Exploring the Holy Land – Israel

So, you’re looking to visit the Holy Land, the birth place of the three-major mono-theistic religions where east meets west. There is so much culture and history packed into this country that it truly does offer something for everyone. Tel Aviv is renowned for having the highest concentration of Bauhaus architecture in the world, coupled with its vibrant nightlife it is in stark contrast with Jerusalem. In medieval times Jerusalem was considered the centre of the Earth, where mankind was birthed and subsequently spread out from that point. What better place to start your trip than in the cradle of civilization?

You’ve landed, Welcome to Israel! We hope you had a good flight. Take a transfer from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem to reach your first stop, the fabulous Mamilla hotel.

Mamilla Hotel

This is a seriously cool hotel. A Piero Lissoni temple to design, with a clean, contemporary feel, set in perfect relief against the ancient city of Jerusalem. The Mamilla is home to a sophisticated wine bar, a late-night cocktail and DJ bar, and the celebrated Mamilla Rooftop lounge with its envy inducing views of the Old City of Jerusalem. The award winning Akasha spa is a sensual haven after a long day’s touring. This is the place to throw some hedonistic indulgence into the mix with historical and cultural touring. The Mamilla is situated just a minute’s walk away from the Old City of Jerusalem. Guests of the Mamilla Hotel may use the outside pool at the David Citadel hotel (just a skip and a hop away) Sunday – Thursday.

Start your day from the wonderful lookout point at the Tower of David – panoramic views of Jerusalem will be waiting for you. A full tour of the Old City of Jerusalem is an ideal way to be introduced to the intense sanctity of this place to the Jews, Christians and Muslims, where holy sites tumble over each other. You can visit the sites most holy to the non-Jewish faiths, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for Christianity and the Dome of the Rock for Islam. You should then explore the Jewish heritage of the Old City in more detail, from First Temple period remains in the shape of the fascinating ‘Broad Wall, to Second Temple times and the Kotel (Western Wall) and Cardo (the main street during Roman times), to the Hurva Synagogue first built in the eighteenth century, all the way through to the 1967 war and beyond.

Arguably Israel’s most dramatic site, Masada’s mountain top ruins, set against the extraordinary backdrop of the Judean desert, are but a stage for the retelling of a heroic and ancient tale, now engrained in national mythology. You will hear about the lives of the final Jewish resisters to Roman rule, relive their struggle against the mighty Roman army, and wonder at their heroic end. Masada is a totally unique site, well deserving of its UNESCO world heritage status. You will ascend and descend Masada by cable car.

Cool off from the desert heat at Ein Gedi, this glorious, green oasis in the middle of the Judean desert, significant as David’s hiding place from King Saul. Natural spring water cascades over a series of ledges in the desert rock, creating waterfalls and fresh water pools, perfect for hiking and swimming through. The springs give life to palm trees, bulrushes, and tropical and Mediterranean plant life, which together produce the sweetest of scents. Watch out for the hyraxes, ibexes, and many native bird species as your guide leads you along the family-friendly Nahale Davide trail.

The waters of the Dead Sea shimmer like nowhere else on earth. Best of all, here you really will float! Full of good-for-you minerals and surrounded by air which is naturally rich in oxygen, the Dead Sea should leave you feeling full of energy. Please take flip flops along for the Dead Sea, and avoid taking your best bathing suits as the minerals in the water may damage the material.

Yad Vashem is Israel’s official monument to the Holocaust, located on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The museum has justifiably achieved international acclaim for its in depth and powerful portrayal of extremely challenging material. The complex includes the Holocaust History Museum, the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, The Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, a synagogue, a research institute with archives, a library, a publishing house, and an educational center named The International School for Holocaust Studies. Children under 10 are not permitted to enter the main historical museum.

Visiting Mahane Yehuda market you will find yourself surrounded by a plethora of sights, smells and tastes, and the colourful hustle and bustle of Jerusalem life. You will see foods from all parts of the world, and will understand how culinary trends have mixed and influenced each other – just as immigrants from the four corners of the world have preserved their own traditions, and yet integrated to create a unified Israeli culture.

The Israel Museum is surely one of Jerusalem’s treasures. Following a multi-million dollar renovation the museum has received international acclaim and has been named one of the ten most impressive museums in the world. The Israel Museum is home to the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Shrine of the Book) – the oldest known copy of the Bible. You will learn about the remarkable story of these manuscripts, the sect who most likely wrote them, and how they were discovered. You will also visit the celebrated model of second temple Jerusalem.

Beth Sh’ean is one of the most impressive Roman sites in Israel. The theatre and bath houses are particularly worthy of note, in addition to the huge columns and capitals found all over the site. The Jewish sages used to say, “If the Garden of Eden is in the land of Israel, then its gate is Beth She’an”, and the desirability and fertility of the land is confirmed not only by the Roman city, but by the 18 layers of civilisation uncovered here, witness to ancient Egyptian, Caananite and Israelite history, and more. Beth She’an holds particular significance for Jews and Christians as the Bible tells us that King Saul’s body was hanged on the walls of Beth She’an after he was defeated at Mount Gilboa by the Philistines. In the New Testament Beth She’an is referred to as Decapolis, a place from which people journey to come and hear Jesus preach.

Ancient Jewish communities thrived around the Sea of Galilee, as testified by several remains of various early synagogues. Your guide will lead you to the best examples such as that of white limestone at Capernaum (Kfar Nahum in Hebrew), and the ancient synagogue at Hammat Tiberias which boasts a fascinating zodiac mosaic.

Kfar Blum, Pastoral Hotel

This is a simply fabulous place from which to explore the North of Israel. Staying on a kibbutz is an experience in and of itself – the whole place has a village like atmosphere and dining takes place in a large communal dining room. The food is ample and delicious. The Pastoral is set all amongst beautiful gardens creating a tranquil environment with wonderful views. During the summer the large swimming pool is open and is a haven for children. The Pastoral is a short drive away from many of the key attractions of the North of Israel such as Tel Dan, Banias, Nimrod Castle and much more.

Spend a day in the Golan Heights!

The Banias Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon and flows powerfully through a canyon for 3.5 km, eventually leading to the impressive cascade of the Banias Waterfall. Access to the Waterfall is via an easy and pleasant family friendly path, refreshing to walk through on a hot day. The Banias combines history with nature and boasts the wonderful archaeological remains of Caesarea Philippi, the city built by Herod’s son Philip. The site also contains Crusader ruins and the remains of a far older pagan temple dedicated to the god Pan. For Christians, the Banias holds particular significance as the place where Peter recognised Jesus, and Jesus named Peter the “rock” on which his church would be built.

To dig deeper into the story of the Golan, you should visit El Rom kibbutz which is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, you will see how kibbutzim have had to modernise, turning away from exclusively agricultural industry, and secondly you will see a real example of such modernisation – in this case, the kibbutz’s film dubbing industry. Time allowing, you should take a trip to the nearby ‘Valley of Tears’.

Take a Jeep tour for an intense ‘off the beaten track’ experience

Your expert guide will drive you through a working agricultural kibbutz, explaining about the pace and style of life in this region of Israel. You will also explore the history and current day reality of kibbutz life from the historic ‘childrens’ house’ system to today’s need to diversity and modernise. You will then drive off road into the demilitarised zone and along the Syrian border (security conditions allowing), viewing hidden Israeli army bunkers and positions. Your expert guide will provide background on Israel’s historical and current relations with her northern neighbours, together with an in-depth analysis of today’s complex situation in Syria and what it means for Israel. Following the jeep ride, time allowing your main guide will take you to the nearby look out at Mount Bental.

The historical North

Tsfat is the ancient mystical centre of kabbalah, where you will wander through time worn cobbled streets, exploring age old synagogues, ducking in and out of art galleries, craft shops and charming cafes. Tsfat’s historical sites are diverse: from the graves of important Rabbis, to the impressive crusader Citadel, and the Great Stairs built by the British to separate Jews and Arabs. Tsfat is a magical place where the ancient stones invite you to reach and touch them, to feel the layers of human history, and the breeze asks you to listen out for the tales it whispers.

The Old City of Acre (Akko in Hebrew) is well deserving of its UNESCO world heritage site status. Acre boasts stunning Crusader remains which are so complete you’ll feel transported in time. Marvel at the halls of the Knights Hospitalier, and “escape to the sea” through underground runaway tunnels. Explore some of Acre’s more varied treasures – the exotic thriving Arab market, the second most holy mosque in Israel (home to a hair from the beard of Mohammed), and the newly renovated Underground Prisoners Museum which commemorates Jewish resistance fighters imprisoned, and sometimes executed, by the British during the Mandate period.

Caesarea was King Herod the Great’s imposing port town, where Rome was honoured with temples, gladiators fought each other to the last, and games were played in celebration of the King and the empire. Later, Caesarea became a thriving Byzantine town, and then a Crusader conquest, each civilisation leaving its archaeological gems. For Christians Caesarea is of significance because of the stone tablet found near the amphitheater which is inscribed with the name Pontius Pilate, and dedicated to Tiberius Caesar who nominated him as procurator. Caesarea is also the place where the Apostle Paul was sent to stand trial, and as a Roman citizen demanded judgment in front of the Emperor.

Lily & Bloom

Lily & Bloom, a stylish, new boutique property housed within a restored 1930’s Bauhaus architecture-style building, is situated on the crossroads of Neve Tzedek, the city’s uber-chic original neighborhood founded in 1877, and the bustling Allenby Street. Lily & Bloom features 22 meticulously designed rooms with an acute focus on interior design and furnishings, boasting hand-sourced tables, couches, lamps and design pieces from Israel, France and Italy. Rooms are replete with original, white-clad color palettes, Carrera-floored bathrooms and traditional and tech-savvy amenities, including complimentary, high-speed Wi-Fi. The breakfasts here are delicious (the shakshuka comes highly recommended!), and lounge area welcoming. We love this property for those looking for an urban, boutique Tel Aviv stay!

Ancient Jaffa and modern Tel Aviv are wonderful to tour together because of their contrasts. In Jaffa you can explore one of the most ancient ports in the world, replete with history from Biblical, ancient Egyptian, Roman, Napoleonic eras and more. Visiting Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv’s prettiest and oldest neighbourhood, you will hear the story of the city’s beginnings – how the first modern Hebrew city was molded out of the barren sand dunes in an out-pouring of ideological vision and determination. You will make your way through the colourful and bustling Carmel Market, full of additional tasty treats! The amazing variety of foods reflects the fact that Israel is an immigrant society with citizens who have come here from the four corners of the earth (please note the market is closed Friday afternoons and Saturdays). Continuing into more central Tel Aviv you will visit Rothschild Boulevard and Independence Hall (from the outside) where David Ben Gurion famously declared the independence of the modern State of Israel. You will note the various architectural styles of the buildings – from eclectic to Bauhaus – and hear stories about the waves of immigration who designed and created these remarkable buildings. The Bauhaus buildings are internationally significant and Tel Aviv’s UNESCO world heritage status is thanks to them.

Mahon Ayalon was an underground bullet factory built by the Palmach during the period of the British Mandate. This interactive museum demonstrates the ingenuity, determination and courage of the early Zionists. This is an inspiring story of creativity and innovation, and of thinking outside of the box. You will find the story as moving as it is ingenious.

Author Bio

Hannah Blustin is the owner and founder of Pomegranate Travel, a bespoke luxury travel company.  Born and raised in London, Hannah attended Oxford University before entering the world of London finance.  Over a course of years, and a marriage to an Israeli, she made a move to Israel where she now runs tours of the Holy Land all year round.

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