of Ein Ziv. It is off Highway 89, and near the Koren industrial park from the western entrance to Ma’alot Tarshiha. Information and directions are available by dialing *3639 or on the website of the Nature and Parks Authority. The route along the riverbed is not accessible to wheelchairs or baby carriages.The Nahal Kziv National Park includes the Monfort Crusader castle. The Yehiam National Park, also in the Western Galilee, with fortresses from the Crusader and the Ottoman periods, will offer Passover visitors “tours with oil lamps” in the evenings.
AN ATTRACTION for the post-Passover period is the café (kosher throughout the year) and gallery of the Maarag Artists Center in Kfar Havradim, which is closed during Passover.The dairy restaurant has a patio facing the picturesque town of Kfar Havradim. The café includes a gallery that displays unique quality gift items made by artists with special needs who participate in the workshops of the artists’ center.The Maarag Center was founded by the Merkaz Hakochav and Kochav Hatzafon non-profits, as well as by Café Maarag, as a business initiative.About 650 adults with special needs take part in its many activities. The Maarag serves residents from the Western Galilee, the Galilee and the Golan Heights. The workshops include ceramics, carpentry, paper-making, textiles and more.“The participants and staff here represent the mosaic of the population of the region,” notes Rachel Perushi, head of human resources and projects at Maarag.“They include Jews, religious and non-religious, Israelis and immigrants, Muslims, Christians, and Druse who come from the entire area. Some of the products are made with the artists, and are sold in art fairs in the center.”Passover is not enough time to see all the attractions of the Western Galilee, but enough to whet the appetite for more after the holiday ends.Enjoy! Otzrot Hagalil website: http://www.ozrothagalil.org.il/index.aspx?LangID=2. (For English, click Eng) Nature and Parks Authority website: (http://www.parks.org.il/Pages/default.aspx)