Here are a couple of our top picks:
Ein Karem is an ancient village situated about twenty minutes outside of Jerusalem. In the Bible it was within the land of the tribe of Judah, and in the books of Jeremiah and Nehemiah it is referred to as “Beita Kerem”. According to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born in Ein Karem. Today we can therefore visit as many as five churches and monasteries in this small village; Visitation Church, The Notre Dame de Sion convent, the Greek Orthodox convent of St. John and the Al Moskovia Russian monastery. An additional site which those on a Christian heritage tour might like to visit is Mary’s Well, where according to Christian tradition Mary and Elizabeth sat together and drank from the spring waters, each of them miraculously pregnant with Jesus and John respectively. The quaint village of Ein Kerem is also close to the Hadassah hospital of Ein Kerem which is home to the beautiful stain glass windows of Chagal.
Abu Gosh is a fascinating and very friendly Christian Arab town, renowned throughout Israel for it’s outstanding Hummus! It is situation between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and is almost hidden among the turns and bends of the hilly scenery. The village was first settled over 6,000 years ago, and in the biblical period it was known as Kiryat Ye’arim and was a ceremonial center where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. In the Byzantine era Kiryat Yearim became a holy place and a church was built. During the Crusader period the village was ascribed as the place where Jesus revealed himself after his resurrection that is, Emmaus, and the Benedictine Monastery was built. The monastery is one of the most beautiful buildings preserved from the Crusader period and can still be visited during a Jerusalem or Tel Aviv tour. In more modern history, the village of Abu Ghosh tells a fascinating tale of Arab Israeli co-existence.
Beit Guvrin National Park consists of over 1000 acres of green hilly land. Scratch the surface and find a hard layer of ‘nari’ rock covering a layer of softer chalk. This geology has allowed people to build caves, and complex cave networks, for thousands of years. Underground ‘facilities’ at Beit Guvrin include dovecotes, burial chambers, storerooms and hideouts. A visit to Beit Guvrin means exploring plenty of caves and subterranean life, and also the ancient city of Tel Maresha which lies at the highest point in the park. Tel Maresha was fortified by the Judan King Rehoboam following an Egyptian attack on the region. The city probably reached its height of importance during the Hasmonean period when it was conquered by King John Hyrcanus who forced conversion on its inhabitants. In 2014 Beit Guvrin was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Beit Guvrin is also home to the Archaeological Dig for a Day project. The ‘Dig for a Day’ program is a special experience which allows you to dig in and get your hands dirty! This is a great activity for the whole family, with kids and adults each taking their own lessons from the experience. Based at Beit Guvrin, this activity lasts for about three hours and includes: digging, sifting, pottery examination and touring the National Park of Beit Guvrin with an exciting crawl through unexcavated cave systems.
Shaar HaGai is a highly recommended national park visit also in this area. In 1947 the State of Israel was on the precipice of creation, and war was already a reality between the Arabs and Jews who lived in British mandate Palestine. Jerusalem was under siege and the Jewish population was isolated from the rest of the Jewish people in the Land, hungry and without medicines or ammunition. Their survival depended on the ability of supply convoys manned by the nascent Jewish army and ordinary truck drivers and food producers who were willing to risk their lives for the survival of Jerusalem. The most terrifying part of the journey was here in the valley of Shaar HaGai where the road was overlooked by Arab villages who emptied their guns and threw their ammunition on the passing trucks. This national park uses advanced and interactive multimedia and the testimony of real people still here to tell the tale to remind us of the superhuman bravery and sacrifice exhibited by so many. You will also learn about how strategy changed over time and the siege was finally broken.
The Latrun Tanks Museum, or Armoured Corps Memorial, contains one of the largest collections of tanks in the world. Over 160 types of tanks are displayed, including the mighty Merkava tank – so named after the biblical chariots used by the ancient Israelites. The complex itself serves as a Memorial Site for the fallen soldiers of the Armored Corps in all of Israel’s military campaigns and as a Museum which presents different aspects of the world of the Armored Corps. Serving members of the IDF are on standby (during standard hours of operation) to answer questions about the tanks, and about their experiences in the IDF.
The area of the Jerusalem Hills is just twenty minutes outside of Jerusalem and you will amazed by how green and lush it is. The area is forested and (as its name suggests) rather hilly, and presents wonderful opportunities for hiking and hiding out in nature. As with just about everywhere else in Israel, the area is also smattered with biblical and historical sites, for example Tel Azeka sits inside the scenic Britannica park. This is the spot where David fought Goliath, the place has been beautifully maintained and excerpts from the book of Samuel are found ascending the Tel – so the visitor relives the story in the ancient words of the bible. This area is also home to many wineries so a day out can easily involve a little history and a little wine tasting and lunch. In many of the boutique wineries it is possible to meet the wine makers and to listen to their stories over a glass of wine and platter of fresh goat cheeses.
To summarize our trip in one word I would say… AMAZING. Perfectly planned and a GREAT guide.
David S, New York
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