Explore Israel Off the Well-Trodden Road

Efendi Boutique Hotel.
Efendi Boutique Hotel.

Israel is known for its Holy Land treasures—and rightfully so—but tell your clients that this tiny country is much more than a mecca for religious-focused travels. This country is made for visitors seeking out active exploration and cultural interactions with the locals.

According to Eyal Carlin, director of the Southern Region USA, Israel Ministry of Tourism, “More and more tour operators are offering active, experiential travel. You can see it in activities, a lot of people-to-people activities.”

“People want to live like locals,” adds Uri Steinberg, Israel Tourism Commissioner for North America. “It’s a global trend and we’ve seen it in Israel. For example, some tour operators are offering travelers the opportunity to go into people’s kitchens. It’s a way of exploring the land, also exploring human geography.”

In the 7-day A Spiritual, Cultural and Culinary Yoga Retreat, operating Oct. 30 to Nov. 5, 2016 and coordinated by Puzzle Israel in collaboration with the U.S.-based Peace through Yoga studio, there is ample opportunity to spend time with local chefs preparing dishes characteristic of the destination. In a small Muslim village that’s home to a popular Arab gourmand, tour participants join the chef in the preparation of foods representative of the Galilean region, while in Tel Aviv, during the Jewish Sabbath, the group enjoys a traditional multi-course Shabbat dinner that they prepare themselves. There’s also dinner at an Italian-style farm-to-table restaurant in a small farming community, a traditional Israeli breakfast feast in a splendid villa, and a workshop with a leading raw food expert. And then there’s the yoga—imagine a sunset yoga class in the cool breezes of the Galilee, an afternoon yoga session in an urban park in Jerusalem or beachside yoga in Tel Aviv. It’s all sprinkled with spiritual workshops and plenty of sightseeing. Rates are $2,895 pp dbl ($400 sgl supplement) land-only.

A Taste for Markets & Wine
For clients who want to explore Israel’s well-known sights, coupled with some cool experiences as well, Gate 1 Travel offers a few itineraries that might perk their ears up and whet their palate for culinary adventure. On the operator’s 10-day Deluxe Israel itinerary, for example, travelers go on a private vineyard tour at the Tishbi Winery along with wine and chocolate tastings; partake in a Biblical cuisine dinner in Jerusalem using spices and herbs from ancient times; and go on an exclusive culinary adventure at the Mahane Yehuda Market led by a local “shuk” expert. That’s all mixed in with cultural conversations about Arab-Israeli relations, traditions and challenges, as well as a sailing on a replica of the Jesus Boat reclaimed from the Sea of Galilee. The tour hopscotches from Tel Aviv to Haifa and onward to Jerusalem, where clients stay at the exclusive Waldorf Astoria for four nights. In Haifa, it’s the Dan Carmel that takes center stage for accommodations: With its mountaintop location, it offers panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea, and there’s an expansive pool area embraced by lush gardens. And in Tel Aviv, the InterContinental David provides a central location between the city’s main cultural centers, Neve Tzedek, the beach, and Old Jaffa. Rates start at $3,599, land-only; 2017 departures run February to November.

Historic Exploration
The 12-room Efendi Boutique Hotel, nestled in the picturesque narrow lanes of Acre, offers an original experience with its 4-day Acre & Western Galilee and the Crusaders Seminar, which combines a high-end hotel stay, Israeli chef Uri Buri’s culinary creations and historic insight provided by professor Efraim Lev. The seminar is composed of scholar-guided tours and workshops, chef-led dining experiences, wine tastings and cultural tours. Today, the city of Acre, which dates back 4,000 years to when it served as a stronghold and port for the world’s most powerful empires, is home to one the world’s largest collections of Crusader-era ruins and artifacts, which will be explored via the Acre & Western Galilee and the Crusaders Seminar with three pre-set programs—Acre, The Crusaders Capital & The Galilee-Academic Seminar, where guests participate in an intensive scholarly academic seminar with guided Crusader tours of the city; Acre and its Wonders-The Crusader & Galilean Experience, where guests have the opportunity to hear a seminar about medicine and spices during the Crusader period and visit Montfort Castle and Mi’ilya (a Christian-Arab village); and Wine & Dine + History in the Ancient City of Acre, featuring Israeli wine tasting in the Efendi Boutique Hotel’s Byzantine-era wine cellar, an evening drum circle and a belly dance workshop at the hotel. Rates start at $800 pp per day, and include accommodations, three meals a day, lectures by academics and sightseeing trips (all packages are customizable by length, activity and group size).

Contact Information
Efendi Boutique Hotel: efendi-hotel.com
Gate 1 Travel: gate1travel.com
Puzzle Israel: puzzleisrael.com