Petra Shepherd discovers a fascinating past and a vibrant present
With 4,000 years of history, Jerusalem is the holiest city of them all, a true melting pot of people, cultures, traditions and religion and easily combined with nearby Tel Aviv, the 24 hour beach city. It’s a compelling mix, with both cities currently having a bit of moment as I found out on a recent visit. No trip to Jerusalem would be complete without a drive to the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the city and a trip to the Old City, seeing the Western “wailing” Wall, walking through the Armenian and Jewish quarters to the recently excavated and restored Cardo (the Roman road) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
However, I can also recommend a tour of the City of David where ongoing archaeological excavations of ancient Jerusalem, include fortifications and elaborate water systems, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Pool of Shiloan and a newly opened visitor centre. Part of the tour allows you to walk inside a 2,000 year old water drainage system. The exposed drainage tunnel measure 800 metres (2625 feet) long and a metre (3 feet wide) so not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia but still a unique experience, crouching down as you wade through water up to or above your knees and be sure to wear shoes that you’re not afraid to get soaked.
Also fun is “Hallelujah”, the City of David’s newest night-time spectacular. Using the latest technological advances, the show is screened onto the antiquities, with the walls of the Old City visible in the distance.
The Israel Museum (the largest cultural institution in Israel) is another top attraction. The museum houses an encyclopaedic collection of works dating from prehistory to the present day in Archaeology, Fine Arts and Jewish Art and Life. Since opening in 1965, the museum has built a collection of nearly 500,000 objects, my favorites being the dress of a Moroccan bride and a Hungarian funeral carriage.
There are also a couple of other absolute must sees. The Shrine of the Book, home to the 2,000 year old Dead Sea Scrolls (the earliest known biblical manuscripts) and a model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. The detailed 1:50 scale model, covers nearly one acre and recreates the topography and architecture of ancient Jerusalem at its peak in 66 CE, shortly before its destruction by the Romans. Meanwhile, The Shrine of the Book with its distinctive modern design by Frederick Kiesler and Armand Bartos has not only the renowned Dead Sea Scrolls but other archaeological artefacts and rare medieval manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The upper level of the Shrine introduces visitors to the story of the Scrolls and the Judean Desert sect. At the heart of the Shrine is a presentation of original Dead Sea Scrolls, examples of sectarian texts and the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence, from the eight most complete scrolls ever discovered, surrounding a full-scale facsimile of the magnificently preserved Great Isaiah Scroll.
If you’ve had your fill of culture and history, then Israel’s thriving wine industry has generated a great opportunity for wine tourism and an alternative day out. More than 25 wineries can be found in the Judean Hills with The Judean Hills Quartet, nothing to do with music but a group of artisan wineries, providing a window into the rebirth of a beautiful wine region. Eli Ben Zaken is the founding father of the Judean Hills renaissance and it was at Domaine Du Castel, his family owned winery that I enjoyed quality Bordeaux style reds and Burgundy style white. Eli proudly showed me an e mail from the head of Sotheby’s wine department, describing his wine as a “real tour de force, brilliantly made and very classic”. Praise indeed.
Wine tours might be the relatively new kid on the block for tourism in Israel but the diverse foodie scene with influences from all over the world has long been a highlight. We have a lot to thank world-acclaimed chef and owner of multiple London restaurants, Yotam Ottolenghi for and it’s not all pomegranates and salads. The cuisine reflects Israel’s nature as a melting pot for many communities at the meeting point of East and West. Expect a fusion of traditional Middle Eastern, North African and exotic Asian flavours plus continental European cuisine. Every restaurant and cafe in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was supposedly home to “the best hummus in the world” whilst a breakfast buffet in even the smallest of hotels would have dozens of choices and don’t even get me started on the bakeries. Not to be missed on any culinary adventure is a trip to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and the smaller but equally atmospheric Carmel market in Tel Aviv.
Rivalling the new wave of food markets which have popped up around the world, Sarona Market also in Tel Aviv is an indoor gourmet food market which also got my approval. “Two Cities, One Break” is the current tag line for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with Tel Aviv being the fly and flop, R and R part of the break, the chilled out sister to Jerusalem’s more highbrow older brother. Titled the ‘Mediterranean Capital of Cool’ by the New York Times, this is a 24 hour city, go for the restaurant scene, beaches and balmy Mediterranean Sea. However, if you still need a dose of culture and history, neighbouring Jaffa Port (the oldest in the world) has stone buildings, cobbled lanes and ancient history whilst lovers of architecture will appreciate Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architecture. Tel Aviv’s 4000 or so Bauhaus buildings collectively called White City are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Israel, the land of creation, the ‘promised land’ of milk and honey has not only a fascinating past but as I found out also a vibrant present.
https://www.danhotels.com/ Dan Panorama, Tel Aviv overlooking the Old City of Jaffa with huge pool and sundeck
http://thepolihouse.com/en Design boutique hotel with roof top infinity pool
https://www.atlas.co.il/arthur-jerusalem New boutique hotel on Dorot Rishonim Street
http://socialclub.co.il/he/home/default.aspx upscale, quintessential Tel Aviv bistro
http://www.naura.rest-e.co.il/ Mediterranean dishes in the pastoral wadi of Abu Ghosh
http://monarest.co.il/mona/en/ One of the best restaurants in Jerusalem with a creative and surprising menu