One of the most popular sights in Israel is the view towards the east side of Lake Kinneret. The high region that ascends from the eastern side of the lake is the southern part of the Golan Heights, but what most people usually miss is exploring the treasures on this lovely plateau. So set your GPS on Hamat Gader and let the journey begin.Drive along Road 98 south of the Kinneret, turn onto Road 7599, and you will reach the gate of Hamat Gader. You will be welcomed by an oasis of trees located on the foothills of the Golan and the Yarmuk Wadi, which is on the border of Jordan.
Lake Kinneret (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)This site is unique for its thermo-mineral water, which provides a multitude of health advantages, as well as year-round activities. The 40-degree water gushes out from the ground beneath you. Since the water keeps replenishing itself, there is the added benefit of not being in a pool of standing water but a kind of vertical river. Next to the springs, there are four restaurants and a boutique hotel with spa facilities. The large Hamat Gader complex offers attractions for the whole family, such as a large display of crocodiles and alligators.Back to Route 98, drive up the winding road that offers some magnificent views of the valley below. Near the end of the curves, you are now on the Golan. Turn left to Mitzpe Hashalom for a pleasant hike along the promenade, which includes beautiful vistas over the Kinneret valley. You can also take a loop trail down the slopes amid dense vegetation of wild sabra plants and indigenous trees. You will be walking in the Metzukei Ha’on nature reserve.From there, continue on Road 98 for another few kilometers. Just before the Afik Junction, turn left to Ein Pik. Walking along the ruins of Pik – an old village on the slope of the Ein Gev stream – you will be rewarded with a great view of the Kinneret among the fig trees and lush vegetation. Walk down a flight of steel stairs and along a short path, and you will reach a rectangular pool of clear spring water. This spot is very popular, so it is best to get there early in the morning, perhaps after having spent the night at one of the many local lodging options.One example of a local guest house is Jimmy Jeep cabins in Moshav Givat Yoav, run by Tzipi and Jimmy, a couple that know the Golan like the back of their hands. They offer comfortable rural lodging in their cabins and exciting jeep tours of the area that they have come to love through their many years of exploration. To enjoy a panoramic view of Ein Gev and the Galilee, Jimmy will take you to an observation point, Mitzpe Ophir, which they established and named in memory of their son.
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)The next morning, if you like hiking trails, drive to Avnei Eitan.On the northwest corner of the moshav, take the marked path of the El Al stream, where you will first encounter the black waterfall and after a while you will reach the white waterfall.The trail is four kilometers long, so allow three to four hours for the hike. At its end, climb back to another parking lot in front of the Chateau Golan winery. If you have a number of cars in your party, it is best to leave one at each end of the trail.If you skip the trail, you can go straight to a guided tour of the Chateau Golan winery. The place will remind you of a delightful winery somewhere in Europe, but of course it offers the best of what our native soil has to offer. A scheduled visit can include a tour, interesting stories of winemaking and wine tasting. The wine is also for sale. Back on the main Road 98, turn onto Road 808 on the way to Ein Keshatot near Moshav Natur. An ancient spring with three large arches above it gave this site its name. An interesting site just beside it is the old synagogue made of basalt stone from the era of the Mishna and Talmud, when a Jewish village stood there. The villagers farmed and processed linen plants.As their center prospered, they built an impressive synagogue.The synagogue site is under restoration and will soon be open for visits.Back on Road 808, to the north is the Gamla Nature Reserve, a center of nature and archeology. Hike a trail to the Gamla falls or climb down to the ruins of the oldest synagogue in Israel situated in the heart of the old city of Gamla. And every so often, look up to the sky to see the griffon vultures that soar from the cliffs over the Gamla wadi. This nature reserve has a lot to offer.All these Golan gems are located in a relatively small area – a 40-minute drive from beginning to end. It will provide two to three days of activity – or longer if you have the time. The southern Golan is beautiful and has a lot of wonders to enjoy.Away from the noise and traffic, it is an enclave of serenity.