About 265 miles from north to south, Israel lends itself to a two-week itinerary by chauffeur-driven car. Of course, you can drive yourself — the roads are marked in English as well as in Hebrew and Arabic — but some cities, such as Nazareth, are extremely congested. Also, if you want to cross into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank — to Bethlehem, for instance — assistance is essential. Despite routine mayhem in the Middle East, Israel seldom feels like a country in crisis. Here the abnormal is quite normal, so people just get on with daily life. Tel Aviv sprouts skyscrapers, the high-tech and financial industries continue to boom and a dynamic economy has created an accelerating demand for new hotels, resorts and restaurants of an international standard.
Airport Security Concierge
The first hurdle to be negotiated on trips to Israel is airport and airline security. I had been advised to sign up for a concierge service to facilitate my passage through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. There I was met at the door of the airplane by a smartly suited representative; less than 30 minutes later, I was leaving the airport in the company of my guide. On my return, I was whisked through in less time than would normally be required at an American domestic terminal. In short, the money for the concierge service is worth every cent, so do not even consider denying yourself this small luxury.
The Rich History of Galilee
To explore northern Galilee requires a minimum of three full days. The Sea of Galilee itself is 13 miles long, surrounded by hills and serenely beautiful. Mandatory stops in the area include Safed, one of four holy cities of Israel, today an artists’ colony and the principal center for the study of Kabbalah; Tel Dan, where the ruins of an ancient Canaanite city include mud-brick walls and a gateway dating from the time of Abraham (circa 1750 B.C.); and Capernaum, where remains believed to be part of St. Peter’s simple house are now covered by a Roman Catholic church. Nowadays the western flanks of the Golan Heights, below 9,232-foot Mount Hermon, are one of the chief wine-producing areas of Israel.
The Riches of the Judean Desert
To the east of Jerusalem, the land falls away abruptly into the Judean Desert, a grand “Lawrence of Arabia” landscape bounded by the distant mountains of Jordan. Beside the Dead Sea are the caves at Qumran, where the eponymous scrolls were discovered in 1946. Overlooking the southwestern shore is the dramatic rock plateau of Masada, where it is possible to ascend the 1,300-foot cliffs by cable car.
A Dining Favorite in Jerusalem
My favorite restaurant in Jerusalem is the lively Machneyuda (10 Beit Ya’akov Street) with its open kitchen.
Where to Eat on Shabbat
On Shabbat, many restaurants close. If I find myself in Jerusalem, I invariably head to The Arabesque in The American Colony Hotel, which serves gourmet renditions of Levantine classics.
To phone hotels in Israel, dial 011 (international access) + 972 (Israel code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
The long summer is dominated by hot, dry air from the Arabian Desert to the east. From October to April, low-pressure systems sweep in from the Mediterranean.
Seven hours ahead of New York (EST).
New shekel (ILS).Fluctuating rate valued at ILS3.63 = US$1.00 as of April 2019. Note: All of our suggested hotels quote rates in US$.
Jerusalem, Tel. (972) 2-630-4000.