Beautiful Northern Israel: Ein Hod, Nir Etzion, and Zichron Yaakov
Like I always say when we leave Jerusalem — I love leaving and I love coming back. Living in Jerusalem, for the most part is wonderful with the ancient stones and the Jewish flavor. But at times, I’ve seen one too many ancient ruins and I’m ready to see some greenery and breathtaking views. So we went north. I thought about renting a car, but opted for the 2 hour bus ride instead so we could sit back and relax. Here’s how to use the Egged online bus schedule if you need it. For those who are members of the “I love driving” team, of which I am not, here’s a list of rental car websites in Israel:
Once we arrived in Haifa, we took a short 15 minute bus ride from Haifa to our hotel in Nir Etzion. We stayed in Nir Etzion for a few reasons – it was kosher, it was a good location smack dab between Haifa and Zichron Yaakov and because we had purchased a “deal” from Chufsha Chalomit (Dream Vacation) where you get 3 nights, 4 days (weekdays only) at one of the listed hotels for half price. You also need to pay a separate sum of money for the deal. So in the end, the “frayer (sucker) deal” only saved us a few hundred shekels, but it did get us out of the house and up north.
Nir Etzion is a religious Yishuv and feels very much like a kibbutz, with a cow shed and mini zoo (I hesitate to say petting zoo due to the monkeys, anteaters, eagles and other animals I’m not sure I’d like to pet). We were upgraded to a garden room which was like a tzimmer – a ground floor room that looked like our own little cottage. We considered going swimming and asked when the pool is open. They gave us a time sheet with separate men and women’s hours. I whispered to the concierge, feeling naughty, are there mixed swimming times for me and my husband? Yes, of course, we just don’t tell people unless they ask. Scandalous!
But most of all, I looked forward to the all you can eat Israeli breakfast. And Nir Etzion did not disappoint. Breakfast was delicious by the heapfuls, complete with pancakes, 20 different kinds of cheese, croissants, coffee machines, omelettes, and shakshuka to your heart’s desire.
After we made our bellies happy, we waddled down the road from Nir Etzion to the wonderful Ein Hod artist village tucked away like a well-kept secret. In Ein Hod, you can take an official tour of the village and get access to all the artist’s galleries and participate in pottery and tshirt silkscreening. However, the tour was a little pricey for just the 2 of us (~200 shekels) so we decided to give ourselves a tour and meet artists on our own. We wandered in an out of the winding streets, enjoying the beautiful flowers, sculptures and views and occasionally stumbling across an artist’s gallery.
We met second generation artists who had preserved their father’s easel setup, complete with paints, brushes, and chair. A little creepy if you ask me since it looked like it was set for him to return any second, but very authentic. We met bronze sculptors who told us about their upcoming exhibitions and showed us bulls made out of bronze. And, when we couldn’t get access to the artists themselves, we made sure to peek into their studios at every chance. There was one studio with a broken window, so of course I carefully slipped my hand and camera inside and took this amazing shot of a glassblower’s studio:
The streets were so windy and roundabout, that any time we’d see a sign, we’d follow it until we got to the destination. It didn’t matter much what the sign said, but we knew if we followed it for long enough, we’d eventually end up somewhere. So, one of the signs we followed was to a pottery workshop. Having seen this on the website, I thought it would be fun to make a mug, paint it and take it home. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we were greeted by native English speakers who told us that the workshop is just to make the pottery but you have to leave it there. So you have to pay 40 shekel or so, make pottery, and then leave it. Forget it. So we turned around to start following the signs back to the Ein Hod entrance when the pottery lady told me that there was a small English bookshop next door. I perked up and we frolicked, or at least I did, to the bookshop. Well, I think it may win the award for smallest bookshop ever. It did have a few good books, but in the end I left empty handed.
Unfortunately, Ein Hod, as tourist-friendly as it is, didn’t exactly cater to kosher tourists — there was not a single kosher eatery to be found among the restaurants and coffee shops. Luckily, we had stuffed rolls, yogurts, and pastries in our pockets before leaving the hotel. But if stuffing gooey items in your pocket is not your style, Nir Etzion has a food packaging company where you can get take away.
15 minutes south of Nir Etzion is Zichron Yaakov, a beautiful, quaint town with a cute-as-a-button midrachov (main pedestrian mall), wineries, and vineyards. And also apparently a Ner-o-mat: yahrtzeit candle vending machines (what?!)
We also took a tour of the Carmel WInery, one of the largest wineries in Israel. I called ahead of time to make reservations to join up with a group tour since we were only 2 people. However, when we arrived, no one else showed up so we had a private tour! We learned so much about how the winery started and what the differences are between wines, and of course got to do a fabulous taste testing. Did you know that red wine can be made from green or purple grapes or both and same for white wine! It’s all just a matter of how long the skin stays on (and a lot more I’m sure, but that’s what I understood).
All in all, a wonderful trip!
What’s your off the beaten path Israel travel recommendation? I’d love to get some ideas for our next trip.