When temperatures soar, many Israelis travel to the country’s only freshwater lake – the Sea of Galilee (aka, the Kinneret) – to dip in its refreshing waters. Fewer may be aware, however, that the Golan Heights overlooking the lake from the east offers multiple attractions that make driving the extra few kilometers more than worthwhile.
In fact, just a half-hour drive from the northern shores of the Kinneret sits the ideal headquarters for a Golan vacation: the Ein Zivan Village Resort, which offers a variety of accommodation options. Equally important, some of the best places to taste the region’s bounteous fare are located right on the grounds of the kibbutz that operates the resort – in other words, just a short stroll from your doorstep.
Whether traveling solo, as a couple, or with an entire family, the sprawling hotel/resort has a room, guest unit or kitchenette-equipped cabin suitable for just about any budget. Included in every stay, of course, is a kosher breakfast buffet, as well as access to the community’s swimming pool, expansive lawns and children’s playgrounds.
On Fridays, moreover, the grassy knoll in the center of the resort turns into a mini-fairground of sorts, with local artists displaying their wares. And in the late spring and early summer, Ein Zivan’s Bustan Bereshit – reportedly Israel’s largest pick-your-own-fruit orchard – is accessible without charge for resort guests (and for a reasonable entry fee for the public at large).
In fact, Bereshit is a major tourist attraction in its own right, welcoming many eager visitors to eat-all-you-can-pick from the orchard’s many dunams of trees and bushes: ripe cherries and mulberries from the former, and plump blueberries and raspberries from the latter. To be sure, once you have had your fill, you may also purchase whatever you want to take home with you.
(Note: Self-picking months vary from year to year, depending on the weather; this year, for example, pick-your-own fruit season has already ended – earlier than usual, because of the heat. It is best to check the orchard’s [Hebrew-only] Facebook page for updates.)
Still, it is not too late even this summer to enjoy a multi-faceted vacation on the Golan Heights. In particular, holidaymakers who enjoy tasting wine and beer, along with fine dining and/or eating specialty foods will find much here to please the palate.
In Ein Zivan alone, there are two noteworthy wineries: Bahat, a boutique winery that also serves one of the best cheese platters in the country, and Pelter (plus its kosher subsidiary, Matar), one of Israel’s largest and most highly regarded wineries. Indeed, connoisseurs know that the Golan Heights is home to some of the finest wineries in the entire Middle East.
Somewhat more surprisingly, modest little Ein Zivan is also where one may find world-class pastries and chocolates. Mattarello, the domain of pastry chef extraordinaire Adi Peretz, is a café and pâtisserie that has won raves from Israeli Michelin-starred celebrity chef Moshik Roth – so be prepared to wait in line in order to gain entry and enjoy (among other temptations) the flaky, buttery croissants.
Literally next door is De Karina, a boutique chocolate factory that was transplanted from Argentina and whose visitors’ center offers great experiences revolving around this favorite treat – from workshops where you may make your own chocolate creations, to tastings of mouthwatering pralines.
A bit more down to earth, but still delicious, is the neighboring Hummusiya, an informal eatery that nonetheless does wonders with Israel’s ubiquitous dish. Their creative “pink hummus” is one of the best versions I have ever tasted.
Less accessible, but a discovery that will amaze gourmands, is the mushroom incubator Primordia. Growing the most amazing varieties of king and pink oyster mushrooms, Primordia is beginning to supply upscale restaurants with these rare and delectable species.
Last but not least among the sensory attractions at Ein Zivan, we come to the combination of tastes and smells at the Sadè Aromatics Farm. Here you may enjoy a guided tour of fields of lavender (among other aromatic plants), participate in aromatherapy workshops, shop for items that will make your home smell better, and even order a picnic basket (complete with lavender-infused lemonade) whose contents can be consumed while surrounded by the sights and smells of the plant that made Provence so famous.
Finally, there is much to explore and experience in the Golan within easy driving distance of Ein Zivan. One of the anchors of a major shopping center in Qatzrin, the capital of the Golan Heights, is The Golan Brewhouse, a must for any beer lover, especially when hungry or thirsty. This establishment consists of a [kosher] restaurant housed inside an active brewery producing the Bazelet line of craft lagers and ales, from light to dark.
At the Brewhouse, a favorite haunt of UN troops stationed nearby, one may enjoy a flight of samples of each brew – or a pint of your favorite on tap – alongside all sorts of tasty bar foods, ranging from snacks of German-style sausages and fries to entire meals of juicy hamburgers or thick steaks.
Speaking of steaks, one cannot speak of dining on the Golan Heights without mentioning that much of Israel’s prime beef comes from herds that are raised and graze on the lush pastures of the Golan. As a result, some of the country’s best steakhouses may be found here, including one that I had the pleasure of reviewing on these pages previously.
This summer, though, I was finally introduced to Moshbutz, an institution that is revered countrywide among carnivores, whether from Israel or visiting groups from abroad. One of the pioneers of the country’s Farm-to-Table movement, Moshbutz represents a joint venture of the renowned Schneider ranch and local farmers growing the freshest seasonal produce, combining forces with skilled grillmasters to serve arguably the most succulent steaks the region has to offer.
In the former category, Ein Keshatot – with its impressive ancient synagogue partially reconstructed from the ruins – is one of the newest heritage sites developed by the region’s tourism and economic authorities. Alongside the legendary Yahudiya/Gamla Nature Reserve – also revered as the Masada of the North – the remains of the once prosperous town of Ein Keshatot are a testament to the Jewish people’s centuries-long settlement of, and connection with, the Golan Heights.
In the latter realm of exploration, there is a plethora of adventures designed to derive the maximum from a journey to the Golan Heights. From minimal exertion to the extreme, there are both land- and water-based activities – on and off the Golan Trail – that will fulfill every expectation of a summer vacation in Israel.