All eyes have been on Israel. The country has swept all before it when it comes to rolling out Covid vaccinations.
Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Israeli Tourism Minister, tells Escape that the entire adult population will have received the jab by ‘the end of March’, making the country a ‘healthy’ as well as an attractive destination for Britons keen to be on the first plane out. If all goes well, tourism will be open for business in April — which happens to be one of the best months to visit, before it gets too hot.
Flights may take a little longer than Spain or Greece (4-5 hours), but there is so much to see and do: the beaches and nightclubs of Tel Aviv, the historical and spiritual sights of Jerusalem, the salty waters of the Dead Sea (perfect for floating in), plus fantastic food just about everywhere you go. Here’s our guide.
BLISS ON THE BEACH
A family affair
Tel Aviv’s six-mile stretch of sandy beach, which is divided into 10 sections – each with its own character
Tel Aviv’s six-mile sandy beach is divided into ten sections, each with its own character. Those in search of peace and quiet should head north to Tzur. You can book paddle-board yoga classes at Bograshov.
Meanwhile, Frishman is family-friendly, with play areas and cordoned-off paddling sections for toddlers.
DON’T MISS: A game of matkot (ping pong without a table) at Banana Beach, while the sun sets.
HOW TO DO IT: Seven nights B&B at Leonardo City Tower from £1,042pp including flights. (virginholidays.co.uk).
Swim with dolphins
The Red Sea resort of Eilat, pictured, where you can snorkel over the coral reef and swim with dolphins
The Red Sea beaches at the resort of Eilat have a lot to recommend them. Snorkel over the coral reef at Coral Reef Beach, while at Dolphin Beach you can (you guessed it) swim with dolphins. That’s assuming they’re in the mood to let you come close. Failing that, it’s a thrill just to spot them frolicking.
DON’T MISS: The chilled-out Mosh Beach, which is studded with restaurants and has some very fine views of the Jordan mountains.
HOW TO DO IT: B&B Doubles at the Leonardo Royal Resort Hotel Eilat from £128. Easyjet (easyjet.com) London to Tel Aviv from £131 return.
Wish at the Western Wall
Israeli wonders: The Western Wall, which is all that remains of Herod’s mighty Second Temple
AWAY IN A MANGER…
The 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Although it is just 10km from Jerusalem, the little town of Bethlehem isn’t in Israel. You have to enter Palestine through a checkpoint.
Incorporated into the 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity, the site of the stable is in a cave: a detail not mentioned in the Gospels.
There you can join the throngs of the faithful and touch a star marking the spot where Jesus was born.
Intrepid Travel offers eight-day tours of the Holy Land covering Tel Aviv and Jerusalem via Bethlehem from £1,975pp (intrepidtravel.com).
Jerusalem has a strong claim to being the most extraordinary place on the planet. Sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, it sits at the meeting point between Asia, Europe and Africa. Visitors can trace the footsteps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa, visit King David’s tomb, or simply stand on Mount Olive and marvel at Jerusalem’s shining limestone walls, topped by the golden Dome of the Rock. Older readers may be pleased to learn that over a mile of handrails have been installed throughout the city.
DON’T MISS: Making a wish at the Western Wall, which is all that remains of Herod’s mighty Second Temple.
HOW TO DO IT: Eight-day package tours taking in Tel Aviv, Acre, Galilee, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem from £1,274pp (gadventures.com).
Marvel at a natural wonder
On the shores of the Dead Sea, the majestic Mt Sodom shares its name with the city God destroyed for its wickedness. As Lot escaped, his wife Edith glanced back and was punished by being turned into a pillar of salt. Almost all of Mt Sodom consists of rock salt, making it a desolate natural wonder. Just south of Jerusalem, you can stroll through the Valley of Elah, where David felled Goliath.
DON’T MISS: The pillar of salt said to have been Lot’s wife.
HOW TO DO IT: Four-wheel drive trips from the Dead Sea to Mt Sodom from £135pp (israelwithstyle.com).
FOOD AND DRINK
Sample divine delicacies
From fresh fish to hummus, the quality of the food in Israel is superb. If you’re in Tel Aviv, seek out the trendy North Abraxas restaurant, run by celebrity chef Eyal Shani. Or head for the waterside Manta Ray and try the aubergine dip and grilled croker.
DON’T MISS: Shawarma with amba, a street food speciality consisting of strips of meat laced with delicious mango sauce.
HOW TO DO IT: Contact Inbal at Deliciousisrael.com for food tours; walking tours of Tel Aviv’s Carmel market from £65pp.
Water to wine
Drop in on BeerBazaar in Jaffa, a part of Tel Aviv, pictured, in order to sample their range of Israeli beers
These days it doesn’t take a miracle to enjoy top-quality wine in Israel. Head north from Tel Aviv to the Carmel Winery for a tour, wine-tasting and history lesson. Alternatively, drop in on BeerBazaar in Jaffa to sample their range of Israeli beers. Mazel tov!
DON’T MISS: Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in the town of Cana. To this day, Cana hucksters sell ‘wedding wine’ to commemorate the story.
HOW TO DO IT: Carmel Winery Tours can be booked at carmelwines.co.il.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Float in the Dead Sea
The mud from the Dead Sea, pictured, is rich in minerals including sodium, potassium and magnesium
Queen Cleopatra believed the black mud surrounding the Dead Sea possessed powerful healing properties. It turned out she was right.
The mud is rich in minerals including sodium, potassium and magnesium. Little wonder its shores are lined with spas.
DON’T MISS: A float. The Dead Sea is eight times saltier than usual sea. You can’t quite walk on the water, but you’ll come close.
HOW TO DO IT: Tours of the Holy Land including a visit to the Dead Sea from £1,595pp (trailfinders.com).
Explore the Red Canyon
Near Eilat, there’s a family-friendly stroll through the spectacular Red Canyon. For more serious hikers, the country has 6,000 miles of well-marked hiking trails.
DON’T MISS: The springs and waterfalls of Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea.
HOW TO DO IT: 6-day guided trips over the Judaean Hills to Jerusalem from £755pp (thenaturaladventure.com).
CULTURE ON TAP
The 1st century BC fortress of Masada, pictured, which is one of Israel’s archaeological gems
Perched on a rock pinnacle beside the Dead Sea, the 1st century BC fortress of Masada is one of Israel’s archaeological gems. In the north, the old part of Acre is largely Ottoman. But underground are remains of a 12th-century crusader city.
DON’T MISS: Sunrise seen from the walls of Masada.
HOW TO DO IT: 8-day tour of religious and historic sites including Acre and Masada is from £1,399pp excluding flights (responsibletravel.com).
Heart for art
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art boasts works by well-known names such as Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock as well as a host of vibrant home-grown talents. For something more personal, check out the Ilana Goor Museum in Jaffa: a historic building crammed with Goor’s eclectic art.
DON’T MISS: Visit Jaffa’s flea market and haggle for arty bargains.
HOW TO DO IT: Tel Aviv art tours are from about £20pp at viatour.com.