Will Hide finds this pint-sized country packs a punch
What do Tom Cruise, Daniel Radcliffe, Nicki Minaj and the state of Israel have in common?
They’re all small – but offer big possibilities.
If you put Israel inside England, it would only stretch from Dorset to Teesside, and at its widest point from the Welsh borders to the East Midlands.
Pocket-sized it may be, but there is so much you can do; whether you’re into culture, a beach lover, foodie, mountain biker, spa junkie – the list almost goes further than the country.
ADVENTURE: ACTION STATION
Let’s face it, many clients these days want more than just to lounge by the pool with a pina colada and a dog-eared Jackie Collins.
Yes, it’s nice to come home with a tan, but they also want the bragging rights of an amazing hike to see the sunrise, mountain biking through the desert or scuba diving with rays or dolphins.
They can do all of these, and more, in Israel.
If hiking or mountain biking is their thing, the Negev desert provides a stunning backdrop with awesome canyons and ravines to explore. Remind them to take plenty of water and follow local safety guidelines, however, as temperatures can soar above 40C in summer.
It’s been said that the best guide book to the region isn’t Lonely Planet or Berlitz but the Bible and if you want to get a historical perspective, then advise clients to walk along the Jesus Trail (jesustrail.com), a 40-mile-long path from Nazareth to Capernaum. Ramblers Worldwide offers walking holidays, and Worldwide Christian Travel (christian-travel.com) and Pax Travel (paxtravel.co.uk) can tailor-make pilgrimages here and to Jerusalem.
For less energetic visitors, suggest a jeep tour around the Sea of Galilee or, from Eilat, see points of interest from the back of a camel, for half a day or a sunset tour, followed by dinner in a Bedouin tent (www1.camel-ranch.co.il).
Eilat, at the southern end of the country, also makes a great year-round base for snorkelling and scuba diving above the colourful, multi-shaped reefs that lie offshore. Longwood Holidays (longwoodholidays.co.uk) has a range of options here.
BEACH: THREE SEAS
If you want to feel the sand between your toes Israel has three seas at your disposal so clients can go Red, Dead or Med.On the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv combines the vibes of Miami, Sydney, Barcelona and New York with its own distinct flavours. It’s got hip clubs, cafes, bars, restaurants and shopping topped off with miles of golden, sandy beaches where people laze in the sun, jog or play seemingly endless games of matkot (beach tennis).
The city is a great bet for clients who want an urban getaway with fantastic nightlife that has the added bonus of superb beaches alongside.
For a weekend chill-out, hire bikes to ride along by the sea to Jaffa for some of the best houmous you’ll ever taste, book ahead for brunch within sight of the breaking waves at Manta Ray (mantaray.co.il) or browse in the trendy boutiques of the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood.
A new Ritz-Carlton property is opening in Tel Aviv later this year, the first of that chain in Israel. Situated in the Herzliya district, it will have 197 rooms as well as a rooftop pool, spa and beach access (see Hotel Developments box).
For a more holistic experience visitors could try staying by the Dead Sea – its high salt and mineral content means it’s well known for the therapeutic properties that can help ailments such as psoriasis. Not to mention just being great fun bobbing about on the surface for that “here’s me floating while reading a book” Instagram shot.
There’s also the chance to coat oneself head to toe in oozing mud from the shoreline – but clients be warned, they’ll be finding it in the most unexpected nooks and crannies for weeks to come!
Israel’s best known seaside resort, though, is Eilat, far south enough to be a comfortable option for winter. If clients just want to drop and flop by the Red Sea, fine, but for the more active there’s a host of things to do from desert jeep safaris, scuba diving, watersports and lots of tasty eating choices, or even a day trip to Petra in neighbouring Jordan. Superstar Holidays (superstar.co.uk) has a range of packages.
CULTURE: SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
Archaeologists have established that people were living at what is now Jerusalem as far back as the fourth millennium BC – that’s an awful lot of history. It goes without saying, as a monumentally-important hub for Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, it’s a place that is absolutely dripping with significance for all their followers.
Even if you are not particularly religious you can’t help but become swept up in the spirituality, whether it’s walking along the Via Dolorosa, observing at the Wailing Wall or walking along the Mount of Olives.
Direct clients to the new, free downloadable smartphone app for the Old City that offers 16 self-guided walking tours along with interactive maps, videos and photos (itraveljerusalem.com).
The best part of a whole day could be spent at the incredibly moving Yad Vashem (yadvashem.org), Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the Second World War.
An operator such as Kirker (kirkerholidays.com) can organise a long weekend for clients here as well as providing local guides.
Not for nothing is Israel called the Land of Milk and Honey – although perhaps today that should be the land of wine and falafel too.
For those who are into their wine, the fact that Israel offers hundreds of vineyards may come as a surprise, but you’ll find them on the Golan Heights, Caesarea, the Ayalon Valley and near Haifa. Even in the Negev Desert, drip-irrigation has made the growing of grapes possible, so you’re never far from a cheeky tipple to toast the holiday.
One thing that often springs to mind when people think of Israel is a kibbutz (the plural is kibbutzim, if you’re up for a game of Scrabble any time soon) and several have geared themselves up for tourism.
One of the best is Ein Gedi (ein-gedi.co.il), which is just a short shuttle-bus away from the Dead Sea, bordered by spectacularly rugged mountains and also a good base if you want to do some hiking.
Its cafeteria offers some tasty meals including a humongous breakfast with especially delicious Israeli salads, which will fill you up for the whole day.
And just the kind of healthy thing you’ll want to eat if you want to be a slim megastar like Tom, Daniel and Nicki. It’s lights, camera, action, all the way in Israel, the small country with a huge amount to offer on holiday.
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