Our airbnb host Guy came over on Sunday to do some work and he suggested that we explore the north and east of Israel by driving along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, saying that it is very beautiful and interesting. He also gave us some specific suggestions of things to see, so we rented a car and headed out on Tuesday morning March 20. We drove north along the Mediterranean, a trip that we have taken a number of times by now, but this time we continued all the way to the Lebanese border and the kibbutz of Rosh HaNikra. On the way we passed the Bahá’í gardens in Acre and ran in for a look. The gardens are very nice and beautiful but not nearly as impressive or meticulously maintained as the much larger gardens in Haifa. (See our blog on Haifa)
We also passed another long section of aqueducts just out of Acre. As we arrived in Rosh HaNikra we saw a sign for grottoes and decided to check them out. What a spectacular find. Apparently this is the only part of the Israeli Mediterranean coast where the mountains extend into the sea without a flat sandy beach.
This very small section of coast, only a few hundred meters really, is composed of beautiful white chalk cliffs which have been eroded by the pounding of the waves over thousands of years forming grottoes and caves in the rock.
The only access used to be by the sea but there is now a cable car which takes visitors down to the grottoes. The cable car has a 60 degree gradient and is advertised as the steepest in the world. The grottoes themselves have been connected by a very well done tunnel with handrail and lights. We were completely alone exploring these grottoes and caves. The sea was relatively calm but there was still a lot of excitement and noise with the water moving in and out. We can only imagine how loud, spectacular and WET it would be during stormy weather. We really enjoyed our visit to Rosh HaNikra and what made it even more memorable was that we were only meters from the Lebanese border.
After the grottoes we headed east along the Israel Lebanon border on route 899 which parallels the border for 63 kilometers. We are just utterly amazed at the changing landscapes of this country from the barren mountainous deserts in the south to the lush greenery, mountains and fertile plains of the north. Spring is in full swing here with wildflowers and blooming trees and orchards everywhere.
The road meandered up and down the mountains and across the valleys just assaulting us with spectacular views and landscapes. We tripped across another nice find at Tel Kedesh one of the largest and most important ancient mounds in the Galilee, which was inhabited from the Bronze age to the Roman period.
It was one of six Biblical refuge cities named in the Bible. We wandered this site all by ourselves about an hour before sunset and had our first viewing of Mount Hermon from here, the highest point in Israel.
We decided to stay in Metula for the night and Sandy found a boutique bed and breakfast hotel with great reviews. When we arrived in Metula, a mountain side village of around 1,500 population, the place looked deserted. There are a number of hotels as this is apparently a summer mountain resort. We stopped by The Lishansky Boutique Hotel and Restaurant only to find it locked up and apparently closed for the season. Jim called the number listed online reaching the owner who was thirty minutes away. She said that she was open and would be there soon. We had drinks and dinner at one of only two open restaurants, a Texas style steakhouse playing American country & western music. As usual, the food was memorable. We checked into our Bauhaus B & B as the only guests for the night. It was simple, clean and comfortable. We had a great breakfast and conversation the next morning with the owner.
Day two of this road trip was a continuation of unbelievably spectacular ever changing scenery, views, landscapes and the lushness, beauty and colors of Spring in northern Israel. Sandy was shooting pictures out of the car window for most of the day and we were both oohing and aahing over views. We left Metula heading for the highest point in Israel, Mount Hermon which is on the borders of Lebanon, Israel and Syria. Jim tried taking the back road up which skirts the Lebanon border but it was closed due to military activity. We did end up on the outskirts of Ghajar village which sits on the border of Israel, Lebanon & Syria.
It is a beautiful, picturesque town inhabited by Alawites which we did not attempt to enter as there was a checkpoint prior to entering. We did get to the Mt. Hermon ski resort which looked out of place on this dry arid mountain top. There were scores of Asian tourists taking the chair lift to the top though.
Descending the mountain we stopped at the Druse village of Majdal Shams which is in the foothills of Hermon. Descending even further we stopped for an hour long self guided tour of Nimrod’s fortress which is the largest and most impressive surviving medieval Muslim fortress in Israel.
We then headed south on the Golan Heights along the Syrian border with rolling green mountains and lush agricultural lands containing Almond orchards, vineyards and olive groves.
We went through the Valley of Tears which is is the name given to an area in the Golan Heights after it became the site of a major battle in the 1973 Yom Kippur war which was fought between 6 and 9 October. Although massively outnumbered, the Israeli forces managed to hold their positions and on the fourth day of the battle the Syrians withdrew, just as the Israeli defenses were almost at the point of collapse. We passed quite a few rusted out tanks and some war memorials.
At the southern end of the Golan Heights we descended a steep hair pinned road to Hamat Gader which is the sight of a hot springs resort in a corner of Israel just adjacent to the border with Jordan and Syria.
Even though it was now late in the day we decided to give the hot springs a try. After entering we found it to be a very large resort facility. Sandy asked a person in a passing golf cart for directions and he ended up giving us at least a one hour tour of the facility in his cart. They have over 300 alligators and crocodiles, a small zoo and quite a few exotic birds with daily bird shows. He finally dropped us off at the hot springs only to return a few minutes later to help us obtain towels and robes. Turns out he was the buyer for the whole resort.
We enjoyed at least a 30 minute soak in the warm sulfurous water before showering and heading home.
We arrived in northern Tel Aviv only to find terrible traffic jams due to an all women’s road race which Sandy had thought about running. By the time Jim dropped Sandy off and found a parking garage almost a mile from our apartment it was well after 9pm. At 11:15 we heard loudspeakers in the street below us and found that the police had blocked off a portion of our street and were not allowing any cars, buses or pedestrians to proceed. They then downloaded their bomb detonating robot and donned protective gear. The robot set off down the street to our local bus stop and proceeded to set off a series of small explosions. Meanwhile the out door diners at our closest restaurant did not even move but just kept on enjoying their evening.
We find it ironic to return home after touring the supposedly dangerous borders of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan only to find out that the police are detonating a suspicious package 50 meters from our front door.