Whether it’s sleeping in a bus in the desert or a crusader fort on the Carmel coast or a luxurious tent in the heart of the Ramon Canyon, Israel has some surprising options for an overnight stay.
The coronavirus has hit everyone hard, but it’s still possible to get out of the house and hit the road while sticking to the Health Ministry’s guidelines. A vacation in Israel offers some great options for an amazing vacation, not to mention the opportunity to support a blue-and-white business, and all tourism businesses that are open have to adhere to the health ministry’s purple badge guidelines, so risk is low.
With trips overseas currently off the menu at least until September, it’s a great opportunity to get to know Israel better and enjoy some of the offbeat accommodations the country has to offer. Over the years, I’ve visited a few spots in Israel that have really caught my eye and I’d like to share with you a few ideas for a vacation that you might not have thought of.
Let’s start with two international trends that have been imported to Israel over the past few years and have been developed by local entrepreneurs: glamping and overlanding. If you aren’t familiar with these terms, both are great ways to get out into nature and experience it in ways you haven’t experienced before.
Do nature and luxury go together? Those of us who grew up in Israel remember going on class trips, sleeping in a field school or in a sleeping bag in the middle of the desert. Well, things have changed.
Itai Kadish Katz, founder and CEO of Glamping Israel, says glamping – a portmanteau of glamor and camping – offers a variety of sleeping arrangements in natural surroundings, such as canvas tents, tepees, yurts, trailers, mud houses and luxury campsites, and a variety of outdoor activities and workshops.
Kadish, who lives in eco-friendly community in Kibbutz Hukkuk in the Galilee, says Israeli vacationers who have discovered glamping, “have encountered an experience they thought they could only find in faraway destinations,” and that for Israelis used to taking luxury vacations overseas, “glamping offers an innovative, exciting and safe way to vacation.”
Glamping Israel creates custom made experiences where you get to choose the location and the company will tailor accommodation and activities.
Among the projects Glamping Israel has carried out are a pop-up tent encampment at a vineyard in Mitzpe Ramon, a family reunion in a compound of geodesic domes in the desert and glamping in the Galilee. www.glamping.co.il/
The name overlanding comes from Australia, where it was used to describe the droving of livestock over very long distances to open up new country. It has since been adopted to describe self-reliant overland adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey and the experience are the primary goal.
You may not be able to travel long distances in Israel, but you can go overlanding.
Overland Israel organizes trips on a converted truck ranging from overnight trips to trips of several days. Trips take place all over the country and the great thing is not just getting to know nature in Israel and sleeping out in the field, but the whole experience of traveling with other people and the unexpected surprises along the route. overland-israel.co.il
Zimmerbus – Ezuz
Another unique experience is the Zimmmerbus , located in Ezuz, a small community of artists in the upper Negev, close to the border with Egypt, overlooking breathtaking desert scenery. Ezuz was founded in the 1950s by the IDF Nahal pioneering youth corps, later became a kibbutz that was abandoned in the 1960s, and is now home to 18 families who are making a living from organic farming using traditional methods, art and of course, tourism.
If you are looking for an isolated place to get away from the coronavirus or anything else, then you pretty much won’t find anywhere more isolated in Israel.
Zimmerbus is three converted buses, a retired “concertina” long-bus, a former airport shuttle bus, and a retired inter-city bus that have been converted into unique clay-covered guest rooms that earned a place among the 1,001 most unique places to stay in the world – and are a work of art in themselves.
Ezuz is a great base to explore the Negev. It is about a half-hour drive from the world famous Nabatean ruins of Shivta, and there are some great hiking and cycling routes in the area. Jeep and camel tours are available and the area is also considered a bird watcher’s paradise.
Zimmerbus is run by Eyal and Avigail Hirshfeld who met while working as scuba diving instructors in Dahab on the Red Sea and live in Ezuz with their nine children (all born at home). zimmerbus.com/en
Drejat – Arab farming village
Nothing is quite like Drejat near the Arad Valley – a village established by cave-dwelling Arab Falakhim (farmers) who came to the area in the mid-19th century from the Mount Hebron region and initially settled in caves carved into the rock.
The village of around a 1,000 residents offers authentic Falakh hospitality and features what is perhaps the world’s only solar-powered mosque.
Host Jaber Abu Hamed offers three full-equipped self-catering units, but you can also order traditional meals cooked by the Abu Hamed family.
I highly recommend taking a tour of the village, which includes a tour of the caves, baking bread on a traditional taboun oven and a visit to the Shaikh Massoud Tomb observation point.
While you are there, pay a visit to the Tel Arad national park, one of Israel’s most important archaeological sites with the remains of a fortified Canaanite city and fortresses from the time of the Kings of Judah.
The Castle, Kerem Maharal
Another option that you probably hadn’t thought of is staying at a castle in Israel. There are plenty of castles to stay in Europe, but in Israel perhaps the only option is The Castle at Kerem Maharal, located about a 20-minute drive between Haifa and Caesarea. The Castle is an 11th century Crusader building that was completely refurbished and offers several air-conditioned suites – including family suites that can host up to 12 people – a large garden, where peacocks roam, and a pool.
Owner Udi Stoler calls The Castle “a European experience in Israel” and notes that there is a fully equipped kitchen where guests can cook and there is also an option to order breakfast and a private chef is available to cook meals for guests.
My experience is that The Castle is a place to feel like “a king for a day” or more.
It’s also conveniently located to explore the Carmel region, with attractions like Dor Habonim Beach Nature Reserve, Zichron Ya’akov and the Druze village of Daliat al-Karmel.
The writer is the founder of trvltrend.com. A tourism professional with many years of experience in digital and offline marketing, e-commerce, integrative media planning, and public relations, the main focus of his writing is digital trends in travel and hospitality.