Those fortunate enough to go on sightseeing trips to Israel’s far northern region during Pesach must have been impressed by the sheer beauty of areas in Israel’s northern Galilee and “panhandle” regions. On the last day of Pesach, we drove north, passing landmark cities such as Nazareth and Tzfat, as well as the Kinneret or Sea of Galilee. Being early spring, the entire region is still carpeted with green and covered with an array of wild flowers. The area this time of year is a far cry from what it looks like in mid to late summer the lush greenery of spring has turned to more somber colors of gold and brown.
We arrived in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona where we turned right on highway 99 to reach our first objective, the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, located east of Kibbutz Dan at the northern edge of the Hula Valley. The Reserve, covering 480 square dunam (120 acres) is well known as the source of the Dan River, one of the three sources of the Jordan. We took what is known as the long nature trail, which traversed part of the river in several places, and is a virtual paradise of plants and animals; many of which are not found anywhere else in Israel. The river, really a stream, was in its full glory with rapids and gushing of what appeared to be water fresh enough to drink from. The lush undergrowth almost hid the remains of a nearly disastrous fire which almost destroyed large sections of the reserve less than two years before. A number of small springs, which feed into the Dan were everywhere, and many of then literally appear from nowhere and disappear into “sinkholes” in the ground. In the middle of the nature trail is a large hollow tree which is known as the “pooh bear tree” as it resembles the home of the Winnie the Pooh children’s character.
Tel Dan contains remains of some of the oldest civilizations in Israel, some dating back more than 7,000 years. The area was home to both Canaanite and early Israelite settlements, including some connected with the House of David. In fact an inscription on a piece of tablet, from the 9th Century BCE, contains a victory message by King Hazael of Damascus “over the King of Israel and descendents of the House of David”. An excavated Israelite town, complete with entrance gate, is located there as well. From a lookout point, we could see a large section of the Hula Valley, and would also have seen Mt. Hermon, still capped with snow, had weather been permitting. We saw sections connected with later Greek and Roman settlements, including an altar for making ritual sacrifices.
The areas near the Dan River stay cool all year round, even during the hot summer months; which make the area very attractive place for visitors. We were not permitted to wade in the stream, however, and smoking or throwing of litter is strictly prohibited. After refreshing ourselves at the park’s guest facilities (which have plenty of ice cream, and other things attractive for kids) we proceed on to our next stop, passing the Banias Nature Reserve at the entrance to the Golan Heights. We stopped to photograph a spectacular waterfall on Nachal Hermon (Hermon Stream) from which the Banias gets its main water source.
We had lunch in a well known restaurant, located in an area where many Golan Druze residents sell their agricultural products (olives, cheese, fruit etc.) and went up on a lookout position to see the Hula Valley and Kiryat Shmona laid out below us. We could see the ancient Crusader fortress of Nimrod’s Castle located above us, and the site of fierce battles during both the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars. Returning to Israel proper, we hoped to see yet another water fall located on Nahal Iyun, below the entrance to Metula, Israel’s furthest town. Unfortunately, the park was already closed, so we had to be satisfied with seeing the falls (which literally cascades from a rocky cliff) from afar.
Metula is a very quaint town and very different from most other towns in Israel, It’s Challet- style houses and pension hotels give it an appearance of being somewhere else, and I can see why it is often known as “little Switzerland”. After taking some photographs of the border with Lebanon, which runs virtually along-side the town, we proceed south and climbed western ridge of Galilee mountain, to Kibbutz Misgav Am, located virtually on the border with Lebanon. Walking to the top of an observation point, we had one of the spectacular views of both Lebanon and the northern Hula Valley available in Israel. We could see cars moving on roads in the Lebanese town of Al Aldissa, which lay directly below us, as well as the Christian town of Marjayoun, off in the distance. The area seemed so peaceful it was hard to believe it was at war less than three years before.
We took what is known as the “Northern Road”, Highway 899, which runs literally along Israel’s border with Lebanon, almost to Nahariya, Israel’s northern city in the Western Galilee. On much of the road, we were often the only car, and could see the Lebanese border in many places. Again, the peacefulness of the area made it hard to believe that so much fighting and destruction from incoming Ketiusha rockets occurred there so recently. It appears that Mother Nature seems to have a way of repairing herself, even after such occurrences.
While the area is still clothed in greenery , as well as being “quiet”, from a security point of view, a trip up there is well recommended, especially if you haven’t seen this part of Beautiful Israel yourself.