Looking for a trip off the beaten tourist track? Halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a day meandering along the byways of the Elah Valley where Biblical David met Goliath will allow you to enjoy the scenery, ride a bike, visit an archaeological site, a furniture factory, microbrewery, and sample some wine straight from a local vineyard. Sounds like fun? It is!
Sightseeing on wheels
Start your day with a bike ride leaving from Moshav Zafririm. Uri, the proprietor of Trailhead, rents bicycles by the hour or by the day and is a fount of information about the area. He will provide you with an excellent, well-maintained mountain bike and helmet, and will also give you maps, water, and recommendations suited to your level of expertise and fitness. Rides range from easy 45-minute rides, to more strenuous half and full day outings. Pedalling along paved back roads that are almost car-free is an unmitigated pleasure. Depending on the time of year, you will be greeted by undulating fields of wheat, grapes ripening on the vine, fields of wildflowers, and soaring birds.
History comes alive
Riding in the Elah Valley you will encounter road signs directing you to various archaeological sites. If you choose, your bike route can include one of them providing an interesting interlude, and well deserved break from pedaling. The ancient village of Etri, for example, is easily accessed from one of the shorter bike trails. Etri was home to four ritual baths (mikvaot), a synagogue, and a wine press and was destroyed by the Romans more than 1,900 years ago during the Bar Kokba revolt. Several other digs such as Burgin and Midras offer interesting archaeological sites as well and can be reached by car if you choose to skip the bike ride, or prefer to do it after you finish your cycle.
Kooky, krazy, Kakadu
After completing your bike ride, and partaking in refreshments provided by Uri, including a refreshing popsicle or date, along with cold water, make your way up the steps to the Kakadu showroom located in the same building as Uri’s bikes. Kakadu defies easy categories. Aaron and Revital, the owners and artists, make colourful wooden furniture, household furnishings ranging from trays to candlesticks, wooden carpets (yes, you read correctly) and jewellery as well. Their unique one of a kind designs are flights of fancy and sure to delight. This is a great place to shop for souvenirs and gifts, and the price range and choice is wide. Your purchases can be shipped home if you prefer.
Best beer in Israel
After you have had your fill of shopping, cross the road to the village of Srigim, home of the famous Srigim Brewery. You will find this microbrewery close to the entrance located in a small commercial center to the right of the first traffic circle. Open for tours Sunday through Thursday, the owners and brewmeisters are friendly and welcoming, eager to talk about each of their seven special brews, which run the gamut from light wheat beers to dark porters. Several of their beers are familiar, classic European style, and a few are more unique and adventuresome using local spices and flavors such as coriander and orange. You can quench your thirst with draft beers, or take some bottles home to sample after your day of touring.
From vine to wine
As you leave the brewery, look around and take in the rolling vineyards. This is the hint to lead you to your next stop of the day, a visit to a winery. Yaffo Winery, a small boutique outfit located right smack in the middle of the vineyard is your next stop. Call ahead to arrange your visit. Although they welcome visitors, the staff is not always available to show you around and greet you, unless you have booked a time in advance. A taste or two of wine is free, but if you wish to have more than that, often with tasty munchies on the side, there will be a fee. This can be offset by buying a bottle or two to take home. Tasting the wine while sitting at a table overlooking the vineyards that grew the grapes for that wine is a special experience. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Getting hungry? Restaurants do not abound in the Elah Valley, and although there is a gas station that serves decent coffee at the corner of route 38, if you want some serious food, you will have to make your way to nearby Beit Shemesh. There you will find a variety of kosher eateries, both dairy and meat. However, if you have planned ahead and brought a picnic lunch with you, Britain Park is just a couple of minutes up the road on Route 38, and well worth the stop. Drive up to a lookout spot, pull out your picnic, and enjoy the views. On a clear day, if you are lucky, you can see all of Israel spread out in front of you from east to west.
Don't miss it!
Spending the day in the Elah Valley, a mere forty minutes from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, allows one a glimpse of Israel that many tourists miss. The back roads and byways are rich in history, scenery, flavor, and adventure. Why not give it a try!
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