Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Israel's "Little Tuscany" Offers Laid Back Escapes

Relaxing during a hike through the
Tel Dan Nature Preserve.


If you're thinking about visiting the eastern Mediterranean, consider a stop in northern Israel. The upper Galilee has become known as Israel's "Little Tuscany," because of its wineries, beautiful green landscape and laid-back attitude. It's the type of place that once you visit, you'll wonder why you don't live there. It's the type of place perfect for a stay in an vacation rental.

The Hula Valley offers an abundance of nature, and is one of the absolute best bird watching spots on the planet. In fact, you don't even need to be an expert bird watcher to fully enjoy the experience. The Valley is part of the migratory route for a wide variety of species flying from Europe to Africa and Asia. You can also take a seemingly endless variety of hikes and bike trails to fully explore one of the most gorgeous places you'll ever see. The Hula Valley is actually part of the Great Rift Valley, which runs as far south as Mozambique. While it's in the Middle East, it's hardly a desert. The Valley is teeming with water--from reclaimed marshes to natural springs such as Ein Tina and the Jakhula, to the Dan, Snir, Hermon and Jordan rivers. You'll even find a waterfall in the Banias Nature Preserve. All the water means you'll have plenty of chances for kayaking and other water activities.

Migratory birds in Upper Galilee.
After getting your fill of the outdoors, take in the city of Safed, located in a dense pine forest overlooking the modern city of Tiberias. Safed offers lots of history and modern resort facilities. Said to be founded by one of Noah's sons after the Biblical Great Flood, the city has changed hands numerous times over the centuries. Jewish culture has been present in Safed for centuries as well, having been settled by Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Today, Safed has strong Kabbalistic influences (a mystical segment of the Jewish faith) and is home to a vibrant arts community.

Banias Nature Reserve
Another advantage the upper Galilee region has is its year-round beauty. Spring offers an abundance of colors, summer a host of activities for children, fall means tours of wineries and harvest festivals, and an increase in precipitation in the winter means rushing streams. You'll find skiing on Mount Herman, Israel's tallest peak, on the border of the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee. It's Israel's only ski resort and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Like any mountain, Mt. Herman also offers beautiful warm weather activities.