Discovering the Magic of Winter in the Holy Land: A Canadian Girl’s Fascinating Journey of discovery in Israel.
This February, Quebec experienced an intense wave of cold weather that reminded us of the harshness of North American winters with its biting winds, snowy landscapes, and long nights.
As March break approaches, those seeking respite from the bitter cold have several options, from snuggling up by a warm fire and sipping on hot beverages to jetting off to sunnier locales.
If you, like myself and many others are currently feeling the strain of the winter weather, it may be time to start planning your dream escape.
Recently, with the invitation and support of the Israeli ministry of Tourism, I was offered the opportunity to travel with other members of the media to enjoy a swift, informative and quite pleasurable escape to the Land of Milk and Honey for seven fascinating and most importantly (WARM) days !
The temperature at night in Israel during the winter can vary depending on the location and elevation.
Generally, the coastalregions of Israel, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, have milder winters with average nighttime temperatures ranging from 8-12°C (46-54°F).
Inlandcities like Jerusalem and Nazareth have cooler temperatures, with average nighttime temperatures ranging from 3-8°C (37-46°F).
I do recommend to dress in layers and also to bring a warm sweater or light / easy to fold jacket, that will be useful at night when temperatures drop to cooler levels.
Israel is a fairly small country that is easy to navigate by car, however this destination is steeped in rich historical significance, which makes it advisable to consider the services of a licensed tour guide.
During my 7 days trip, which was hosted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, I was fortunate to have the professional expertise and organizational skills of Odelia Wainshtain at my disposal.
Our tour guide for the trip,Ron Nitzan, was commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism, and his vast knowledge and expertise on all things related to Israel, from ancient history to contemporary culture, made him an encyclopedia of knowledge for our group.
Visiting Israel during winter can be a very unique and unforgettable experience that offers you the chance to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage, history, natural beauty, and a bevy of outdoor and indoor activities while enjoying mild temperatures throughout.
As a proud Montrealer that holds a deep appreciation for the local arts, culture, historical as well as culinary scene, I couldn’t help but seek out and draw constant parallels and similarities between my city and the country at large:
Cultural Diversity: Both Israel and Montreal are known for their multicultural and multilingual populations, with a rich mix of different religions, languages, and ethnicities.
RichHistory: Both have deep roots in history, with Israel being one of the oldest continuously inhabited countries in the world and Montreal being a city with a rich French heritage.
Vibrant Arts and Culture Scene: Both are known for their thriving arts and cultural scenes, with numerous museums, theaters, and galleries showcasing the works of local and international artists.
DeliciousCuisine: Both have a diverse and vibrant food scene, with a variety of open air markets and numerous traditional and contemporary dishes to try .
Climate: Both locations experience four distinct seasons, however winter months in Canada can be cold and snowy while in Israel they tend to be warm and comfortable depending on the city you visit .
Overall, while both Israel and Montreal are distinctly unique, they share some commonalities that make them both interesting and enjoyable places to visit.
First and foremost, Israel is a country with a rich and fascinating history, and winter is a great time to visit historical sites and monuments with a reduced tourist crowd.
Jerusalem, the ancient and holy city, is a must-visit destination, offering numerous historical and religious landmarks such as the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, andthe Israel Museum.
Additionally, many tourists also enjoy exploring the Old City of Jerusalem, with its ancient streets, colorful markets, and unique architecture.
One of the newer attractions, The Western Wall Tunnels tour, takes visitors through a maze of underground passageways that reveal the various layers of history that have accumulated over the centuries.
The tunnels offer a unique perspective on the Western Wall, allowing visitors to see the massive foundation stones and ancient structures that were built on top of each other over time.
Visitors can also explore various chambers, including a water cistern and a Hasmonean-era chamber.
The Western Wall Tunnels are a significant historical and religious attraction, attracting visitors from all over the world. The tunnels are open daily for tours, which must be booked in advance.
I recommend wearing comfortable shoes and also to dress modestly, as the tunnels can be narrow and uneven and the tunnels are located next to one of the holiest sites in Israel. Some head coverings are available free of charge on site ( not an obligation to enter the site).
Overall, the Western Wall Tunnels offer a fascinating glimpse into the rich history and cultural heritage of Jerusalem and the Jewish people.
Other popular attractions include the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Mount of Olives.
Visitors can also explore the City of David archaeological site or visit the nearby ancient city of Masada, the fortress where the last stand of the Jewish rebels took place during the Roman Empire.
Whether you’re interested in religious sites, cultural landmarks, or simply want to experience the vibrant atmosphere of the city, Jerusalem has something to offer for everyone.
THE DEAD SEA – EIN BOKEK
Ein Bokek is a resort town located on the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea, in the southern part of Israel. The town is known for its hotels and spas, which offer a range of health and wellness treatments that take advantage of the unique properties of the Dead Sea.
Located between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is one of the saltiest and lowest bodies of water in the world, and a must-see destination for visitors from around the world.
The high salt concentration (33%) and mineral-rich dark mud of the sea are renowned for their therapeutic and healing properties, with minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium offering relief for skin, respiratory, and joint problems.
Visitors can float effortlessly in the buoyant waters, apply the mud to their skin, and relax in the surrounding spas and resorts that offer treatments and services.
The Dead Sea’s unique natural resources make it a popular and compelling attraction for those looking for rejuvenation and relaxation.
My personal suggestions are:
To always have on hand a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
Short 15 minutes dips are best to avoid dehydration.
Do not enter the water with any open wounds, cuts or sores.
Wear a pair of flip flops to prevent foot injuries from the small white round salt balls that are found in the sea bed of the Dead Sea that are called “salt crystals” or “salt pearls”.
These formations are created by the evaporation of the water and the precipitation of salt minerals, forming small, spherical clusters of salt. Salt crystals can also be found along the shore of the Dead Sea and are often collected by visitors as souvenirs !
EIN GEDI natural reserve and other attractions
In addition to the sea, there are several local attractions worth exploring, such as the Masada fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the nearby Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, which offers scenic hiking trails, oasis waterfalls, and opportunities for flora and wildlife watching.
The Dead Sea region is also a great place to learn about the history and culture of the area, with various museums, ancient ruins and archeological sites.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a series of caves near the archaeological site of Qumran, which is located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, in the West Bank.
Private jeep tours are a popular and exciting way to explore the area around the Dead Sea. The rugged terrain and desert landscape make it an ideal location for off-road adventures.
Many tour operators offer guided jeep tours that take visitors to some of the region’s most scenic and remote locations, such as hidden canyons, natural springs, and breathtaking viewpoints. These tours can vary in length and difficulty, from short excursions to full-day adventures, and can be tailored to the interests and preferences of your group
ARCHEOLOGICALSITES to visit : Beit She’an National Park , Magdala, Nazareth & Akko
BEIT SHE’AN is an ancient city in northern Israel near the Jordan River Valley with a history spanning 5,000 years. It has been inhabited by various civilizations, including the Canaanites, Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Ottomans.
The well-preserved archaeological site is a major attraction, featuring ruins of the Roman and Byzantine cities. Some of the most notable features of the Beit She’an archaeological site include the ancient theater, which could seat up to 7,000 people, the Roman bathhouses, the city’s main street, and the agora (marketplace).
Magdala is an ancient city located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The city is known for its historical and religious significance, as it was a thriving fishing town during the time of Jesus, and it is believed that one of Jesus’ closest followers Mary Magdalene was born and raised there.
In recent years, Magdala has been the site of significant archaeological excavations, which have uncovered a wealth of historical artifacts and structures. One of the most notable discoveries is a first-century synagogue, which is believed to be one of the oldest synagogues in the world. The synagogue is decorated with intricate stone carvings and mosaics, including a mosaic depicting the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Another significant discovery was the Magdala Stone which dates back to the first century CE, and was discovered in 2009 during excavations at the synagogue site. The stone is a carved block of limestone, measuring about two feet by one foot, and it is adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions. The carvings depict a seven-branched menorah, which is a symbol of Judaism, as well as other Jewish religious objects and scenes.
The Magdala Stone is considered to be an important piece of evidence for understanding the religious practices and beliefs of the Jewish community in the region during the time of Jesus.
It is currently housed in the Magdala Center , a hotel, museum and spiritual center located in the modern Israeli municipality of Migdal.
Today, Magdala is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims who come to visit the archaeological site and learn about the city’s rich history and religious significance. The modern city of Migdal is located nearby, and it offers a range of accommodations, restaurants, and shops for visitors.
There are several excavation sites in Nazareth that have been uncovered by archaeologists over the years. One of the most significant is the Church of the Annunciation (below), which is believed to be the site where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus. The church was built over the remains of earlier churches and is now a major pilgrimage site.
Other notable excavation sites in Nazareth include the ancient village of Nazareth, which dates back over 2,000 years and has revealed evidence of Jewish and Christian communities living there, as well as the Nazareth Village, an open-air museum that recreates what life was like in Nazareth during the time of Jesus.
Additionally, the Synagogue Church, which is located on the site of an ancient synagogue, is believed to be the location where Jesus preached his first sermon.
AKKO / ACRE
Akko , also known as Acre is an ancient port city in northern Israel with a rich history, having been inhabited by various civilizations.
The upper layer of the city consists of the old city, which is a walled fortress built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. The Crusaders ruled Akko for nearly two centuries, and during their rule, they built many impressive structures, including the Citadel, the Knights’ Halls, and the Hospitaller Fortress. Later, when the Ottomans conquered the city in the 16th century, they built their own buildings on top of the Crusader structures.
Called a two-layered city , The Old City of Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with attractions like the Crusader-era fortress and citadel, the Knights’ Halls, the Al-Jazzar Mosque, the Turkish Bathhouse, and the underground Templar Tunnels.
The city also boasts a bustling market, a seafront promenade, and a picturesque marina. Akko is also known for hosting cultural events and festivals, making it a popular destination for visitors to Israel.
ARTS, CULTURE and BEAUTY
In addition to historical and natural attractions, Israel offers a vibrant and bustling cultural scene.
The cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa are renowned for their thriving arts and entertainment scenes, and offer numerous opportunities to experience local music, dance, and theater.
Haifa is a popular city for several reasons:
Beautiful location: Haifa is situated on the slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This scenic location gives the city a unique beauty, with stunning views and a mild climate.
Cultural diversity: Haifa is a multicultural city, with Jews, Muslims, Christians, and members of other religions such as the Druze living and working side by side. This cultural diversity is reflected in the city’s architecture, cuisine, and cultural events.
Economic hub: Haifa is a major industrial and economic center, home to several high-tech companies and research institutions, including the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, which is one of the top science and engineering universities in the world.
Tourist attractions: Haifa has several popular tourist attractions, including the Baha’i Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is one of the most visited tourist sites in Israel, and the Haifa Museum of Art, which showcases contemporary Israeli art.
Portcity: Haifa is one of Israel’s main ports, serving as a gateway to the country for international shipping and cruise tourism.
Overall, Haifa is a fascinating and dynamic city that offers something for everyone, from cultural and historical attractions to natural beauty and technological innovation.
Tel Aviv, boasts beautiful beaches, a vibrant nightlife scene and numerous cultural attractions.
In the words of Mayor Ron Huldai : “We’re thrilled to see Tel Aviv recognized by National Geographic as one of the world’s best beach cities! Tel Aviv has something for everyone, from the beaches to the nightlife to the cultural attractions. We welcome visitors from around the world to come and experience our city for themselves.“
The city’s coastline stretches for 14 kilometers and boasts some of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful white sandy beaches. Visitors can swim, sunbathe, or enjoy a variety of water sports.
Several hotels can be found along the beachfront, ranging from luxury resorts to more affordable options.
Some of the most popular areas for hotels along the beach include the promenade, the Tayelet, and the areas around the marina.
In addition to its beaches, Tel Aviv is known for its lively nightlife scene. The city has a wide variety of bars, clubs, restaurants and even gelaterias to cater to every taste !
From live music to graffiti art walking tours, Tel Aviv has something for everyone to enjoy.
But Tel Aviv isn’t just about the beaches and the nightlife. The city is also home to several museums and cultural attractions, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Israeli Opera.
Visitors can also explore the city’s history and culture at the White City, a UNESCO World Heritage site that features over 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings.
FOOD and DRINK
Winter is also a great time to experience the country’s renowned culinary scene, with numerous restaurants and cafes offering traditional and contemporary Israeli cuisine.
The food in Israel is diverse and influenced by the country’s multicultural population, which includes Jews, Arabs, Christians, and immigrants from around the world. Israeli cuisine is characterized by its use of fresh, local ingredients and bold flavors, with an emphasis on vegetables, grains, herbs and spices.
By simply exploring the local outdoor street markets, visitors can immerse themselves in the local culture and experience the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Israeli people.
One of the most popular dishes in Israel is hummus, a creamy dip made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Hummus is often served with pita bread, and it can be found in many variations, including with toppings like mushrooms, fava beans, or ground beef.
Another staple of Israeli cuisine is falafel, which are fried balls made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, served in a pita with vegetables and sauces. Shakshuka, a dish of eggs cooked in a tomato sauce with onions, peppers, and spices, is another popular breakfast food in Israel.
Meat dishes are also popular with many restaurants specializing in grilled meats like shawarma, kebab, and steak.
Israeli cuisine also features a variety of fish dishes, including grilled whole fish and fish fillets cooked with herbs and spices.
Other popular Israeli dishes include sabich, a sandwich filled with fried eggplant, boiled egg, hummus, and vegetables; and malabi, a sweet pudding made with milk and cornstarch, flavored with rosewater and topped with nuts and syrup (below)
Israel has become an increasingly popular destination for vegans and vegetarians in recent years, with a growing number of restaurants and cafes catering to plant-based diets.
In addition to traditional Israeli dishes, the country’s cuisine has been influenced by various communities from around the world, leading to the popularity of foods like Ashkenazi-style gefilte fish, Moroccan tagine, and Iraqi kubbeh.
Two of my most memorable food experiences was having our small group be invited into the private homes of two families who run small businesses that offer unique and informative gastronomic experiences to groups in an intimate setting.
First Yechiel and his wife Dorite gave us a tour of their farm, “Reihan Landscape Farm” and shared their visions for ecotourism, sustainability and coexistence.
Our second hosts were situated in the Circassian town of Kfar Kama .
Circassians are a small ethnic minority who primarily reside in two villages in the northern part of the country: Kfar Kama and Rehaniya. Kfar Kama is located in the Jezreel Valley, while Rehaniya is located in the Upper Galilee region.
Circassians originally came to Israel as refugees, fleeing persecution and war in their homeland in the North Caucasus region of Russia in the 19th century. Today, the Circassian community in Israel is estimated to number around 4,000 people, and they are recognized as a distinct ethnic minority within Israeli society.
Their cuisine is known for its rich flavors, hearty ingredients, and creative use of spices and herbs
Overall, it is charming that a private home dining booking will allow you to experience the warmth and welcoming hospitality of the Israeli people. Guests will have the opportunity to meet and interact with locals, and learn about the country’s unique and diverse culture.
The served food is not only delicious, but also reflective of the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Alcohol consumption is relatively common in Israel, but it is not as widespread as in some other countries. Israel has a diverse population, and religious beliefs and cultural values can play a significant role in shaping attitudes toward alcohol.
The legal drinking age is set at 18, and alcohol is widely available in supermarkets, bars, and restaurants. However, alcohol consumption is prohibited in some public spaces, such as parks and beaches, and it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol
Some young business minded individuals decided to take the plunge to promote their own unique blends:
In conclusion, visiting Israel during winter can be a unique and enriching experience, offering a chance to explore the country’s rich history, culture, and natural beauty.
Whether you are interested in history, arts, culture, or simply want to experience the warm hospitality of the Israeli people, there is something for everyone during the winter months.
So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in the land of milk and honey.
To learn more about Israel , entry and departure regulations, covid- protocols and any other inquieries, please visit the official site of the Ministry of Tourism :