3 Days in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights

by Brian on May 2, 2008

in Only in Israel

During the recent hol ha moed post-Pesach vacation period, we had the opportunity to join our friends Debbie and Eliot for five days in the upper Galilee and Golan Heights. 8 families stayed at a field school just outside Kibbutz Snir, a 10-minute drive from Kyriat Shemona on Highway 99.  The nights were cool, perfect for sitting out on a lawn chair with friends.

The days, however, were anything but comfortable. A sharav hit Israel this hol ha moed, driving temperatures up to over 100 degrees during the day. So it was off to the water for us on our first day of the tiyul.

We started at Ein Tina, off Highway 918 in the Golan. Ein Tina comprises a 15-minute walk through water up to your belly in spots, then a short climb to what is known as a “waterfall” but actually consists of several draining pipes spewing water. Nevertheless, we all got soaked to cool down from the heat before returning the way we came. The only down side – and this was something we encountered throughout the trip – was that the place was packed with hundreds of hol ha moed merrymakers with the same idea.

After Ein Tina, we went kayaking. Along Highway 99, there are a number of kibbutzim offering kayaking; all of the go down the Hatzbani river. The starting point at Kibbutz HaGoshrim has the longest route, lasting about an hour and a half. We had bought discount tickets at the field school, which brought down the per person fee from NIS 75 to NIS 60 ($17.50).

There are two types of kayaks, neither of which are actually kayaks in the traditional sense. Both are made of inflated rubber. 14-year-old Merav went in a two-seater with her friend Adi while Jody, 10-year-old Aviv and I took the family kayak that can seat up to six. The rafting can be leisurely but during hol ha moed it’s more like bumper cars with kayaks constantly crashing into each other. There is a “challenge” route and a “family” – we chose the latter which included a few mild rapids. It was enormous fun with enough splashing to keep us cool.

For dinner our first night, we went to Dag al ha Dan, an iconic outdoor restaurant that is situated next to the Dan stream. Nearly everyone had the house specialty – Forel (a type of trout) – in different combinations – fried, grilled, filleted. The appetizers included smoked whitefish, pickled herring and creamy cucumber salad. The bill for 4 of us, including soft drinks and dessert, came to just over NIS 300 ($87).

The next day was still hot, so we started off by visiting the Breshit apple packing factory at the Marom HaGolan kibbutz, also in the Golan Heights. The factory (which is mostly indoors, shaded from the hot sun) demonstrates how the apples make their way via conveyor belts through a sudsy cleansing bath, are sorted by size and eventually are placed into the packages and palettes that end up in the local grocery store. The price for the tour is very reasonable – NIS 20 ($6) an adult, NIS 15 ($4) for kids.

From there, we ascended to one of the highest (and coolest) points in the Golan –the Ben Tal mountain where we picnicked and explored the Israeli bunkers that were used to repel the Syrian attack on the Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Ben Tal also sports a restaurant with the amusing name of Kofee Anan which means “coffee house in the clouds” in Hebrew but is also a play on words referring to the former head of the U.N.

After lunch, we drove down off the mountain to the Hula Lake (Agamon Hula in Hebrew) which is just off Highway 90. The Hula is famous as one of the main swamps drained by the pioneers, many of whom died from malaria. The valley has since been re-flooded to create a more ecologically appropriate environment and is known as Israel’s premiere bird sanctuary. We intended to rent bicycles tot circle the lake (a 2-hour ride) but because of the continuing heat, we opted instead to putter about in a 4 person motorized (and shaded) golf cart (the price at NIS 175 was less than renting 4 bikes).

That turned out to be great fun for the whole family as we let the kids each have their turn driving the cart (word of warning: Merav is going to be a terror when she gets her real driver’s license!) The Hula is a major stop on the migration path of great storks, though we didn’t see any on our journey.

On our final day we went for a morning hike to Nachal Iyun, also known as the Tanur (the oven), a nature reserve just outside of Metulla, an 8 minute drive north from Kiryat Shemona. Metulla is at the tip of a peninsula surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. Both Metulla and Kyriat Shemona have been repeatedly shelled by Hezbollah over the years.

The Tanur is reputedly the most beautiful walk in Israel. In order to do the hour and a half hike, you need two cars, one parked at either end. The walk itself goes through gorgeous canyons and wooded forests. There are three waterfalls along the way but depending on the rainfall that winter, in the late spring and summer the waterfalls may be “turned off.” In this case, farmers in Lebanon divert the water to use for irrigation. The walk is nevertheless quite lovely.

Our hike to the Tanur was on a Friday morning and for most of it, we were alone on the trail, a welcome respite from the crowds of earlier in the week (perhaps everyone was on the road home already or preparing for Shabbat?)

After our hike, we picnicked in the wooded area next to the parking lot (which conveniently sports an ice cream stand and lots of picnic tables). We then drove south about 15 minutes to reach the final destination of our 3 days in the north: The Manara Cliffs.

This popular tourist attraction includes a 10-minute cable car ride to the top of a towering mountain with stunning views of the entire area and a lovely little forest with a 400-meter circular trail. During hol ha moed there’s a jumping  playground set up for kids and regular musical performances.

Our kids opted not to take the cable car ride to the top with Jody and me. Instead they spent their time at the small enclosed bungee jumping area and on a fun toboggan ride that zips down the side of the mountain at breakneck speeds. The kids did that twice for NIS 25 ($7) each ride. The ride up to the top was NIS 90 ($26) per person. Like the Tanur, on a Friday afternoon, the Menara Cliffs attraction was mostly deserted which was truly fortunate; we had heard that during the week, the line for the cable car was over an hour!

Getting away from Jerusalem and up to the nature of the north was a well-deserved vacation. The scenery is spectacular. It’s not cheap nor close but worth the schlep and the expense. Don’t miss it on your next trip to Israel,

Contact info:

HaGoshrim Kayaking

Hula Valley Bike and Golf Carts

Nachal Iyun – The Tanur

Manara Cliffs

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