Part VI: Through the Swiss Tiberias Forest

Hiking the Israel Trail: A walk along the banks of the Kinneret is perfect for a rainy day.

This part of the Israel Trail is a well-marked pleasant stroll, following the rigorous previous sections that took in Mount Meron, Nahal Amud, and the scramble up Mount Arbel. All grades of walkers will enjoy it, and even mountain bikers will be able to manage without having to get off and carry. It will let you catch your breath before facing the long ascent of the Yavne'el Valley, which takes you out of the region. The section starts very blandly as a 20-minute promenade up Sderot Sapir in Upper Tiberias (you can cheat and save energy by taking the local bus), but the quality and variety of the scenery improves along the trail, as it brings you into places having strong links with early 20th-century Zionist settlement. Leave the main road along a dirt path by a large triangle-shaped eucalyptus tree. To the right is an official Israel Trail bus shelter-type structure, with copious information about the Israel Trail. A few paces and you are in wooded countryside. Only the strains of "Oh My Darling Clementine" from a nearby school let me know that I was not as alone as I thought. The Swiss Forest is your environment for the next 45 minutes of walking. Those expecting brightly-colored Swiss chalets and cows with bells will be disappointed. The forest itself is mainly eucalyptus; not quite Alpine vegetation, or even the mixed forest of northern Mount Meron. The Swiss connection does not come in scenery, but in cash: the Jewish National Fund planted the forest, and Swiss Jewry footed the bill. Let the stunning downward views through the trees to Lake Kinneret put you in the right mood, as southern Tiberias far below slips by and the lake becomes bluer and bluer. Tiberias, by the way, is named after the Roman emperor of that name (14-32 CE), but its claim to fame in the Jewish world came several centuries later, as the seat of the Sanhedrin, the chief legislative and judicial body of the Jews in the Holy Land. Much material associated with them survives in the form of the Jerusalem Talmud. The forest gives way to pasture, which was rather bare by the time I got to it, due to the hungry local cattle, and failure of the rainy season to get into swing. Up the hill in the opposite direction came three frightened-looking older women. They just couldn't take the cows, and they were turning back. I tried persuading them that the beasts were not interested in sharing their company. They preferred chomping grass - even the yellow straw-like stuff. YOU SLOWLY lose height, with picture-postcard classic views down to the southern settlements of Poriya and Kinneret straight ahead. On the left, geologically recent blackened piles of volcanic rock remind you of the unstable nature of the region. For Lake Kinneret is bounded by a series of fault lines which indicate earthquakes and gaps within the rock, allowing lava to make its way though to the surface. The rocks' bubble-type holes indicate that they cooled rapidly, trapping air within, forming pumice. Break off a piece, take it home, and use it in the bath to scrub down the kids. I had the beautifully landscaped Poriya Spring to myself. As on Mount Meron, previous visitors' garbage and bonfire remains violated the hikers law of "leave only footprints, take only photographs." The stone and palm-ensconced Poriya Spring damp midday heat took me straight back to a childhood visit to the Tropical House in Chester Zoo, UK. A nice place for a sit-down and a picnic. Plenty of water, but unfortunately no reliable supply on tap. Poriya Spring is about 50 meters off the Israel Trail. Retrace your steps to rejoin the trail as it turns right off the main path and goes down to the orchards below. As you descend, Lake Kinneret will shimmer like a mirror, reflecting the Golan Heights. Watch carefully for the orange, white and blue Israel Trail markings as the path picks its way through orchards of black olives, lemons, pomegranates and date palms. The latter's protective black bags are too securely meshed to get your hands in for a tasty sample. Start humming Ya'acov Fichman's famous song "Al sfat yam kinneret, armon rav hatiferet" (On the banks of Lake Kinneret is a palace of great glory). You get to the bottom, turn right, and find yourself strolling along early-20th century Kinneret's tree-lined thoroughfare, complete with its smart art-deco street lamps. That large brown and white building on the left is Treidel House (named after generations of the resident family). Built in 1910, it served as a fortress for women and children during the riots of 1929. It is Fichman's "palace of great glory." Kinneret is arguably the home of the kibbutz movement. The early years of the 20th century saw the local Second Aliya farm workers rebel against the intransigence of the land administration. The settlement split, the rebels gaining the eastern part of the colony which fathered Israel's first collective farming settlement, Kibbutz Deganya. You can find out more about Kinneret by visiting the small museum that you pass by on the right, and also view the crumbling home of Kinneret's founders as you exit the small town, reaching the main road, Route No. 90. (You may detour from the path by taking the main road south for a few hundred meters to the well-kept Kinneret Cemetery, with the graves of famous personalities, including the poetess Rahel, and the activists Moshe Hess and Berl Katznelson.) The last part of the walk is the nicest. It leads you to Psalm 23, "through pastures green... with quiet waters by," along the freshwater lakes of Yardenit. A curious turtle eyed me, dived back into the water, and came up further out with a cheeky grin. You may see a crowd of people in robes going for a bathe. These are not casual midday swimmers, but serious-minded Christian pilgrims undergoing baptism, or rebaptism, in the streams leading to the River Jordan. It is an intense high point of their visit to the Holy Land. At the end of the lake is Beit Hamotor (Motor House), the water pumping station used by early settlers, and the baptism center of Yardenit.