A Galilee getaway at the Galilion Hotel

The Galilion is perfectly situated to take advantage of the region‘s great offerings.

 THE GALILION Hotel in the Upper Galilee (photo credit: HEDDY BREUER ABRAMOWITZ)
THE GALILION Hotel in the Upper Galilee
(photo credit: HEDDY BREUER ABRAMOWITZ)

I was beyond thrilled to visit the Galilion Hotel in the Upper Galilee recently. After the strange two years that just passed, I could think of no better way to mark that time than with a break from city living. Once arriving at the Galilion, all cares slipped away.

The Galilion is perfectly situated to take advantage of the region‘s great offerings. It is tucked in the wide valley spreading between the Naftali mountains to the west and the Golan Heights to the east. Though the adjacent Hula Nature Reserve is a world-class attraction for bird watchers, unfortunately, just before my visit there was a serious outbreak of avian flu, which necessitated closing the site temporarily.

Worry not, with about 24 hours of whirlwind activities and choices available, there was more than enough to enjoy. And in the two-season climate of Israel, winter comes out on top. The rivers are full, the pastures are blanketed with early bright greens, the pine forests are washed clean of summer dust and there are few crowds to battle.

The hotel itself is quite nice. It is a big upgrade from the zimmers and even kibbutz hotels of yore. With 120 rooms and suites, the grounds are designed to be modern with rural casualness. 

The main difference from older accommodations is that those seemed to be at one with the landscape, while this site does not exactly blend in (you can spot the complex’s hot air balloon from afar). Nor is it meant to. The hotel is branded as “the New Heart of the Upper Galilee.” It is a convenient spot to use as a base, pleasant while not pretentious.

 THE WONDERLAND PATISSERIE at the Agamon Market. (credit: HEDDY BREUER ABRAMOWITZ) THE WONDERLAND PATISSERIE at the Agamon Market. (credit: HEDDY BREUER ABRAMOWITZ)

The welcoming lobby is set with comfortable furnishings and paintings of cattle to bring one into the local vibe. They also kindly provide face masks at the reception desk. Another thoughtful gesture was setting umbrella racks around, not that I needed them with great sweater weather. 

To greet our group was hotel manager Erez Moshe, the easy-to-spot dapper dresser with color coordinated two-toned shoes to match his bow ties, bling and an equally vibrant personality.

The rooms are nicely arranged with a mini fridge, a tray of fixings for hot drinks, including locally made quality Cérémonie teas. The décor elements include calming creams and natural pale stone, offset by wine accents. Our room faced the Golan on the garden level complete with patio seats. The facilities include a convention center, an equipped exercise room and a fully furnished synagogue room but without set prayer times. There were few kippah-wearing guests during our brief stay.

The Galilion Hotel currently has attractive winter packages for the coming months, focused on content that will appeal to many. The list of selected specials can be viewed on the Hebrew version of its website. Like many places, the Hebrew website is fuller, and it would be wise to take a look: http://www.galilion.co.il/wintersale/ or call 04-6978008.

THE AGAMON Market is itself a destination. At age 34, Farah Raslan ventured into the culinary world through a circuitous route. Born in Beirut, she was raised on authentic Lebanese cuisine. Her father had served with the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army, which was disbanded in 2000. Raslan came to live in Israel with her family, and everything familiar was left on the other side of the border. She studied biotechnology and food engineering, earning her MSc at the close-by Tel-Hai College.

Drawing on her heritage, Raslan was accepted to the MasterChef TV show and appeared in 2018 based on her entry of kanafeh in ka’ak. Ka’ak is a small flatbread that has an off-center hole in it, a culinary cousin to the sesame-covered long beigele of Jerusalem, though with a pocket, making it perfect for handheld street food. 

After her TV splash, she opened in the Agamon Market during the last COVID-19 lockdown of 2021. Her education helped her devise close substitutes for the Beirut-origin ingredients; all are made in-house.

A large flat-rimmed copper pan is spread with clarified butter (ghee) infused with aromatic orange. Her dough is semolina-based, grated into fine crumbs, sifted over the buttered pan, pressed firmly to adhere and topped with a layer of shredded, locally available mozzarella and Hemed cheeses. After baking, her husband, Ali Raslan – a former mechanic for Egged – dramatically inverts the hot kanafeh onto another heated pan and lastly syrup is poured over all. 

He uses a wide spatula to lift up a gooey stretch of kanafeh, places it in a ka’ak, sprinkles on chopped pistachios and decorates it with a purple flower bud. Farah Raslan is an Instagram star, with over 18,000 followers of kanafeh-ka’ak. A portion of kanafeh-ka’ak costs NIS 30. The store also sells locally pressed still-cloudy olive oil for NIS 69 per liter. https://farahraslan.com/

Steps away, Wonderland Patisserie takes a fancy approach to dessert. A love for books is evident in the tea shop directed by pastry chef Oshrat Solimani, who also creates the Galilion Hotel pastries. The theme of Alice in Wonderland will tickle children of all ages. Who could resist their winter collection of delicious pastries named the Madhatter, the Red Heart, or the cutesy-named “Arnavush” (White Rabbit)? Here, every day is a special occasion. Prices range from NIS 10 to 36 (kosher, some dairy, others pareve). Open daily, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., call 04-8377770.

Though full before dinner started, I rallied to fulfill my journalistic duty. Meals were very fresh and well presented. Chef Avi Cohen included many regional elements. The stand-out offerings at dinner were the beef carpaccio and the entrecôte steak, thick-sliced and sauced. Many hot mains were available, schnitzel for the less adventurous and I also noticed broiled salmon. Sides and salads were plentiful. Delicious Golan-produced Bazelet beer was served.

The day was far from over, and early evening was devoted to a wine-tasting led by vintner Yitzhak Cohen. Upon retirement in 2005, he fulfilled his dream when he founded the Ramot Naftaly Winery. It garnered accolades including prize-winning wines to his credit. We sampled his wines, now under Rabbinate kashrut supervision. We started with a dry white Gewürztraminer wine, now in its 3rd year, and sells for NIS 102.

He went on to present a rosé wine from the Nabioli variety, which Cohen believes his winery is the sole one to use this variety from the Italian Piemonte region to produce rosé in Israel. Aromatic, light and great for the summer season. NIS 90. http://www.ramotnaftaly.com/wines/

There were also three red wines for which the winery is best known presented, but I was due for my massage at the on-site spa…

I received a complementary combined treatment using several techniques. I was slathered with butter, which is the preferred lotion in this spa. From knowledgeable masseuse Sarit – who adds aromatic lavender, stress-reliever patchouli and vanilla scent – I learned that the emollient is warmed both from the heat generated from her expert hands and from body warmth. 

Once the massage ended, I felt as loose as a spaghetti noodle straight from the water. Prices start at NIS 180 for 30 minute-treatments; a 50-minute massage of the combined treatment is NIS 310; and a romantic treatment for two with all the works is NIS 745.

The breakfast buffet was extensive with every possible morning item included in the hearty and healthy breakfast, even pastries with butter made off-premises by Bonjour and baked in the Galilion kitchen to bump things up. From the salad section, I particularly liked the black lentils with sliced, cooked beets and cubes of feta-type cheese, and I assembled a Druze-style plate for myself with labneh, za’atar and sesame bread. My “plus 1” went straight for fresh-from-the-griddle waffles with syrup. Coffee to order was brought from the adjacent lobby café.

Noticing that there was malabi marked as gluten-free, I asked chef Cohen and learned that many items are gluten-free. They also are happy to discuss specific food allergies or health conditions like celiac ahead of the guest’s arrival, and again at check-in to accommodate them.

Further, says the chef, most buffet items are gluten free. Vegans can be served seitan dishes without advanced notice. At breakfast, on-request vegan cheeses, tofu products, chickpea- or lentil flour-based dishes are served fresh. There is also an accessibility menu on its website that can be opened from the wheelchair icon. Click it to get an informative list in Hebrew.

An invigorating ride on Ranger jeeps from the ’40s moshav She’ar Yashuv, infamous for the 1997 helicopter disaster, gave us a great view from the Golan Heights, including a historical survey of the area from the guide. Not as extreme a ride as I anticipated, we easily traversed occasional run-over puddles in the well-maintained off-track open vehicles. From the heights, it seemed that we had taken a turn into Switzerland, with picturesque cows sprinkled on the hillside to graze and a path to the rushing waters of the Banias. A closer look at our surroundings included the remnants of a pre-1967 UN peacekeeping force bunker; a monument to the mine-clearing efforts of the combat engineering corps from the era reminded us where we are. http://mbez.co.il/easy-trek

Not in the top-tier international luxury category, the Galilion Hotel fills a great niche with its warm and friendly staff and attitude of anticipating needs before you even knew you had them.

The writer was a guest of the Galilion Hotel and of all the services mentioned.