Nowhere on earth stirs up passion quite the way Israel does. Admiration at the breathtaking beauty of its natural features: the Dead Sea; green hills and valleys of the Israel National Trail and the multicoloured canyon of Makhtesh Ramon. Religious devotion in the Jews, Christians and Muslims who come to visit the Holy Land’s sacred sites – those on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount are among the most revered in the world. And of course fiery debate, as noone leaves Israel without encountering the often confounding politics of the region. Of course there are plenty of places to unwind too, not least the cafes, bars and beaches of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv or the boutique wineries of the Galilee region. One thing’s for sure, spending time here never fails to challenge ideas and offer the most unexpected experiences.
Israel, or Palestine depending on your politics, is one of the world’s oldest travel destinations. Everyone from Moses to Mark Twain has dreamed of going there. The appearance of prophets seems to be dwindling and the Crusaders have long since hung up their swords and shields, but travellers still come in droves, almost magnetically, to this land still considered holy by countless millions.The appeal of Israel’s ancient and holy past may be obvious enough but many new arrivals are surprised to see that it’s much more than a lesson in history. While Jerusalem is a dazzling amalgam of past and present, and a contested hotbed for the world’s monotheistic faiths, the whole country is a tightly packed ball of everything from Mt Masada and the Negev desert to the beaches of Eilat. On a leisurely weekend you could surf, ski, sip wine, ride horses, go clubbing in Tel-Aviv or enjoy some cutting-edge theatre – and that’s just the start. You can also work on a kibbutz, volunteer at a West Bank school, float in the Dead Sea, hike across the Israel National Trail…
Like the patchwork of new arrivals at Ben-Gurion airport, Israel is an amalgamation of peoples who arrived over centuries of time, each one staking their claim to the land. Territorial disputes led to violence, which in turn made for some epic accounts in the Bible – not terribly dissimilar to what is playing out on nightly newscasts where you are today. But contrary to popular belief, Israel is not a war zone to be avoided, and it has such rigid security that travel is surprisingly safe.
Somewhere along the line, politics and the bitter facts of life in this uncertain land will nudge their way into your trip. And while Israelis and Palestinians love nothing more than to argue, muse and prognosticate over the latest political currents, it’s best to leave your own opinions at the door. Enter the Holy Land on a clean slate and you’ll never watch the nightly news the same way again.
Show in Lonely Planet