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Returning to Nature in Israel
Rural Tourism Ideal for Roving Families

View of Eilat

Life can be hectic, especially for families whose quotidian pace seems relentless: Kids getting ready for school, parents working all day, everyone fulfilling social obligations outside the household, and all members busy meeting (or avoiding) family obligations. Families don’t just need a break. Today’s crew require a getaway that promises renewal, tranquility, intimacy with nature and stimulating outdoor activities.

Offering an excellent alternative from the everyday, Israel delivers fresh views, off-the-beaten-path places and plenty of activities that are fun, educational and memorable. About the size of the state of New Jersey, Israel as a whole is temperate but dry (cooler in the north, warmer in the south). Its main cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, are equally vibrant yet very different from each other. But there are many places beyond these two thriving metropolises, that are worthy of a second look.

Storehouse at Caesarea

This back-to-nature style of travel requires getting around in a car or a mini-van, so that your family can go its own way—where and when you want. The country is a breeze to negotiate, but whatever your route you’ll need to hydrate regularly and apply sunscreen. Inland Israel and its coastal regions are gorgeous, so don’t forget your camera. Take as much time as possible along these roads less traveled. They not only lead to a side of Israel that’s marvelous and at the same time unexpected, but they’ll afford your family plenty of bragging rights.

Caesarea is stone-cold cool. Literally. This national historic monument, built from ancient rocks and carved stone, served in Roman times as a port town and summer home for King Herod. The ruins are impressive—remnants of the world’s largest harbor (at the time), a hippodrome and an amphitheater (where concerts are still held today). Inside the visitors’ center, both kids and adults will enjoy the life-size holograms that materialize to tell about the site’s history at the push of a button. For more information, visit www.caesarea.org.il.

Look up at the hills from the harbor and you’ll see what remains of seventeen miles of an ancient aqueduct that supplied water to Caesarea. Flip the ‘scope and twenty minutes later you’re looking back at the harbor from the aqueduct’s mountain origins. The tunnel walk at Alona Park is a world unto itself. Although only one short segment is navigable by the public, the 2,000-year-old tunnels that sourced the aqueduct’s water supply have been lovingly and meticulously restored. Inside the approximately four-foot-wide and five-foot-high carved walls, you’ll have to wade through water—waist-high at certain points and crystal clear. There’s even a natural spring you can drink from. The water is cool and sweet, a rarity in this toxic day and age. Call 04-638-8622 or email meykedem@hotmail.co.il for more info.

Horseback riding at Mechora ranch

After you’ve changed into dry shoes and cargo shorts, mosey on over to the Haifa area where Mechora ranch offers authentic horseback riding excursions. The ranch keeps a stable of geldings, mares and stallions suitable for every rider. This hilly green area is lush, expansive, quiet and ideal for exploring on horseback. The trail guides are young and knowledgeable and encourage you to break into a gallop on the spare paths that cut through the underbrush, up the mountainside and back down again. Resident dogs that dip in and out of sight having their own fun following the pack and add to the enjoyment of this terrific family activity. Visit www.mechora.co.il or call 04-9842735 or 04-9841843 for information.

Time to get wet again by rafting the Jordan River. Don a life jacket, grab a partner and you’re off on a glassy, swirling green surface that pulls you past rocks, through eddies and by steep banks overhung with tree branches that make good hiding places for turtles. Once you get the hang of paddling your kayak, navigating the Jordan isn’t that hard—until you reach the rapids. Yes, you’ll get wet and slip and slide a bit, but the white waters are not at all severe. Besides, letting go is all part of the fun. For more information about Jordan River Rafting, visit www.zimmer.co.il or call 011-972-4-6934622.

A rafting trip down the Jordan River

Eilat, Israel’s premier seaside resort town, lies at the southern tip of the country at the edge of the Red Sea. The town is completely laid-back, yet surging with visitors in beachy attire and out for a day of surf and sun. Here, even strolling aimlessly is a good time. Definitely try the parasailing, safe for everyone “from three to 103” according to the sign at Eilat ParasailingThe skipper and first mate have everything under control and impart a sense of security as you rise up beneath your parachute canopy as much as 240 feet over the ocean’s surface. After the first adrenaline rush, a strange sense of calm takes over. Yes, you really are that high up, and, yes, those are indeed thousands of milky jellyfish drifting in the sea below. Other water activities, including paddle boat rides and banana float pulls, are provided by Flamingo. For more information and reservations, go to www.yachteilat.co.il or call 052-4489998 or 08-6315919.

Just beyond Eilat’s city limits, the Coral World Underwater Observatory makes for a super afternoon of family together time, and is filled with marine exhibits and interesting niches. Check out the bio-luminous exhibit and the IMAX interactive film on the Dead Sea. Best of all, perhaps, is the park’s absence of merchandising. You won’t end up going home with extraneous and expensive ball caps, key chains and tee shirts. Go to  www.coralworld.co.il for complete information.

Aquarium at the Coral Water Underwater Observatory
Possibly the biggest plus to these activities is that they haven’t been overly managed the way some places are in the U.S. You don’t have to sign a release form, you’re not frustrated by too many people (except for Eilat, there are surprisingly few crowds), and you don’t have to suffer through a lot of lecturing or instructions. All you have to do is get on the horse and start riding. Or enter the tunnel and begin wading. Or step into your harness and lift off—simply, easily and, most of all, enjoyably. It’s the way every place should be.

Going to Israel? Check out our Guide

* Images courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.com), www.mechora.co.il, www.zimmer.co.il and www.coralworld.co.il.

PLH082207
(Updated: 07/02/08 HC)

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