By Jeannine Williamson | January 2016 | 10 minute read
Israel offers a host of diverse and unique experiences, from famous Biblical sites, modern city experiences and fly-and-flop breaks by the Red Sea.
“Recommend visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to see the dramatic contrasts between the two largest cities. Tel Aviv is a modern, non-stop, cosmopolitan city, whilst Jerusalem is steeped in history”
MICHAEL FLEETWOOD, MIDDLE EAST PRODUCT MANAGER, COX & KINGS
Jaw-dropping Jerusalem: With more than 3,000 years of history, Israel’s capital, largest city and centre of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions is a must-see
City living: Tel Aviv is a buzzing 24-hour city with fantastic night life, beautiful beaches and cool cafe culture
Swim without sinking: Strike a classic pose floating in the salty Dead Sea, where it’s impossible to sink (and fun trying to get your feet back on the bottom!)
Tuck in: Known as the land of milk and honey, the food in Israel is super-fresh and nothing less than tasty: Jaffa oranges, cheap and tasty falafel and gourmet restaurants in the big cities
Herod’s high spot: The impressive ruins of Mesada, King Herod’s mountaintop fortress overlooking the Dead Sea, can be reached via the winding ‘snake path’ or cable car
Desert adventure: Around 160,000 Bedouins live in the Negev Desert. A meal under the stars with entertainment is a great way to learn about their culture
Back to nature: A traditional, communal way of living, a stay on a self-supporting kibbutz is a must for eco-travellers and visitors in search of a simpler lifestyle
Luxe-life: There are plenty of upmarket hotels for discerning clients. Dan Hotels is the largest luxury hotel group and its countrywide portfolio includes Jerusalem’s landmark King David Hotel
Marine moments: Snorkel and dive with dolphins at Eilat’s Dolphin Reef attraction and then chill out with a floating massage experience complete with underwater music
Shopping and sunsets: Jaffa, the ancient Arab port south of Tel Aviv, has a maze of winding streets lined with small shops and art galleries, plus waterfront bars that are the perfect spot to watch the golden sunset
My Israel experience
There are times when you need to take things with a pinch of salt, and this was certainly one of them. Driving along the Dead Sea coast the white-tipped 'waves’ created a perfect optical illusion of movement on the totally still water, but on closer inspection they turned out to be saline formations.
Twenty minutes later, after turning off the road and heading into the Judean Desert, our guide Gili turned off the engine and we walked across the sand to the foot of a barren hill. Picking up a small sun-bleached ‘rock’ he encouraged us to taste it. Once dubbed the white gold of the desert because of its trading value, a tentative lick revealed that what we had in our hands was nature’s own salt cellar.
We drove on across the rugged landscape for our next stop at the spectacular Nahal Perazim gorge, where swirling patterns on the towering sides were created over the centuries by different water levels.
At the end of our jeep safari Gili brewed up sweet herb tea at the summit of Mount Sodom, the lowest mountain on earth, and we admired panoramic views across the Dead Sea.
Where the Judean Desert ends the Negev Desert – covering more than half of Israel – begins, so you never have to travel very far to explore the dramatic landscape.
What the experts say
“As the land of creation, Israel is one of the world’s most exciting and innovative countries, with an abundance of diverse experiences on offer. Peppered with history and artistic flair, Israel holds an undeniable allure for foodies and cultural aficionados alike. The Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO) has developed an online training programme to aid agents in familiarising themselves with the country, highlighting Israel’s many qualities, in order to better tailor client recommendations”
NAAMA ORYAN-KAPLAN, DIRECTOR UK AND IRELAND, IGTO
“From riding on the forested slopes of the Carmel Range and along the Sea of Galilee, biking offers a chance to experience the culture and history from a different perspective.”
JAMES ADKIN, CYCLING PROGRAMME MANAGER, EXPLORE
Airlines: Monarch Airlines launched two new scheduled services, flying three times weekly to Tel Aviv and weekly to Ovda, a 45-minute transfer from Eilat. Scheduled to be completed in 2017, Eilat’s new international airport will provide another major boost to the region.
Accommodation: The 40-room Brown Beach House Hotel marks the arrival of boutique properties on Tel Aviv’s waterfront and has a lounge bar with a sand floor.
Operators: Launched through selected travel agents is Battered Suitcase, specialising in luxury, bespoke cultural tours. A nine-day heritage tour with boutique hotel accommodation leads in at £2,028pp with flights.
Explore has introduced a new nine-day guided bike tour, which includes Tel Aviv, Galilee and a night ride through Jerusalem with transport between destinations.
Attractions: The second phase of Tel Aviv’s Sarona Project, which has transformed the Templer area into a trendy lifestyle destination, features a food market with 100 culinary businesses including restaurants and artisan food stalls.
Hiking in the Negev has become easier with the launch of the first dedicated English website with maps and trail guides for hikes ranging from easy two-hour walks to five-day expeditions.
Where to book it
Monarch offers a seven-night half-board stay at the four-diamond-rated Leonardo Royal Resort, located on the Eilat Marina waterfront, priced from £484pp departing April 14, including flights from Luton.
A three-night B&B stay at the Prima Hotel Tel Aviv situated on the city’s waterfront is priced from £513 with Superstar Holidays. Includes El Al flights from Luton. Until March 31 Superstar has mid-week business class fares from £895pp.
The seven-night half-board Highlights of the Holy Land escorted tour from Leger Holidays takes in the Dead Sea, Galilee and Jerusalem from £1,349pp (in May) including flights.