Israel: Cradle of Religions and Modern Oasis of the Middle East
At the intersection of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Israel has been the meeting point of cultures, empires, and religions since the advent of history. Nursery for Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Baha’i, the Holy Land invites you to submerge yourself in the abundance of its religious traditions. Before separating, Jews and Christians would have used the Roman synagogues around the Sea of Galilee. Both Christian pilgrims and tourists can explore places linked to the birth of Jesus (Bethlehem), his ministry (Nazareth and around the Sea of Galilee) and crucifixion (Jerusalem). For Muslims, only Mecca and Medina are more sacred than the Al-Haram ash-Sharif of Jerusalem (Temple Mount for Jews), perhaps the most disputed land on the planet.
Few countries have so much geographical variation in such a small space. The short distances allow you to relax on a Mediterranean beach one day, spend the next one afloat in the mineralized waters of the Dead Sea and on the other, dive in the Red Sea. Hikers can tour the country along the National Trail of Israel, soak in seasonal streams down to the Jordan, explore the oasis fed by springs and hidden in the arid cliffs above the Dead Sea, and admire the multicolored sandstone formations of the Makhtesh Ramon.
A spiritual center for three of the world’s major religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – Jerusalem is a place which measures its history in millennia and eons rather than centuries. The religious importance of the city draws visitors from all four corners of the globe, eager to walk in the footsteps of prophets, pray in buildings which were constructed by order of kings and caliphs, and drift to sleep in hospices where Crusaders and Cardinals have previously slumbered. Every block, every building, every blade of grass seems to hold particular significance in the city which lives and breathes to the soundtrack of bells, muezzin’s call, and the shofar. Discover the foundations of the Old City by exploring the Western Wall Tunnels and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Even for non-believers and skeptics, it’s difficult to resist the pure, unbridled faith and history found in this ancient city.
Tel Aviv is an always active, vibrant city, with fantastic nightlife, an exotic restaurant culture, and lovely weather all year round. Though relatively small in size, it is full of energy and feels like a much bigger city than it actually is. They call it “the city that never sleeps” for a reason! Tel Aviv attracts people of all kinds, from the bohemian artists to the savvy entrepreneurs. At the same time, it has some gorgeous beaches and a massive park to get lost in and relax from the buzz of the city. Famous for its long beaches, it is a wonderful place to catch some sun, go for a swim, and engage in water sports. Foodies will easily make Tel Aviv their second home. From trendy hipster brunch spots to top-level fine dining restaurants, cafes, bars, and bistros. The city is also famous for its markets: the colorful display of foods and spices, and the freshly squeezed juice make for an unforgettable experience.
The town where Jesus grew is a vibrant Arab city today. Its ancient and narrow alleys are graced with churches commemorating New Testament events and mansions of the Ottoman era. A new generation of restaurants has made the place a culinary star of Israel. Along with delicious traditional specialties, served with the usual Arabic hospitality, there are “fusion” dishes such as artichoke hearts with fresh herbs, and meat with wild pine nuts from Galilee.
After passing the “Sea level” sign, follow the wheel down the mountain until you see the cobalt blue waters of the Dead Sea, bordered by white salt deposits, reddish cliffs, and tufts of dark green vegetation. In the oasis of Ein Gedi, you can walk through steep canyons to pools of crystal clear waters and waterfalls, before climbing to the plateau of the Judean desert or down to the coast for a brackish and invigorating bath. To the south, on Mount Sodom, proposals such as cycling by dry riverbeds await. The Romans had just destroyed Jerusalem when a thousand Jewish Zealots took refuge on a remote plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. Looking down from its towering redoubt, you can still see eight Roman camps, connected by a wall of casemates.