Vacationing in Zichron Ya’acov

The Carmel-area town offers a taste of wine, history and tranquility.

Zichron Ya’acov (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Zichron Ya’acov
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
At first, Zichron Ya’acov looks like one more small town in the Carmel area. It boasts a few sites of historical interest and a charming pedestrian mall. There are several wineries nearby. That seems to be it. But that would be wrong.
This mountain town, with its air of gentle bohemianism and sea breezes wafting through the cobblestone streets, offers original art, a deep understanding of modern Israel’s development, excellent eating and drinking, and plenty of opportunities to get close to nature. Shops, galleries and cafés line Hameyasdim Street, the pedestrian main road, where renovated historical buildings seem to smile in the sun. There’s an air of artists at work everywhere.
Even stopping by the ATM at the Bank Hapoalim offers a small shock of pleasure when you notice, on the patio, a bench where a working man rests on his lunch break – and realize he’s a life-size statue.
Turn into a little alley and you may find a pub, a ceramics gallery, a boutique clothing store, a stone wall from which flowering geraniums cascade, or a handmade- paper mill. The rhythm is slow, the inhabitants friendly. You may see a mongoose slipping across the road on the quiet residential streets. There are dozens of accommodations to choose from – B&Bs and a couple of luxury hotels. With sun and shade, leafy grapevines, and modern life comfortably carrying on in the company of gentle, friendly ghosts of the past – yes, Zichron Ya’acov is worth a few days’ stay.
I recommend getting a firm hold on the history of the town first, in order to appreciate the surroundings. The logical first place to visit is the Museum of the First Aliya at 2 Hanadiv Street. The exhibit, housed in a historical building, explains the history of the area from the bottom up, starting with the Eastern European immigration to Palestine in the 1880s. It’s well laid out, with intriguing artifacts and a chronological storyline. It also features a movie – in segments at various stations – that portrays the lives of the first Jewish immigrants: their hardships in the inhospitable land, their ideology and growing political awareness, and, for those who survived malaria and malnutrition, the eventual successes. The movie is grade-school level, but interesting for adults as well.
From the museum, you may choose to visit the nearby Carmel Winery. Or save the wine for a different time and head back toward Hameyasdim Street. You can stop to admire the beautiful Ohel Ya’acov synagogue on the corner of Hanadiv – its ark of white marble, its blue and white interior and old chandeliers. Baron Edmund de Rothschild, the city’s founding father, built the synagogue in 1884, and it has been in continuous use from its first minyan until today. You will get to know Rothschild, the great philanthropist, before your trip is over, because his vision was an important part of the country’s development and continues to work up to present times.
It’s probably a good idea to stop for a refreshing nosh or, depending on the time of day, a good meal. Metro interviewed the chef at the Baronita restaurant (meat, kosher) in a previous article and enthusiastically recommends it. Otherwise, you can turn onto Hameyasdim and settle down in one of the falafel stands, cafés or burekas places there. Kosher-keepers will need to ask for kashrut certificates; not every place has one. If you’re in the mood for a dairy lunch, the Tishbi restaurant (kosher) at the top of Hameyasdim Street offers very fine food, with a gourmet menu different from the usual dairy café. As the restaurant is a branch of the nearby Tishbi Estate Winery, locals bring empty wine bottles, and the staff fills them with house wine for all of NIS 18 per bottle.
TIME ALLOWING, you should take advantage of the walk up to the restaurant and peek into odd corners and alleys, making note of places to visit afterward or the next day.
The Tut Neyar gallery offers art made from handmade paper, which is manufactured from the bark of local mulberry trees and imprinted with local flowers.
Tut Neyar also runs paper-making workshops for adults and children. You can find it on Facebook. When I was there, the owners were drying purple mulberries off their trees on a long net frame. They kindly allowed me to take a few home to plant next year.
Three more galleries stand out: the Faingold and Goren ceramics galleries, both of which display handmade artwork and are located off 43 Hameyasdim; and Betty Rubenstein’s studio at the top of that street. There, pictures of fields, gardens and seascapes glow in vibrant colors, and prices for the artwork are reasonable. Even if you’re not in the market, you can enjoy the exhibit of Rubenstein’s art in front of the studio.
Is coffee one of your major weaknesses? If so, you should visit the Kilimanjaro Coffee Culture house at 38 Hameyasdim, across from Tishbi. A truly excellent cuppa awaits you there, crafted with utmost care and passion by the owner, David, who hails from Chicago. I ordered coffee percolated by the esoteric syphon method, which is enjoying a comeback after decades of neglect. It’s a pleasant thing to sip fresh-roasted, percolated coffee under the trees on the Kilimanjaro patio, enjoying the soft breeze, watching people go by, and maybe nibbling a delicious pastry. Easy to imagine waking up on Zichron’s cool summer mornings and breakfasting at Kilimanjaro every day. It’s a good thing there’s so much to see and do in town, or the calories would get you in the end.
Beit Aharonson, also called the Nili Museum, is an important stop in your quest to get a solid grip on the town’s history. It was the home of the Aharonson family, immigrants from Romania whose adult children formed a center of espionage against the prevailing Ottoman Turks. With other local young people, they gathered and passed vital information to the British, who aimed to uproot the Turks and colonize Palestine with the rest of the Middle East. The Aharonson spy ring was known as Nili.
Its immediate goals were freedom from Ottoman oppression and relief for the Jews of Israel, while its long-term dream was Jewish national independence.
The lovely old house has been preserved as it was in those times, over 100 years ago. You can first watch a movie explaining the situation of the Jews in Israel and the formation of the spy ring, then take a guided tour through the house and grounds. More than any other site, Beit Aharonson brings the past back to vivid life, as you view the rooms in which the family dined, studied and slept, and absorb their lingering European atmosphere.
It is also an emotionally moving experience, following the lives and tragic fates of the family.
IF YOU follow this plan, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Zichron’s role in the country’s modern identity and its struggle for independence. You’ll also appreciate the references to Nili, Rothschild and other historical personages that still figure around the city.
But there’s one last important step: the visit to the Ramat Hanadiv gardens. It’s 8 hectares of green memorial to Rothschild and his wife, Ada. The garden is carefully landscaped to allow wild elements to thrive along winding paths shaded by old trees, and it offers restful views of the ocean. The Egyptian-style tomb of the baron and his wife makes for a solemn moment at the garden’s heart. A free movie manages to show the baron’s vision, how his donations helped to settle Israel and how his work continues today – all in 15 minutes.
The gardens are only a small part of the surrounding nature reserve, which spans 400 hectares. There are hiking trails through the reserve, each focused on an ecological theme. Five kilometers of the Israel National Trail also run through the reserve. A visit to Ramat Hanadiv may last one hour in the gardens, an entire day with summer activities for adults and children, or a week returning to the nature reserve to hike new trails.
Back in town, it’s worth leaving the main street to stroll down the residential areas and view the tranquil homes. Almost every gate is draped in perfumed flowers or a grapevine. Many home gardens sport whimsical touches of artwork tucked into odd corners.
The Somek Winery (not kosher) on Herzl Street offers tastings and a vineyard tour, another reminder that Zichron is wine country. For a more encompassing wine experience, the famous Carmel Winery is also located in town, near the First Aliya museum, on Hayekev (Winery) Street. It includes a wine shop, restaurant, two specialist tasting rooms, a small cinema and a barrel room in one of Rothschild’s historic underground cellars.
The Tishbi Estate Winery, meanwhile, also offers gourmet dairy food, and a menu matching world-class chocolate with wine. There’s also a family plan, where children enjoy a chocolate tasting while their parents taste wine. The Tishbi winery is located off the highway between Binyamina and Zichron.
Two days are hardly enough to contain a visit to Zichron. But the town is also a good starting point for visiting Haifa, Acre, Caesaria, Netanya and Tiberias, all easily accessible by car. There’s good train and bus service for backpackers and for those who prefer to leave the car at home.
Sites: The Museum of the First Aliya:; also on Facebook Beit Aharonson, the Nili Museum: www.nili-museum. Ramat Hanadiv: Galleries: Tut Neyar paper mill: on Facebook, or at shaked@tutneyar. Sergio Faingold ceramics gallery: Sergio Faingold on Facebook, or Goren Artistic Ceramics: Betty Rubenstein art studio: Eateries: Baronita (meat, kosher): 27 Hanadiv Street, inside a courtyard; Kilimanjaro Coffee Culture (kosher, dairy): 36 Hameyasdim Street; (04) 620-9504 Tishbi restaurant and coffee shop (dairy, kosher): (04) 629-0280 Wineries: Somek Winery: Carmel Winery: Tishbi Estate Winery: