Rediscovering Achziv, a hidden Israeli delight

Achziv is a magical place and not simply a grandiose distortion of our youth-seeking imagination.

Achziv Beach (photo credit: Yitzhak Sasson)
Achziv Beach
(photo credit: Yitzhak Sasson)
Jerusalem may indeed be the center of the universe, but sometimes it’s healthy – and eye-opening – to get out of the city and see just what the rest of the country is like.
While some people swear by the craters and deserts of the Negev and Arava, we’ve always preferred the lush green hills and pristine beaches of the North. In our early years in the country in the mid to late 1980s, we became enamored with Achziv, that undeveloped stretch of coast situated between the dozen kilometers it takes to drive from Nahariya to Rosh Hanikra at the country’s northwest peak.
It conjured up images of what we imagined Israel must have been like in the 1960s and 1970s, with a pace of life a step and a half behind the developed world. Bohemia personified, with simple Mediterranean fare, pubs filled with long-haired, barefooted travelers with no particular reason to be moving on, gorgeous empty beaches, and nary a fast food chain in site. The area also featured a couple of rundown hostellike establishments, low in price and quality but brimming in laid-back comfort and vibe.
And, of course, there was the magnet of the area, Eli Avivi’s Achzivland, where you could get your passport stamped and enter a world where young and adventurous travelers from Europe or Gedera could make connections of both worldly and mind-expanding varieties – and leave behind a skin-baring photo for one of the albums strewn throughout the sprawling beachfront house.
With no car and no budget, we used to bus up to Achziv, stay in a “holiday village” white caravan with barely functioning air conditioning – which sounded like a Mack truck barreling down the highway – lumpy pillows and threadbare mattresses, and ignore it all while we lay blissfully on the beach. We were young, our needs were few, and anyway, what else could you really want or need besides that romantic sunset? In the only reminder that the beauty and solitude we were enjoying came with a price, helicopters glided back and forth multiple times daily above our heads, bringing wounded soldiers from nearby Lebanon back to Nahariya.
As we began making a family, we continued to go to Achziv, but now with a car and small children in tow. While other prime locales in the country were becoming resort factories, with luxurious hotels, water parks and attractions blotting out the natural views, Achziv remained a welcome underachiever.
One year, arriving at our white caravans for a weekend beach reggae festival with two small children in tow, we passed what seemed like a swanky holiday village with wooden chalets surrounding a pool, but even that didn’t clash with the natural surroundings very much. We joked about one day staying there when we had the funds.
By the mid-1990s, with the kids growing up and requiring more than ocean and sand for enjoyment, we began to explore other parts of the country – and found that the B&B standards had reached an impressive level. For a few more shekels, we could get cable TV, A/C that didn’t sound like it was going to explode, and scrumptious breakfasts. Achziv started to become a memory that grew more distant with each year.
This month, though, finding ourselves without any children living in the house for the first time in 24 years, we decided to take a pilgrimage back to Achziv. I called up the swanky holiday village and booked one of those wooden chalets, and thanks to new thoroughfares like Road 6 as well as the Carmel Tunnels, what used to take half a day was now a breezy couple hours drive.
Close to 20 years since we were last there, Achziv had experienced only minor changes. The bohemian pub had been replaced by a upscale kosher steak restaurant.
There were no more helicopters bringing in wounded soldiers; instead you could take a kayak trip to Rosh Hanikra and abut the border with Lebanon for a good look at Tyre. Our dilapidated white caravans had long been destroyed to make way for a more modern but still modest vacation facility, and the hippie European travelers we used to encounter had been mostly replaced by middle class Israeli families.
And what about our swanky holiday village that we had one day aspired to stay in? Twenty year ago, it might have been spanking new, but it didn’t look like much had been done since then to keep it looking up to par.
The paint was peeling, the faucets leaky, the A/C once again loud, the remote for the TV missing, and it was eerily similar to those old white caravans we had rented in our vagabond days. And we loved it! In essence, it was us who had changed more than Achziv had – older, used to more palatial comforts and no longer eager to put up with “roughing it.” But Achziv reminded us of the basic pleasures of travel. The beach and the sand were as spectacular as ever. And anyway, what else could you really want or need besides that romantic sunset? After two days spent revisiting the infancy of our aliya, we were more convinced than ever that Achziv is a magical place and not simply a grandiose distortion of our youth-seeking imagination. Even with lumpy pillows, it may be the real center of the universe.