Great aspirations

Venturing over to the Upper Galilee’s new tourism complex.

Galilion (photo credit: SHLOMI MOTZPI)
(photo credit: SHLOMI MOTZPI)
A new complex with grand aspirations to be a tourist center recently opened its gates in the North.
Galilion (a play on the region’s Hebrew name, Galil Elyon) is located just off Route 90, right at the turn to Lake Hula in the Upper Galilee, and offers a hotel, conference halls, a swimming pool and spa facilities. In the next few months, an adjacent food market, said to be modeled after Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, will open, offering local produce and restaurants.
The place is located in one of the most attractive and busiest areas of the North, but its uniqueness lies no doubt in its vicinity to the small, but celebrated, Lake Hula. The lake had been dried up by the government in the 1950s to reclaim agricultural land, but was recreated in the 1990s and is now one of the largest way-stations in the world for migrating birds traveling between the northern parts of the globe and Africa, where most spend the winter.
Indeed, fall and spring are the best times to visit the Hula for those who are into bird-watching. However, summer has its own refreshing attractions, and the North offers plenty, especially for families looking for a nice weekend with the kids or just a day out kayaking, cherry picking or cycling.
THE HOTEL’S planners were obviously aware of the unique location of the place, equipping it with its very own “crane section” that offers bird-themed rooms. The rooms overlook adjacent fields that, in the high season, can be packed with hundreds of thousands of birds. Even the bathrooms have cranes painted on the tiles.
The only problem with the section in which I was put up as the guest of the hotel was that it faces east, so in the early morning hours, the strong summer sun shines directly into the room, and there are no shades that can provide protection.
The fact that the hotel is fairly new can sometimes be felt in the staff’s attitudes and behavior, and in the general feel of the place. The pool, for example, offered absolutely no protection from the sun in the hot month of June. Indeed, the blazing sun seems to be something that somehow was overlooked by the planners, who left all the areas connecting the hotel’s different indoor sections completely exposed, with only a few small umbrellas offering minimal relief for the walk from the lobby to the guest rooms. According to Haim Ohayon, one of the complex’s owners, there are plans to have some sort of canopy above the pool soon.
Ohayon told Metro that it took him 10 years of waiting for approval from the Israel Lands Authority to build the hotel on land zoned for agriculture. The land originally belonged to Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, and is now shared with Ohayon. The two have many plans for the place in the coming years.
The Galilion complex is presented as a step forward for the region as part of the general efforts to advance its tourism potential. For this reason, Giora Zaltz, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the complex on June 20.
“We are all for this project” he told Metro just after the ceremony, “and wherever we can help, we do.”
An upcoming event the complex plans to host will be a local Oktoberfest, offering a range of international and local beers from fall into the winter months.
“We know that with the Israeli crowd, festivals that last only two to three days can’t attract enough people to come all the way up North,” Ohayon said, explaining why they chose to have such a long event. “It is also meant, of course, to be equivalent to the European festival.”
This is not the only German influence felt around the place. One future idea is what Ohayon calls the “G-pass,” a card that offers guests of the hotel free entrance to various regional attractions. He mentions that this was an idea he got when visiting Germany’s Black Forest region, where this system is being used successfully, creating a network of local attractions for tourists.
Another European touch was quite evident in my guest room, where the wall by the bed was completely covered with a picture that was probably taken in Siena or the general area, showing a lovely uphill street winding toward green trees. This was nice enough, although it seems that a strong aesthetic focus should be more local, for example showing the valley, the Jordan River or even just photos of birds.
There is definitely something to look forward to from the development of Galilion. The owners are full of good ideas with broad regional thinking. The future food market sounds interesting and will probably be an attraction of its own for hungry travelers.
More than anything else, though, the location – especially during the unique bird seasons – can’t get any better for devoted and not-so-devoted watchers and their families.