Once my parents arrived in Israel, our itinerary was: 1 day Tel Aviv, 1 day Haifa, 2 days Nahariyya including day trips to Akko and Rosh Hanikra, 2 days Tzfat with a day trip to Tiberias, 5 days Jerusalem. It was a full trip!
I want to highlight two unmissable places in particular.
Haifa: A coastal city known for its great beaches and hummus! Very steep and hilly, almost the whole city is on an incline. The Baha’i Gardens, a beautiful shrine, and Stella Maris Monastery are there. Has Carmelit funicular, probably one of the shortest “metros” anywhere.
Tzfat: Ever heard of Kabbalah? Celebrities like Madonna are famous for their involvement in this ancient Jewish mystical interpretive tradition. Well, Tzfat (also called Safed) is one of Israel’s Four Holy Cities and is the center of Kabbalah. It’s the highest-up city in the Galilee, and just standing in its heights and looking at the scenery around you could be considered a religious experience. So could trying to find yourself in its windy streets and corridors, where artists set up shop during the day selling spiritual paintings and prints.
First, Haifa. I have to write a shout-out to Haifa Greeters, who made my parents’ and my visit wonderful by showing us Stella Maris and introducing us to the most delicious Snickers cake at the cafe.
In Haifa we stayed in Loui Gardens, a casual, fresh, clean hotel with a quiet garden in back. No beach this time, but the highlights of the city for me were authentic hummus restaurant Abu Shakker and the Baha’i Gardens. At Abu Shakker, you are reminded that the hole-in-the-wall places are actual the best. They don’t look like much, but the food is bomb. The price is right when you can get a huge beautiful plate of hummus for about $5, then all the side dishes included Israeli-style: majadara rice, pickles, pita, Israeli salad, falafel, Arabic coffee…
Baha’i is not a very well-known religion, though there may be up to 5 million around the world. This faith believes in the spiritual unity of humankind, and accepts all three major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The funny thing is, there is barely a community in Haifa, where its most elaborate shrine is located! No matter. This was my third time there (the first time is the head picture of this blog, right up there!), and I’m sure I’ll be back, as you can agree it’s breathtaking.
I haven’t been to Tzfat since I did Birthright in 2010, and I liked it 9123980x better this time around. In Tzfat we stayed in Artist’s Quarter Guesthouse, which I highly recommend. It’s in a hidden corner of the Artist’s Quarter, but the rooms are beautifully furnished and well-taken care of, not to mention the home-cooked breakfasts every day were wonderful and fresh.
My parents and I also ate at two amazing restaurants.
First was Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), a kosher dairy restaurant 10 minutes above Haifa. The view overlooking the Jezreel Valley was gorgeous! Two highlights:
Those are sheep’s cheese-filled “dumplings” plus walnut and cranberry salad, and mushroom, fig and goat cheese salad. We also got some fish and ravioli.
Then there was Bat Yam, a meat restaurant located on a ranch high in the hills. Our cab driver wouldn’t stop recommending it to us- those Israelis are very persuasive. They even have old carriages on the edge of the cliff so you can have a romantic look over eternity.
The Great Stairs of Tzfat, which you can see in the pictures below, separated the Jewish and Arab quarters of the city after riots in 1936. If you look closely in the middle picture between the two buildings, you’ll see a floodlight which was used to watch over the stairs and make sure no one crossed over after dark. The Artist’s Quarter has now replaced the Arab Quarter.
I think one of my completely favorite parts of the trip was the impromptu visit to Kadosh Dairy (below), which is 200 years old according to its sign…
Inside, you can taste many different kinds of cheese, halva, and ice cream. Yoav, the caretaker while we were there, gave huge samples. I’ve never wanted to eat parmesan by itself without pasta so badly. It was so reasonably-priced for such a special place!
Bonus: Akko and Rosh Hanikra.
Akko is a beautiful medieval city with a wonderfully preserved fortress and underground Templar tunnel. It was the capital of the Holy Land during the Crusades and was valued for its port. It also has a famous Turkish baths and interesting Arab food market. This is one of the only cities in Israel where Jews and Arabs live quite peacefully side by side. Check out the baths below, as well as some interesting Arabic graffiti-art.
Rosh Hanikra is the highest point of Israel before a checkpoint (closed) into Lebanon. Located there are beautiful white clay grottoes where the water is beautiful clear turquoise. You can walk through the tunnels and hear the water swish around you while looking at the beautiful Meditterannean coast…