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Stayput Upper Galilee

The Upper Galilee is a land of lush fields, springs, and rivers at the crossroads of four climatic and vegetational zones. It abounds with wildlife, from millions of birds to foxes and wolves, and it abounds with flora, from the world’s northernmost papyrus to ancient oaks.

Every winter, the Hula Lake once  expanded to cover the whole Hula Valley. It was a wonderful world of wildlife and flora at a unique place on the globe: The meeting place of four different climatic and vegetational zones. The northernmost papyrus bushes grew here and the southernmost plane trees. Desert wolves from the dry steppes of the Syrian plateau hunted sleek deer from the Mediterranean littoral. In the 1950s, the swamp was drained, leading to the demise of this unique wetland. Since  then, attempts have been made to recreate the wetlands of the Hula Valley. Today the Hula Valley is again a place of beauty with abundant waters, streams, and springs, remnants of huge oak forests, lush fields, thousands of waterfowl, and millions of raptors and songbirds that fly over this lush valley every spring and autumn.
The valley is circled by the Mountains of Naftali on the western side and the Golan Heights on the east. The snow-capped Mount Hermon overlooks the valley from the north.
Man has been drawn to this valley from the dawn of prehistory. In the mountains around it, ancient hunters and gatherers first discovered the qualities of Emmer wheat, which would make the green revolution of agriculture possible. The great city of Hazor became a world trade center four thousand years ago and in ancient Dan a temple was set up by the kings of Israel to mark the borders of their kingdom. Crusaders fought over this valley, as did the Assassin sect, Ottomans, French and British, Syrians, Lebanese and Israelis. The Hula Valley and the Upper Galilee are one of the most sought-after holiday destinations in Israel. Peaceful, relaxing, and above all a place of natural beauty.

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Mighty Hazor

Tel Hazor is one of the biggest biblical mounds in Israel. It is mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts in the eighteenth century BCE as a major city in Canaan. In the Book of Joshua, Hazor is called the “head of all the kingdoms.” The Bible specifically mentions that Hazor was destroyed by Joshua. There are many academic disputes over the identification of Hazor as the city destroyed by Joshua.
The site was first excavated by British archaeologist John Garstang in 1928. Among his discoveries was a strange colonnaded structure that has been identified as stables, a palace, and a royal granary – depending on the researcher. In 1955, Yigael Yadin put together the largest archaeological excavation that had been formed thus far in Israel, to excavate Hazor. Many of those who would later become Israel's leading archaeologists worked with Yadin on this excavation. Yadin discovered that Hazor was made up of two areas: an upper city, which was where Garstang had excavated; and a huge lower city, which contained buildings, temples, walls, and a massive retaining structure. In the upper city, Yadin discovered an elaborate water system, the city’s gates from the biblical period, and more. The most interesting find was the temple of lions, which had been completely burnt and destroyed by an invading force. Yadin claimed this temple was proof that this was the city Joshua had destroyed.
In recent years, excavations have continued, exposing a wonderful Canaanite palace that has been rehabilitated.
At present the most exciting archaeological search is for the city’s archive. We know there was one because letters from Hazor have been discovered in palaces and ancient archives in Iraq and Syria. There is an archive and one day its thousands of tablets will be unearthed.
Hazor is a difficult place to understand as most of the city has not been excavated yet. But the palace, the water system  the four-thousand-year-old houses, and defenses are of great interest. Nearby, at Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, is the Hazor Museum, which displays finds from the excavations.

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Sources of the Jordan River

The three rivers that are the sources of the Jordan River meet in the northern part of the Hula Valley.
Nahal Dan emanates from a spring inside the Dan Nature Reserve. The area around the spring is today a lush wood of oak, oleander, and plane trees intertwined with bushes and a thick growth of vegetation. Above the spring is the ancient tell of Dan. Mentioned many times in the Bible, this city was settled thousands of years before the tribe of Dan ever made it into their home.
Nahal Hermon, the Banias, is the easternmost source of the Jordan. The head of the river is a dramatic spring that emerges from the foot of a cliff at the bottom of Mount Hermon. Originally, the spring welled up in a large cavern in the cliff known in Greek times as the cave of Pan (the source of the Arabic name of the river: Panias i.e. Banias).
The third source of the Jordan is the Snir River. Its source is way up in the mountains of Lebanon, an area  that has been sacred to the Druze since the founder of the sect fled to this area in the tenth century. Each one of the sources of the Jordan is different and exploring them is one of the highlights of a stay in Galilee.

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The Manara Range

The Manara range or, as it is officially known, the Ramim Mountain Range, towers above the Hula Valley, stretching to a height of 800 meters. The valley side of the range ends abruptly in a dramatic cliff, the tallest cliff in the Israel. The other side of the range slopes gently into Lebanon. The range is full of beautiful lookout points of the Hula Valley, the Sea of Galilee, Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon.
During autumn and spring, the cliff is a popular resting point for hundreds of thousands of raptors, storks, pelicans, and ducks.
 The northernmost point is Mount Zefiya, which looms over Metulla. A little further south is one of the best places for a view of the Golan and Hula Valley: the upper station of the Manara cable car.
To reach the Agamon Lookout Point, take Route 886 south until Ramot Naftali. Opposite the moshav entrance, a sign marks the way to the viewpoint.
Keren Naftali is a horn-like hill just south of Ramot Naftali. A track that starts from Route 886 about half a kilometer south of Ramot Naftali leads up to the hill, through remains of a Greek temple. The hill  is easily recognizable by the antennas perched on its top.

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Rabbi Yossi of Galilee was one of the most famous of the Galilean sages. He was known as a rainmaker and a healer of barren women. The tomb on the top of the extinct volcano of Mount Dalton has been identified as his tomb since the Middle Ages. Travelers from this period report that barren women used to make the pilgrimage to his grave and would tie pieces of cloth to the trees around it.
After visiting the tomb of Rabbi Yossi, drive back to Moshav Dalton, turn left, and follow the road along the fence to an opening leading out towards the cemetery of Dalton. After 300 meters, you will see on your left the tomb of Ishmael Ben Yossi. Since the Middle Ages it has been considered a wonderful example of a Galilean holy tomb, complete with a tree, surrounding wall, and sign. A little further down the road on the right is the path leading to the tomb of Raba Bar Hona, another favorite pilgrimage site in the area. Finally, if you have the stamina, follow the road to its end in an orchard and then take the black-marked path that will lead to the grave of Yehuda Ben Tima on the top of Mount Hazor, where there is a great view of the Hula Valley and the Biriya forest.

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Where to Eat

Beit Hashalom, which the Hod family operates, includes both guest suites and a vegetarian restaurant that serves food made almost entirely from ingredients that come from the family farm (28 Harishonim Street, Metulla, Tel. (04) 694-0767, food is kosher, but the restaurant does not have a certificate because it is open on Shabbat.)
A cowshed that once was used as a training camp for pre-state Jewish defense organizations was thoroughly renovated recently and is now the home of the 1922 restaurant. Chef Oded Shoval has put together a menu that is based mainly on meat accompanied by sophisticated first courses. The restaurant is located in the heart of the "chicken coop path," which has become the kibbutz’s main recreational area; today it is full not of chickens but of small stores selling art, food, and wine produced in the Galilee (Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, Tel. (04) 694-6646, not kosher).
Nahalim is a gourmet restaurant located on the banks of the Hatzbani River and is the ideal place for a romantic meal for two. The menu is varied, with many excellent seafood and fish dishes (Gan Hatzafon, Tel. (04) 690-4875, not kosher).

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Day 1: The Galilee Panhandle

Take Route 90 north to Kiryat Shemona. Take 99 to the turnoff to the Dan Nature Reserve. Walk along the water route and follow the path through the trees to the “high place at Dan” – the famous altar that delineated the borders of Israel. Drive back to Kiryat Shemona and take Route 90 to the south. A kilometer and a half after the Koah Junction, turn left on to the road leading to the Hula Agamon. This is an attempt to revive the Hula swamp that was drained in the 1950s. The swamp isn’t back yet, but the wildlife is – including water fowl in the hundreds of thousands. Continue south to Rosh Pina and end the day with a walk through the old village and a stop at one of the many coffee houses or restaurants.

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Day 2: Kabbalah and Sages

Begin in Safed with an orientation seminar on Jewish mysticism. Visit the medieval synagogues of Safed and tour the Hassidic yeshivas in the old city. Tour the ancient cemetery of Safed, where holy men, rabbis, and mystics are buried.  After lunch, take the road to Biriya and continue to the Biriya forest. Follow the signs to the grave of Raban Yonatan ben Uziel, a famous second-century mystic whose grave is a magnet for shiduch seekers. Take the road back to the Bat Ya’ar ranch for dinner.

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Day 3: The Western Galilee

Take Route 89 to the Meron Junction. Continue on Route 89 by turning right at the junction to the approach road to Mount Meron. Drive up to the summit and take the summit path around the mountain (a 40-minute walk) to enjoy views of the Galilee, Golan, and Lebanon. Return to Route 89 and continue through the Druze village of Hurfeish to Ma’alot and Nahariya on the coast. Take Route 4 north to the grottos of Rosh Hanikra. Then double back to Achziv for a swim (May to November). Drive down to Acre to explore the old Crusader town.

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Day 4: The Sea of Galilee

Take Route 90 to Tiberias. Stop at the Hamat synagogue just south of the town. Continue on 90 to Deganiya and tour the Deganiya Courtyard, where the first kibbutz was founded. Drive to Sha’ar Hagolan to visit the unique museum on prehistory. Drive to Ein Gev for lunch. Continue north on Route 92 past Kursi, where a Byzantine church was found commemorating the healing of the Gerasene demoniac. Take Route 87 west. Cross the Jordan River. On the other side are the important Christian sites of Capernaum, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes. Stop off at Capernaum to view the ancient synagogue and at Tabgha to see the mosaic. Take Route 90 to the north. At the Corazim Junction, turn off to reach the Vered Hagalil ranch, which serves the best pancakes and maple syrup in Israel.
(photo: Doron Horowitz)

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Day 5: Jerusalem

Start at the Tower of David Museum on the history of Jerusalem, by the Jaffa Gate. Walk down David Street. Turn left onto Christian Quarter Street and walk to the alley of Saint Helena that leads down to the Holy Sepulcher. Tour the churches around the Tomb of Jesus. Exit by the small doorway to the Muristan Market. Walk to the market street of Khan e-Zeit. Turn right and walk down the ancient Crusader markets. (The central one has less freshly butchered meat on display.) Turn left on David Street and make your way round the corner to Sisileh Street. Walk down the street to the street turning to the Kotel. After visiting the Kotel, take the Rabbi Yehudah Halevi steps up to the Jewish Quarter. Make your way to Zion Gate, walk out the gate, turn right, and walk back to the Jaffa Gate

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Day 6: Tel Aviv

Start in the south by exploring Jaffa’s flea market. Then take a taste of historic Tel Aviv by strolling through Neve Tzedek, Rothschild Boulevard, and the surrounding streets. Take a lunch break at one of the many cafes on Sheinkin Street and then check out the shops there and along Dizengoff Street. End the day with dinner on Ibn Gabirol Street.

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 Bayit Bagalil

Bayit Bagalil is a stylish, exclusive boutique hotel that is located in the heart of the Biriya Forest, between Safed and Amuka. The hotel, which is built of Jerusalem stone and extends over some eight acres, was established in 2002 by businessman Richard Cohen, who aspires to establish a chain of boutique hotels in Israel that will indulge their guests in a generous and tranquil Mediterranean atmosphere. And indeed, the furnishings and decorative items that were collected from all over the world create a distinctly indulgent atmosphere with a pastoral touch and a warm, homey feel. The 26 suites all have an amazing view of the Galilee landscape. The presidential suite also has a large terrace, king-size bed, private jacuzzi, and more. A variety of health and beauty treatments, from facials to massages, are offered in the beautiful, well-equipped spa, whose facilities include a fitness center, sauna, and lounging and reading areas. Bayit Bagalil also has a wine cellar, a bar, and a restaurant, which serves homemade delicacies, gourmet dishes, and Galilean wine. The surrounding forest is also worth exploring, either on foot or on a bicycle borrowed from the hotel for no extra charge.

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Copyright ERETZ Magazine 2008