When you think of Israel, a vast treasure trove of historic and religious sights undoubtedly comes to mind. But this small country is home to some of the world’s most stunning natural beauty, the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else.
Here, quiet villages are tucked away in fertile valleys. Mountains rise from plains and rocky cliffs soar to the heavens. Starkly beautiful deserts are dotted with Bedouin tents. And serene lakes stretch out like small seas. Throughout Discovery Tours’ Israel, Ancient & Modern Culture trip, you can witness this magnificence firsthand.
The Road to Galilee
The rocky terrain of Galilee seems to stretch into eternity. Dappled in wide swathes of green and soaring to summits of up to 3,800 feet, it’s a breathtaking canvas adorned with streams and flower-laden fields. The climate of this fertile region supports a large variety of flora and wildlife. The Hula Valley Nature Reserve especially thrives with life, including many birds that stop here to rest from their migration between Africa and cooler climates to the north. In one of nature’s most spectacular displays, tens of thousands of cranes pass through here as they make their way from Finland to Ethiopia every winter.
In the west of Galilee on the Mediterranean Coast, white chalk cliffs spill into the sea. Over millennia, the crashing surf has carved a network of spectacular grottoes dimly lit by the sparkle of azure waters. These Rosh HaNikra caves, Hebrew for “head of the grottoes,” are a mysterious and magical place, a maze of subterranean passageways untouched by humankind for ages until divers began exploring them. Today, a cable car lowers you to the grotto entrance, and it is well worth a visit.
From sea level to mountaintop, Mount Bental rises in the eastern region of the Golan Heights. In Arabic, it is sometimes known as the “Mountain of Lust,” so it might not surprise you that it was once an active volcano. Now dormant—as are the other peaks of this mountain chain—it provides incredible views of the Golan Heights and the surrounding region. The volcanic soils have made this a fertile pocket of Israel. Farming communities, kibbutzim, and wineries dot the landscape, and Discovery Tours visits one of them—the delightfully welcoming Golan Heights Winery—to sample some of the local vintages.
The tranquil Sea of Galilee is the focal point of this beautiful region. Contrary to its name, it is a freshwater lake fed by underground springs and by the Jordan River from the north. Aside from its beauty, it has a lot to boast about. It is Israel’s largest and the world’s lowest freshwater lake. What’s more, it is the site of several miracles of Jesus. He is said to have walked on these fabled waters, and to have transformed five loaves and fishes into a feast for thousands here on these shores.
A Sea Full of Salt and a Massive Mesa
Unlike the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea is very much full of salt. So much salt, in fact, that it is impossible to sink in its waters. This is the lowest point of land on earth—1,315 feet below sea. This fascinating body of water is more than nine times as salty as the ocean, creating an environment that cannot support animals, hence its name.
But it is a geographic curiosity for a host of other reasons. With the Jordan River its only significant source of water and with no outlet, tiny springs have formed underneath its shore, resulting in pools and quicksand pits. Further, with so much salt and relatively little water, intriguingly shaped salt deposits form on the shores as water evaporates, from thick multi-layered blankets to tiny pearl-like pebbles, all of them sculpted over millennia. If you’re not completely smitten with the geology of the Dead Sea, then its buoyancy is sure to put a smile on your face. Merely step in, lie back, and relax to enjoy nature’s only flotation device.
Nearby, a giant rocky plateau rises from the Judean Desert. This is Masada, and its magnificent setting helped to shape history. So commanding are the views from atop this mesa—some of its cliffs are 1,300 feet high—Herod the Great built his fortress here just a few decades before Christ. Who can blame him? The vistas of the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert are spectacular. But not everything was serene and beautiful in Herod’s day. When the Roman Empire attacked at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War, 960 Jewish rebels are said to have thrown themselves off the cliffs rather than surrender to Rome.
We invite you to surrender to the natural beauty and irresistible allure of Israel.
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