In Middle East

Hiking and Hitting the Beach in Northern Israel

Safed or Zefat as you’re more likely to see around town, came recommended to me by a cousin living in Israel. It would be a great base for hiking, we were told, so why not spend a couple of nights?

After our all-too-short stay in Palestine, we crossed back into Jerusalem and took the bus north for the mountains, completely unprepared for what Safed had in store for us.

Welcome to Safed

Let’s start with the obvious. Safed is gorgeous. I get Greek island town vibes here, but it’s its own flavor, unique, and unlike any place I’d ever seen. But here’s the kicker… If you feel out of place among the religiosity of Jerusalem, well, hold onto your shtreimel. Safed is in a league of its own.

Allow me to interrupt myself to say, like almost any place in this part of the world, Safed has a deep, complicated history that’s better served by someone else more knowledgeable talking about it. But here are some of the highlights:

  • Safed has long been known as a holy destination in Judaism and is particularly linked to the Kabbalah movement. 
  • In the years prior to the creation of the State of Israel, Safed was predominantly Arab. In 1929, approximately 18 Jews were killed and 80 wounded in a riot. Then in 1948, Israel captured the city, the Palestinian population fled, and the city is almost exclusively Jewish today.

It’s particularly popular with the Haredi community. That means, this is first and foremost their home. Tourists are welcome, but don’t expect late night bars or karaoke. And although I enjoy the amenities of a town catering to those who like to indulge in latenight beverages, I respect Safed for not twisting itself into a tourism destination when it very easily could. No gimmicky souvenir sheitels or shtreimels, just people living the want they want to live. Take it or leave it.

But we didn’t come to Safed for the town itself, though having a look around, it was certainly a bonus. We came to stretch our legs among the foothills of Mount Meron.

Visiting Acre (Akko)

After sleeping off Meron, we decided to leave Safed early to squeeze in an extra stop into our Israeli itinerary––Akko, or Acre as it’s inexplicably named on Google Maps. Seriously, nobody local seems to know why. So I’m doing as the locals do and calling it Akko.

Akko is an ancient coastal city that’s been shaped by just about every culture that’s ever been on this land. But in the UNSECO World Heritage Old City, there’s a distinctively Middle Eastern, Arabic flair with dueling calls to prayer bouncing off the centuries-old stones throughout the day. Then there’s the food. I mean, look at that knafeh!

But the place everyone will tell you to visit is Hummus Said. Hummus is what’s on the menu and they’ll have a plate in front of you faster than you can smash a chickpea.

Then, with a full belly, you walk––walk and get lost in the twists and turns Akko has to offer. And when it gets too toasty, run on over to the beach, grab a cold one, and soak in those ancient Mediterranean views.

Pardes Hanna-Karkur and Caesarea

Truly our last stop in Israel takes us to Pardes Hanna-Karkur. I didn’t spend much time with my camera out, besides a little GoPro-ing around their new 24-kilometer trail. But it’s essentially one of those places like Sedona, Arizona where if you feel sick, someone in a tank top will have a crystal to make you feel better. 

It’s also a short drive away from Caesarea, an ancient Roman port built by Herod the Great––a man who I assume was known for his humility. It’s here where my cousin Dina looks out over the waves crashing against the ruins and gushes just how lucky she is to live here, in Pardes, in Israel, in a place so wildly fascinating, complex, tragic, joyous, beautiful––and the list goes on––that it means very different things to so many people.

I said at the beginning of this series that nothing I produce over the course of these videos will please everyone. Not to brag, but I think I nailed it.

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