As we all know, Israel is not the largest country in the world or even in the Middle East, but it does have the odd unique feature to offer visitors from home and from afar. One of the spectacular natural attractions is the Dead Sea which, at more than 420 meters below sea level, is the lowest spot on Earth.Just a few minutes’ drive from Jerusalem and around an hour and a half away from Tel Aviv, you start to get a sense that you’re heading somewhere special as you go through the tunnels under Mount Scopus and emerge into the Judean Desert. The road begins to dip, and the Dead Sea, in all its azure glory, suddenly swings into view below you.Because of its high concentration of salt, the sea displays a dazzling array of shades that change as the light varies during the day, as well as at the different seasons of the year. Deep blue gradually segues into brilliant turquoise, with many hues betwixt.And there are plenty of well-appointed beaches along Route 90 that offer easy access to the creamy saline-rich water, where you can float – rather than swim – to your heart’s delight, naturally making sure that you rinse the salt off with a post-float shower.Popularity of the region for domestic tourism is indisputable and a good reason why the Tamar Regional Council has developed many interesting cycling and nature trails.Winter season at the Dead Sea hosts wellknown marathon and cycling competitions, as well as numerous family events.If you get to the area from the north, the first beach you will encounter is Kalya, which also offers various non-marine activities such as ATV tours, horseback riding and jeep excursions around the area.There is also a segregated bathing area for religious women. Besides its breathtaking views, desert landscapes, oases and archeological treasures, the Dead Sea also has plenty to offer in the way of health-generating facilities.One of them is the black mud that abounds near the sea and does wonders for the skin, not to mention provide some interesting photo opportunities. The mud is reputed to be beneficial for people with various skin ailments or arthritis and for cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. Some non-mud related treatments available in the Dead Sea area include climatotherapy, heliotherapy and thalassotherapy, which feed off the advantages of the local weather conditions and the sea.The Dead Sea area is also blessed with several beautiful oases. The prime one is Ein Gedi with its nature reserve and national park, which are graced with spring-fed cool waters that flow through Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. The oasis is also home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including Sodom apple, acacia, jujube and poplar trees.Visitors can espy a wide range of animals, such as the Nubian ibex and rock hyrax, and numerous types of birds, including rare ones during the migration seasons.En route to the hotel area to the south of the sea is the magnificent history-seeped site of Masada with its rich archeological treasures and the glorious view it offers of the sea and the desert landscapes and mountain ridges on the Jordanian side of the valley. In recent years, Masada has also hosted popular operatic events, with performances of Verdi’s La Traviata lined up for June 12 to 17 this year.The southern end of the Dead Sea is a major draw for tourists from Israel and all over the world. Situated near the beautiful Ein Bokek spring and reserve, the Ein Bokek-Neveh Zohar area is home to some 15 hotels with more than 4,000 rooms. Occupancy is the highest in the country, with close to 75% attracting domestic tourism and around 60% of foreign tourists coming from Russia.The Dead Sea Preservation Government Company is currently spearheading a massive development venture involving largescale construction, as well as the placement of protection facilities for the hotels and beaches in the area against the dangers of flooding. The hotel area is located near an industrial evaporation pond in the southern basin of the Dead Sea. Water from the Dead Sea is drawn by pumps and conveyed through a flume to a pond that serves as a facility for the evaporation and precipitation of salt. Due to the deposit of salt on the bed of the pond, the water level at the pond is raised by 20 cm. every year. Aware of the situation, The Israel Ministry of Tourism initiated The Dead Sea Preservation Government Company. This company has joined forces with the Tamar Regional Council, the Dead Sea Hotel Association and Dead Sea Works to advance a large-scale combing and salt removal operation, but also to promote several design and planning ideas for new major international tourism facilities in the area.Away from the salty seashore, there are also plenty of outdoor activities to engage in, such as hiking and cycling. And heritage sites such as the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, are perennial draws.The Dead Sea Bus Via Tamar Tracks takes visitors on daily roundtrip shuttles to various attractions, including Masada, Ein Gedi, art and agriculture, geographical and even spa tours. For tickets, reservations and more information call 052-440-9002 or go to www.deadseabus.com.For more information: www.dead-seawonder- of-nature.com/home This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.gov.il and www.goisrael.com).