Golan and Mt. Hermon

Golan

Let's explore the wonders of the green Golan Heights. This basalt plateau is famous for its waterfalls, hiking trails, archaeological sites and extinct volcanoes, orchards, wineries, and chocolate workshops as well as the best jeep tours!

 

The fertile Golan with its rich soil and high altitudes is home to many vineyards that thrive in the cold winter nights creating many international and local award-winning wines. With many boutique wineries in the area, let's take a winery tour and taste our way through the Golan. It's also nice to know that apple, mango and cherry orchards thrive in the Golan as well.

 

There are four Druze villages in the Golan. The Druze faith is an offshoot of Islam established in 1017. For a short period of  26 years, non-Druze were allowed to convert to the Druze religion, but from that time the religion has remained closed to outsiders. Reincarnation is one of the major principles of the Druze faith. 

 

Let's take a nature or water hike through this well loved area.  The Banias Nature Reserve  (also known as Caesarea Philippi) is one of the most beautiful and most visited nature reserves in Israel. The Banias spring and waterfall flow year round from Mt. Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel.  Imagine the view on the suspended circular walkway across a gorge opens the view of the Banias as you walk above a vertical cliff! It is important to note that due to the fragile ecology of the area, entering the water is prohibited.

 

The name Banias is a corruption of the word Panias, the local Arabs could not pronounce the sound 'P' and said 'B' instead. Panias comes from the Greek god Pan, god of the forests and shepherds. Other words related to Pan are pandemonium, pan flute and panic.

 

It's time to discover the refreshing rushing waters of Tel Dan National Park that feed into the Jordan River. With three easy walking routes and one  wheelchair accessible route, Tel Dan will be a favorite site on your visit to Israel. It's time to 'feel at one with nature' as you follow the well-marked trails along the flowing streams, amid the foliage and shade of trees, bushes, and flowers. Nearby, we can visit the archaeological sites including one of the oldest 4000 year old Canaanite city gates ever found when the area was called Laish and excavations from the Israelite Tribe of Dan.

 

A rare stele (inscribed stone) was found in Tel Dan with the words 'House of David' in Aramaic.  This stele was probably made for King Hazael of Aram-Damascus ,who boasted his victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the "House of David", thus confirming the Davidic Dynasty actually existed!

 

The Golan Heights borders on Syria and there were a number of very difficult and significant battles fought here during the 1967 and 1973 Wars. You can look deep into Syria from a number of observation points and learn about the importance of Israel right to this essential area. Now let's visit  Mt. Bental, a dormant volcano, to get a great panoramic view of the Golan Heights and Syria. You can image how difficult the battle in 1973 was as you wend your way through the army bunkers. After your visit at the site, be sure to get a cup of coffee from Coffee Anan (which is Hebrew for 'coffee of the clouds' and a clever pun on the name on a former UN leader).

 

We'll be sure to watch the movie at Kibbutz El Rom depicting the heroic battle of the Oz 77 tank unit's victory of the very few against the many; learn about Avigdor Kahalani, the key commander who helped fight Syria's 50,000 soldiers and 1,200 tanks with only 40 Israeli tanks at his disposal. Nearby you can see the layout of the battlefield with your own eyes, now called Emek Habacha (Valley of Tears) where Kahalani's brigade fought and won the miraculous battle. Kahalani, who went on to be Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv and a Knesset member, received the Medal of Valor for his brave leadership.

I's time to visit Gamla Nature Reserve, considered the "Masada of the North". This is the site where the Jewish community revolted against the Romans in 67 CE, three years before the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. The word Gamla comes from the Hebrew word 'gamal' meaning 'camel', as the mountain is shaped like a camel's hump with very deep ravines on each side creating a dramatic landscape. After weeks of the Roman siege, many of the Gamla residents jumped to their deaths rather than be captured and sent into slavery by the Romans. As we visit these ruins, we can also see remnants of one of the oldest known synagogues in the world. And don't miss the Griffon vulture observatory in the park, where you can see vulture's nests, as well as their flight around the steep cliffs.

 

Katzrin is the only city in the Golan and services all the towns and villages in the area. We'll visit the the Ancient Katzrin Park to get a sense of life in the 3rd to 6th centuries. Highlights include a visit to the Byzantine /Talmudic era synagogue, a walk through Beit Uzi's restored house where you will view how life was in those times, olive presses and more.  You can dress up in clothes from the Mishnaic period. 

 

Now let's visit the Nimrod Fortress built almost 800 years ago and is located above the Banias spring. Discover the monumental gate (oops, a stone slipped due to an earthquake!), secret passageways, round staircases and outstanding vistas all around. It's clear the fortress was built here in order to spot enemies approaching from quite a distance.

 

We can't leave the Golan without enjoying the complete Golan culinary experience!  There is so much to choose from: De Karina chocolate boutique, the award-winning Golan Heights Winery, Golan Brewery, Bahat winery and other small boutique wineries. Habokrim restaurant at Merom Hagalil is a kosher cowboy-themed restaurant with beef from locally raised cattle. Gilis, in Moshav Nov, is a meat restaurant open only on Thursdays - well worth planning your visit to enjoy their fantastic locally-grown beef. How about picking your own fruit such as berries, plums and apples for desert in one of the many farms that allow you to pick you fill and then some?  

It's time to unwind with a casual tour of the Aniam's artists' village with galleries, handicraft shops and restaurants .

 

In the Golan there always some exciting activity available: Kayaking and rafting down the Jordan River, hiking the deep canyons and wading through springs, pools and waterfalls (some are wet only in the winter and spring seasons), standing at breathtaking observation points overlooking the Kinneret from the Heights.  

Har Hermon (Mt. Hermon)

No matter what the season, Mt. Hermon is the place to be.  The mountain towers above the Golan and Galil at over 7,000 feet.  Let's visit in the winter to enjoy great skiing or visit in the summer to cool off a little from the heat of the rest of the country and take the cable car for a pleasure ride. We can explore Mt. Hermon's very unique flora and fauna which are different than the rest of the country and worth strolling around to see the unique flowers and plants. With seven types of Jurassic limestone, the rain and snow easily trickle through the cracks in the mountain and becomes the source of the great flows of water to the Dan, Hatzbani and Banias rivers which merge and run into the Jordan River.

 

Jurassic is named for the Jura mountains in the French alps, where this type of rock was first named. You won't find dinosaurs here, but you can find seashell fossils on the Hermon as this area was once covered by ocean! In addition, squirrels live on Mt. Hermon and cannot be found anywhere else in Israel.