How best to spend 10 days in Israel
For intellectual and discerning travellers interested in geopolitics, history, religion and food, there can be no more exciting destination than Israel. This tiny country of contrasts is profoundly ancient, vibrantly contemporary and unimaginably diverse. Its complexity derives from its important geographic location in the middle of three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. Its modern-day culture has been formed by layer upon layer of civilisation and to say it is steeped in history is an understatement. You will experience ‘historical vertigo’ here.
We can design any number of extraordinary, totally tailor-made journeys in Israel, depending on your interests, and the itinerary below is just one example. Taking in Jerusalem, the Judean Desert, Nazareth, the famous Sea of Galilee, Banias National Park, Mount Bental, the Golan Heights and buzzing Tel Aviv, it will give you the opportunity to experience Israel’s incredibly varied scenery, ranging from desert and mountainous landscapes to Mediterranean shores and inland lakes, as well as delving deep into the country’s culture, religion and history.
You will arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport, 45km north-west of Jerusalem, and be driven to the Mamilla Hotel, your home in Jerusalem. This incredible hotel, renovated by Italian designer Piero Lissoni, is chic and modern, a refreshing, comfortable contrast to the timeworn city of Jerusalem. Everything you need is here, from the elegant Winery and the late-night cocktail bar to the fabulous rooftop restaurant, with spectacular city views, and the award-winning Akasha spa. Mamilla is just a few minutes from the Old City, so it is ideally located for exploring.
Mamilla hotel rooftop
As the evening approaches, we suggest going to the Kotel (Western Wall) to enjoy the music and dancing to celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem. After this festive experience, we can arrange for you to be hosted by a local Jewish family for a traditional Shabbat dinner, during which you will learn about the importance of Jerusalem and the holy day for Jews, as well as gaining an insight into the various customs.
Jerusalem Kotel and Dome of the Rock
Your first morning, you will set off early into the Judean Desert to explore one of Israel’s most magnificent places: the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Masada, the rugged ruins of a fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. Your guide will bring this mystical place to life for you, recounting heroic tales from Israeli mythology and Roman and Jewish history. Next, you will continue on to Ein Gedi, a wonderful oasis in the desert, which was where David hid from King Saul. Here, you can cool off in natural springwater pools. The water here means that palm trees, bulrushes and other plants thrive here, providing habitat for creatures such as ibexes, hyraxes and numerous bird species. A walk along the Nahale Davide trail is also a wonderful experience.
the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Masada, the rugged ruins overlooking the Dead Sea
In the evening, we can organise a delicious and exclusive dinner with Ron Shatzberg who is an authority on security and Israeli-Arab relations. He can share his knowledge with you and discuss the country’s geopolitical tensions, disputes around Jerusalem, the future of the West Bank and an independent Palestinian state, and other related topics, depending on your interest.
Today you will explore Jerusalem’s Old City. Your accompanying expert will guide you around the many fascinating places here that are sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, unveiling to history and explaining the significance of this holy city to these religions. These sites include the Kotel (Western Wall of the Second Temple), the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Dome of the Rock located in Jerusalem's Old City
This evening, we can arrange for Yiscar Harani, a leading authority on comparative religion in the holy land, to come and meet you at your hotel, if she is available. Yiscar is well known in Israel for her interreligious activities and bursting with knowledge on the sanctity of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims past, present and future.
This morning will both fascinating and harrowing as you will visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s monument to the Holocaust. Set on the west slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, it is an extremely impressive museum, with a history museum, a children’s memorial, a hall of remembrance, The Museum of Holocaust Art, a synagogue and more. It is as powerful as it is moving.
Following this, we recommend going to the Mahane Yehuda Market, a bustling and vibrant place with myriad ingredients on sale and a lively contrast to Yad Vashem. Exploring this bazaar with a culinary expert is an attack on the senses and a great insight into daily life in Jerusalem. Your guide will reveal many tucked-away spots and hidden gems and explain this market’s significance in Israeli immigrant culture and the blend of culinary trends and influences here, and you will taste all sorts of delicious morsels en route, as well as stopping for a scrumptious lunch too.
A traditional lunch at Mahane Yehuda Market
In the afternoon, your guide will take you to the fantastic Israel Museum. Since its renovation, it has been named one of the world’s best museums. Its highlights are the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known copy of the Bible, and the famous model of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. We will book you a table for dinner at Mahane Yehuda, an institution in Jerusalem. This restaurant is found in the eponymous market and serves incredibly fresh, creative and stunningly presented dishes.
Today, it’s time to leave Jerusalem and travel to Nazareth, where you will find the towering and modern Church of the Annunciation. The religious art in this building is truly amazing, sent from all over the world. Nazareth is also home to the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed by many Christians to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. In addition, this is Israel’s biggest Arab town, and your guide will be happy to discuss the country’s complex demographics with you or introduce you to traditional Arab food.
You will also have the opportunity to learn about kibbutz life. We strongly recommend spending some time at Kibbutz Degania Beth, which will provide you with insight on the socialist and zionist foundations for the kibbutz and the kibbutzim’s history and present challenges. You can also visit the home of Levi Eshkol, a former Israeli prime minister, where the fascinating kibbutz archives are housed.
Later, you will continue on to the Sea of Galilee. It was among the Jewish communities that lived around the lakeshore that Jesus preached, and there are numerous significant Christian and Jewish sites in the area, which your guide will unravel for you. These include the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus supposedly delivered his Sermon on the Mount; Capernaum, where there is an octagonal church constructed around the house of Peter, an ornate 5th-century synagogue and a boat dating back to the time of Jesus, now on display at Kibbutz Ginosar. Your next home from home is the beautiful Setai Sea of Galilee, which lies on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the historic lake, the Golan Heights and the biblical town of Tiberias. The 158 opulent villas are beautifully decorated, some with hot tubs or private pools. With its elegant and recently renovated interiors, spa, delicious food and views over the sparkling water, this is a superb base for exploring the area.
Panoramic view of Tiberias in Galilee, The Sea of Galilee
This morning, you should visit the Banias Waterfall. Water from the base of Mount Hermon flows through a stunning gorge for 3.5km until it reaches this spectacular cascade. It is a lovely walk along an easy path to reach this beautiful place, and you will be able to explore the archaeological ruins of the city of Caesarea Philippi en route, which was built by Herod’s son Philip. There are some Crusader remains here too as well as a very ancient pagan temple dedicated to Pan. This place is also significant in the Bible.
Banias Spring at the base of Mount Hermon
Next, you can enjoy some wine tasting and lunch at one of Israel’s best wineries, before continuing on to the Golan Heights and Mount Bental, from where you can admire stunning views as far as Syria. Sadly, this is an area that has been repeatedly battered by conflict throughout history. In this fascinating place, we can arrange for you to set off on a fascinating and exhilarating experience: a two-hour jeep ride through an agricultural kibbutz and then off-road into the demilitarised zone along the Syrian border to see Israeli army bunkers. Your very experienced guide will enlighten you on Israel’s relations with its neighbours. Following this adrenaline-pumping adventure, return to your hotel for some well-earned R&R and a relaxing dinner.
This morning, you will go to the Old City of Acre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with spectacular Crusader remains. This is a very interesting place and your guide will tell you Crusader tales and reveal other treasures, such as the second most holy mosque in Israel, the bustling Arab market here and the recently refurbished Underground Prisoners Museum. Following this, we love to create a very special experience for our clients: a delicious and authentic lunch hosted by a Druze family in their home.
Aerial view of the lighthouse in the old port of Acre
In the afternoon, you can head to the coast to explore the impressive port town of Caesarea, built by King Herod the Great. In the Roman times, this was a place with magnificent temples and gladiator tournaments. Later, it became a busy Byzantine town, then a Crusader conquest and it is even a significant place for Christians. Your accompanying expert will recount the stories of this fascinating place and bring it to life, before you continue to Tel Aviv.
Our favourite hotel in Tel Aviv is the Royal Beach, a chic and contemporary five-star hotel on the city’s promenade. Quite minimalist in style, the decor is mainly grey-black hues and glamorous marble floors, with plenty of natural light pouring through large windows. Many of the rooms have sea views and there is a huge outdoor pool, a spa, a gym, a sophisticated restaurant and a fun tapas bar.
Today, you will explore Tel Aviv, a striking mix of old and new, starting in the ancient Jaffa neighbourhood, which is one of the oldest ports on earth, overflowing with biblical, Roman, Egyptian and Napoleonic history. Following a few hours’ exploring Jaffa, you will continue on to Neve Tzedek, the city’s oldest and most charming neighbourhood. Your guide will tell you all about the first modern Hebrew city’s beginnings and how it has developed throughout time. Israeli food is both delicious and diverse due to its immigrant society, and you will taste some of its best street food in the vibrant Carmel Market at lunchtime.
The ancient Jaffa neighbourhood, in Tel Aviv, one of the oldest ports on earth
In the afternoon, you will wander the streets of central Tel Aviv, including stop-offs at the Rothschild Boulevard and Independence Hall, where David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the modern State of Israel. The architecture here is particularly interesting, ranging from contemporary to Bauhaus. Next, we recommend spending some time sipping coffee and chatting with a fascinating and engaging lady in her home, which will give you an insider’s perspective on Arab-Israeli culture and their way of life, the social history of the neighbourhood, the role of women and the pros and cons of being an Arab in a mainly Jewish society. The day will close with a very special farewell dinner at an excellent local restaurant, a wonderful end to an extraordinary trip.
If you would like to spend a few more days in Israel, we suggest two nights at the phenomenal Six Senses Shaharut. Set in the southern Negev Desert in the Arava Valley, the property has awe-inspiring views. Blending cleverly with its surroundings, it has been beautifully designed and the 58 suites and villas are created from and inspired by local materials, pigments and plants. You can explore the area on camels or in jeeps, camp in the desert or go hiking; but otherwise, there is a fabulous Six Senses Spa, including a sauna, hammams and steam rooms, making this a wonderful place to just relax for a few days.