Author: Meyers, Carole Terwilliger
Date published: May 10, 2012
Journal code: JWEX
Who knew that Nazareth would be clogged with traffic jams rivaling those in Mexico City?
I arrived expecting donkeys to slow us down, but saw nary a one of those. And I wasn't expecting exceptional cuisine here, either, but there are more than a few highly rated dining spots. One place I was lucky enough to experience: Tishreen (www.tishreen.co.il), a favorite of my tour group's guide. (He just gives the owners a budget and says, "Spoil me.") Owned by two Arab men, this serene spot serves Palestinian cuisine, making use of a large stone oven left by the previous tenant, an Italian restaurant, to prepare their dishes.
Among the delicious plates we sampled were stuffed mushrooms, eggplant and cauliflower salads, a brilliant lemony-mint tabouli that was delightfully heavy on the parsley and a spectacular hummus.
From the oven came flat kofta meat patties, Arab pizza (chicken and caramelized onions on flat bread), and Tishreen's signature coffee chicken.
In nearby Capernaum, I viewed a 2,000-year-old Galilee fishing boat (from the 1st century C.E.) that was discovered a decade ago buried in the Sea of Galilee mud. Nicknamed the "Jesus Boat," it is displayed in a protected environment in the new Yigal Alon Center (wwwjesusboat.com), where it is still undergoing conservation.
After this bit of seafaring history, we continued the nautical theme by dining in town at St. Peter Fish & Grill Restaurant (www.kfar-nahom.co.il). Not only does this large and popular eatery overlook the iconic Sea of Galilee, but visitors here dine at long tables on an assortment of shared salads as well as the restaurant's own whole farmed tilapia-an experience that connected us with those who have fished the Galilee for millennia.
One of the most enjoyable places to stay in the region is the Hotel Mizpe HaYamim (www.mizpe-hayamim.com). Located in the Upper Galilee at the foot of Mount Canaan, near the artists' colony of Rosh Pina and the Kabbalah city of Sefad (and rumored to have hosted celebrity Madonna), this romantic resort/health retreat is spread over 37 acres. It opened in 1968, when the surrounding land was mostly barren, hot desert. Today, the grounds are so lush that they have been likened to an oasis, with fragrant gardens, walking paths and ponds.
Mizpe HaYamim is also well-known for its organic fruit and vegetable gardens as well as an organic dairy farm, with herds of sheep, goats, cows and chickens. Because the soil is considered sacred, no one poisons it with pesticides, and special rock mounds in the vegetable garden attract and protect insect eaters.
The 30-acre organic farm grows 100 different vegeta bles, 70 kinds of fruit and, in spring, provides the setting for an amazing bloom of wildflowers.
Each guest room at the resort has a unique decor, heavy on English style. Mine had a large bathroom with vintage white marble floors, a pull-chain toilet and pedestal sink, and an oversize whirlpool tub with separate glass-walled shower. Rooms are spread between the main building and four other stone buildings. Oriental rugs and charm reign throughout, and a central atrium holds a seven-story-tall Washington palm tree that hugs the ceiling.
There are plenty more reasons to never leave the grounds, including the property's dining options. The Vegetarian Restaurant also serves fresh fish from the Sea of Galilee, while Muscat Restaurant offers refined dining and menu items such as beetroot ravioli filled with goat cheese and hazelnut oil, and organic duck with pomegranate caramel sauce with five-passion spices and organic vegetables. The morning breakfast buffet is beautiful, bountiful, and an organic delight.
A daily activity program includes classes and tours like breadmaking, a healing workshop and a guided farm.
The hotel has been at the leading edge of ecotourism and sustainability here for almost 40 years. The house bakery makes everything 11 fresh daily, and the dairy I provides all the organic ι dairy foods and some meats.
And what would all of that delicious food be without the accompaniment of world-class wines? One of Israel's largest and best-regarded wineries, Golan Heights Winery in Katzrin (www.golanwines.co.il), opened in 1983 and was the first to make quality unboiled kosher wines. It now also makes ice wine when "the weather is smiling" - a beautiful way of saying that the temperature has fallen enough for the grapes to form the ice crystals necessary to make the sweet wine. A rabbi is always on the premises, and while we were there he was busy tallying and making change.
Yarden Wines is Golan Heights' premium line, and the top wine is the Yelden cabernet sauvignon, although the winery's Katzrin Chardonnay has also won its fair share of gold medals. Costing about $10, Yelden Mt. Hermon Red is the most popular inexpensive vin ordinaire in Israel. Additionally, the winery recently won the title of "Best Winery in World" at a festival in Italy - and Madonna shops here! (You can order Golan Heights wines through the LCB).
Should you find yourself visiting Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, consider taking this detour to the north. Because Israel is such a small country, driving time will be less than two hours, making for a very easy side trip and some delicious memories.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers is the author of Weekend Adventures in San Frcincisco & Northern California and "Travels with Carole," ablog, www. travelswithcarole. blogspot .com.