The Golan Heights
No visit to Northern Israel is complete without a visit to the Golan Heights. The Golan was captured from Syria in 1967 by Israel, whose aim was to put an end to the Syrian practice of shooting into Israeli settlements from the hills and mountains of the Heights. Today, Israeli settlements dot the Golan Heights, as well as a mid-sized town, Katzrin, and many other sites and attractions.
One site that draws thousands of visitors each year is Gamla. Known as the "Massada of the North", Gamla has a history similar to the southern mountaintop fortress where several hundred Jews chose suicide over the prospect of slavery to the Romans. At Gamla, close to a thousand Jews threw themselves to their deaths when Roman conquest seemed imminent. Today, as visitors walk the trail up to the site where the Jewish settlement existed 2000 years ago, they have a stunning view of the valley below, as well as the hills and mountains of the surrounding area. Many different birds nest in the area, making a Gamla visit a must for bird-watchers in Israel.
No one anticipates winter snows in Israel as do visitors to Mt. Hermon. The Hermon Mountain is the highest in Israel, and the only one which receives a reasonable amount of snowfall almost every winter. People travel from throughout the country to see the snow on Mt. Hermon, but the Hermon Resort offers many other activities for visitors.
In the wintertime, in addition to skiing, there is tobogganing, sledding, and other snow activities, as well a ski school for beginners. In the summertime, there is summer-sledding, as well as awe-inspiring jeep tours which focus on the history of the area, as well as the plant and animal life of the area.
Near Katzrin, visitors can enjoy a Talmudic village experience. The rabbis of the early 1st millennium A.D. traveled around the Galilee and Golan, compiling the Talmud. Jewish settlements of this period were scattered throughout Northern Israel, and the Talmudic Village near Katzrin allows visitors the opportunity to see an authentic archeological site which has been recreated to reflect a thriving village of the times.
At the village, one can see an authentic olive press of the times, and participate in a demonstration of olive oil making. The village includes an ancient synagogue, recreated homes, and a movie which explains the compilation of the Talmud, Judaism's most extensive commentary on the Torah. Actors and actresses perform and explain to give visitors a true understanding of the kind of life that Jews lived during these exciting times. An on-site museum with an audio-visual presentation of life in the Golan during Talmudic times is open displaying artifacts uncovered during archeological excavations in the area.
The Golan Heights Winery
Vineyards for the Golan Heights Winery were planted in 1976 by four Golan settlements, and by 1984 the first wines of the Golan Heights Winery were bottled, revolutionizing winemaking in Israel. The Golan Heights Winery has led the Israeli wine industry in the production of fine wines, and the new wineries that have sprung up in recent years owe much to the Golan Wines for leading the way.
The center of the Golan Heights Winery is near the town of Katzrin, and visitors are welcomed with a full tour of the premises, as well as an opportunity to taste these prize-winning wines. The tours look at the way that the grapes are grown (the Golan's volcanic soil is believed to be one of the reasons for its especially fine yield), harvested, aged and bottled, as well as some of the prizes that the winery has won over the last 20 years. The highlight of the tour is the wine-tasting session at the tour's end - visitors who plan their trip carefully come by bus so that they are not driving after their tour!