Monday, April 23, 2018

A Day of Adventure and Eats in Israel's Galilee

Our day in the Galilee was packed with fabulous food, fantastic vistas, and fun entertainment. 

After the TBEX (Travel Bloggers) conference, a few of us were invited on a Northern Israel Culinary Tour press trip. It was a four day eat and drink fest. I already wrote about our epic foodie days spent in Haifa and Nazareth respectively, and about my time in Jerusalem and the deeply moving experience of visiting  Vad Yashem.  After the conference ended we boarded a bus and headed to the Western Galilee where we spent a fully packed, crazy pants kind of travel day. 

Before the day was over we would have eaten several feasts, went on a jeep safari, explored ancient marine caves and Templar castles, watched a jousting spectacle between crusader knights as well as taking part in a medieval feast and show complete with a king, fire eaters, belly dancers, and jesters.  

The first stop on our fam trip after leaving Jerusalem in the morning was the Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve. We were met with snacks and the charming former Tech Industry worker turned Authorized Wilderness Adventure Instructor, Omri Avidar of Omri Travel

Omri provides classic Israel tours, but also specialized in adventure tours like desert safaris, mountain bike tours, caving, skydiving, and hot air ballooning, are only some fun activities his company offers. 

After refreshments, we all grabbed onto a rope for a trust exercise. Then Omri Explained a bit about the region (lots of olive trees and kibbutz). 

I was time to explore the preserve. we all piled into SUVs (some of us got to drive) for a very bumpy but fun ride through the preserve.

The preserve itself is named after a major stream that supplies water to the Western Galilee

Persian fallow deer have reintroduced to the area about 20 years ago, as part of an effort to prevent the extinction of the species. 

Other wildlife inhabitants of the preserve include golden jackals, wolves, wild boar, and the rare striped hyena.

After parking the vehicles and a mysterious climb up to what turned out to be Montfort Castle, the ruins of a Crusader fortress, we were surprised with beautiful desserts and local sparkling wine. 

While indulging in the sweets, we learned a bit of the fascinating history of the fortress involving lots of drama between the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights.

After the sweets and alcohol break,  we climbed around the ruins to explore and take photograph ins on our own.

The bumpy SUV ride back found the bus waiting to take us to the luxurious Sea Life Spa Hotel for a sumptuous lunch. 

This stylish boutique hotel is full of cool furniture and beautiful art. It is perfectly located directly on the Nahariya Achziv beach strip. 

The tables in the 
dining room were pre-set for us with delicious appetizers including hummus and fresh salads. 

We were pretty full after devouring these starters which we thought was lunch. Then the caravan of main dishes started arriving. 

Platters of Salmon, Duck, and chicken kept magically appearing from the kitchen with sides of rice, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. Everything exquisitely prepared and spiced.


Did I mention the bread? #heavenly

I don't know what they did to this chicken but I want to cry right now because just looking at the photo makes me want some. Badly. 

Now that the chef had dazzled us with luscious food, it was time to see what else this gem of a hotel had to offer. We took a quick tour of the facilities.  

In addition to a spa, the Sea Life has indoor and outdoor pools as well and a salt room. 

What a gorgeous place to base your trip to the Galilee. Highly recommend. There is so much to do in the area and the hotel is hooked into all of it. 

Even though we were all stuffed to the gills, the downside to our Sea Life Hotel visit was we had to skip dessert. We had arrived in the north a bit late because we dropped some other TBEXers off in Tel Aviv on the way and had a schedule to keep. We had to make it to Rosh Hanikra on time to get one of the last cable cars down to see the spectacular grottos. 

As much as most of us would have happily stretched out on a bed in one of the hotel's beautifully appointed rooms for a nap, we all waddled back to the bus for the drive to Rosh Hanikra at the Lebanon border.

Rosh Hanikra is located at the most north-western corner of Israel, the only point in the country where the Mediterranean sea meets the mountains. These natural formations are some of the most impressive marine caves in the world. 

Our guide to the Rosh Hankira was a real character. He had a huge personality and was super smart and knowledgeable. We all piled into the cable car for the two minute "steepest cable car ride in the world" to get down to the grottos. 

Before exploring the marine caves, we watched a light and sound show which documented the formation of the grottos, the local flora and fauna (hello, Rock Pigeons and Mr. Hyrax), and the history of the on-site train tunnels. 

Photo Credit:
Initiated by the British before the second world war,  and with the help of thousands of workers,  the tunnels were created in one year as a plan to connect the Middle East and Europe. 

The Israel - Lebanon border
After the Israeli war of Independence, Rosh HaNikra came under Israeli control. The first tunnel and half of the second tunnel built by the British are in Israeli territory, while the northern tunnel is in Lebanon.

Mostly used for military purposes by the British during WWII, the summer after the war, trains carried Jews liberated from concentration camps through the tunnels to Israel. The Jewish passengers were exchanged for German citizens related to the Templars whose sons served in the Nazi army. 

The railway's bridge was blown up by the Jewish Haganah fighters in March 1948 in order to prevent Lebanese arms being smuggled into the rising state of Israel ending the railway service.

We started our walk through the marine cave. 

The grottos were formed over thousands of years by rainwater and the pounding sea against the rocks. The length of the grotto tunnel is roughly 650 feet long. 

The waves crash around you and the sea pulls in and out of the caves. Magnificent to see and hear. 

The inside view of the grottos is only matched in beauty by the view from the outside. 

After exploring the caves, we reluctantly left the dramatic setting for our next stop. However, most of us were happy to have walked off some of our ginormous lunch. We hopped on the bus and sped to the city of Acre for a night of feasting and fun Templar style. 

We met our guide at the Acre Citadel/Knights Hall. Acre has a preserved Crusader city beneath the old city. It's a two for one visit.  Acre, Akko or Ptolemais are all names that have been used for this incredible UNESCO World Heritage city that was the capital of the Crusader Kingdom.  

Our guide started our exploration of the underground Crusader city with a visit to Hama al Basha, a Turkish bathhouse from the late 18th century. 


The bathhouse has been turned into an exhibit with life-sized people sculptures, beautiful lighting, and music depicting bathhouse life at that time in History. 

After a traipse through the tunnels of the city...

We emerged and were ushered into a small outdoor stadium divided into two audience sections. 

Between the sections were two handsome Templar knights on horseback in full Crusader regalia. 

While a king presided over the event, the two knights, the black knight, and the blue knight competed, executing jousting feats for the audience. 

Directing the activity was a very funny jester who performed in English and Hebrew. In between the bouts of jousting, the jester made fun of audience members, performed rhymes, told jokes, ragged on the king, and was generally extremely entertaining.  

Usually, I run from tourist spectacles but I had way more fun that I thought I would.  Watching the knights execute their skills was exciting and fun.

After the jousting spectacle, we wound our way back through the old city where 
historically costumed actors were positioned throughout. 

It was time to eat again so we proceeded to the dining hall. Along the way, we were blessed with branches and offered flower water to refresh our hands before feasting. 

 While we ate delicious food, the king presided over an array of entertainers. 

Fire eaters, musicians, a bellydancer, jugglers, and acrobats all performed for us while we ate and drank. 

When dessert was served, we were all invited to join the performers for dancing and general medieval merriment. 

At the end of the evening, we drove back to Haifa and checked into the cushy Dan Carmel Hotel. I crawled into my bed exhausted but happy and fell asleep with visions of knights and marine grottos dancing in my head. 

From the Dan Carmel's luxurious base, over the next few days, we explored the HaifaNazareth and the Carmel regions.

Most of the hotel's swanky rooms have balconies to the back of the hotel overlooking the Port of Haifa. 

View from my room at the Dan Carmel Hotel
The Dan Carmel Hotel, was the perfect host for our trip up north. the property is perfectly situated on a hill overlooking the city and the world famous Bahai gardens.

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