The Sea of Galilee is actually
a lake fed by the Jordan River.
Israel was well on its way to meeting its goal of 3 million
visitors in 2000 when the Intifada started in October of that year.
Then, with Sept. 11 and conflict in the West Bank and Lebanon,
tourism to the country suffered greatly. Today, Israel is
determined to bring back tourists, particularly Americans who make
up the largest number of travelers to this country.
Israel has long been a destination for religious exploration,
with the Galilee region the center for many pilgrims Catholics,
Jews and Muslims all have ties here. Most American tourists spend a
great deal of time in Galilee, making trips to Jerusalem, the Dead
Sea and Tel Aviv.
While there is no denying that many tourists make the trek to
the Holy Land to visit religious sights, Galilee offers more than
just spiritual exploration. There are also amazing hot springs,
historical towns and artisan centers. The mind, body and spirit can
all be nourished by the many experiences the region offers.
Galilee’s Religious Sights
For visitors to Galilee, Tiberias provides a good base camp, with
day trips available throughout the region. One hotel option is
Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Its location right on the Sea of Galilee
is unbeatable and the service is quite good also.
The Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, is surrounded by
cliffs and steep hills, which make it beautiful to view from any
side. Christian sights dot the shores with the Golan Heights (which
borders Syria and Jordan) off in the distance. The Jordan River
comes down from the north and feeds the Sea of Galilee before
meandering south to the Dead Sea. The Jordan River, contrary to the
song, is not “deep and wide” but instead is small and narrow, yet
The Church of the Annunciation in
Nazareth is a must for visitors.
The main religious sites in the Galilee region include Mount
Beatitudes, where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. A beautiful
church stands at this site with windows inscribed with the
Beatitudes (in Latin); the outside walkway is full of flowers and
boasts amazing views of the Sea of Galilee.
Capernaum, where Jesus established his ministry, is also a
popular visit. This is where St. Peter lived and Jesus lodged. It
was here that Jesus said to Simon and Andrew: “Come follow me, and
I will make you fishers of men.” The ruins here include the remains
of a synagogue that dominates the complex.
Other sites include Tabgha, where Jesus multiplied bread and
fish, and Yardenit, which sits on the Jordan River and where many
come to be baptized.
A full day should be spent in Nazareth, where Jesus spent his
childhood. This city is wonderfully alive with Israel’s largest
Arab population (two-thirds of Nazareth’s population is Arab). The
old town has small, hidden alleyways, cobblestone streets and a
A highlight of Nazareth is the Church of the Annunciation. The
largest church in the Middle East, it was consecrated in 1969. This
is where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would
conceive and bear a son “and call his name Jesus.” The upstairs of
the Church is quite interesting there are mosaics of Mary created
by artists from around the world (including Japan, Spain, Mexico,
the U.S. and more) depicting the Madonna and Child by the way that
country views her.
The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel located a block away is
built over the only natural hot spring in Nazareth. The hot spring
is called Mary’s Well and it’s here that the Greek Orthodox believe
the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.
Outside of religious sites, one of the more interesting towns
worth visiting in the Galilee region is Safed (also spelled Tzfat),
the center of Kabbalah, a mystical form of Judaism that dates back
to ancient times and was popular in the 12th century. Small
galleries, cobblestone streets and old synagogues line this small,
pleasant town. This is a great place to buy local art and spend the
afternoon in a cafe people-watching.
For wine enthusiasts a visit to the Golan Heights Winery is an
excellent day trip. Israel is quickly becoming a major player in
the wine scene, with this particular winery one of the top
producers. Tour the facilities and enjoy tastings of some of their
History buffs should visit Rosh Pina. It’s one of the first
Jewish settlements in the Galilee region. Rosh Pina meaning
“cornerstone” gets its name from Psalm 118:22: “The stone that the
builders rejected has become their chief cornerstone.” This
inspired Galilee’s first Zionist pioneers who came from Romania in
search of their own homeland.
Hammat Gader is a must for spa lovers. One of the largest spas
dating back to the Roman Empire, this spa is built around three hot
springs high up the southern bank of the Yarmuk River. Popular with
locals, the hot springs consist of an impressive array of various
size baths, Jacuzzis and waterfalls. For an added treat, book a
water massage for clients the massage literally takes place while
guests are floating in the hot springs.
From Galilee, it is a short trip to the Dead Sea, where most
hotels have spas boasting Dead Sea mud in their treatments. Found
here is the Ein Gedi Spa, which offers access to the Dead Sea as
well as a freshwater pool and warm indoor sulfur pools. Massage
treatments can also be booked.
Spend the day here and make sure to apply some Dead Sea mud
(free on the beach), it’s said to have wonderful rejuvenating
|The Kibbutz Way of Life|
Spend the day visiting nearby sights including a tour of the
Kibbutz Ein Gedi, set in the most beautiful scenery between 1,600
cliffs and the Dead Sea. A working kibbutz, visitors can get a tour
of the lush botanical gardens and grounds and hear about the
kibbutz’s 600 inhabitants and visit the school, medical facility
and other key parts of the community’s life. This tour provides a
real insight into the kibbutz way of life in Israel. This is also a
hotel for those guests looking for a fuller experience.
Ein Gedi Spa and Hotel
Israel’s national airline offers flights from JFK, Newark, Miami,
Chicago and Los Angeles.
Israel Tourism Board
323-658-7463 (in Los Angeles)