Several weeks ago after our tour of the sea caves of Rosh Hanikra, Kelley and I traveled into the Golan Heights of Israel, which is nestled on the border with Syria and Lebanon (Kelley: and much safer than that sounds). Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 but in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syria temporarily recaptured much of the territory before being pushed back by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). All around the Golan you see evidence of the conflict with abandoned bunkers, mine fields, and guard posts.
The Golan Heights is a volcanic plateau with fields of basalt boulders, deep canyons, springs, ranches, orchards, and vineyards. Mount Hermon is the largest mountain in the Golan and the rooftop of Israel, raising to a height of 7,336 feet (2,236 meters), not to mention it hosts Israel’s only ski resort! As you might imagine the Golan is of strategic military importance due to its elevation but it is also an important water source for Israel, supplying ~15% of their water, according to some estimates. It may be lower now due to the desalination plants that are in use.
In March we traveled to the Sea of Galilee and the Hula Valley, which is nestled at the foot of Mt Hermon. For this excursion we ventured further north to a random mountaintop village you have never heard of…
We camped at the Chalet Nimrod Castle, which is right at the star on the map. It was a curious place but the highlight of the experience was our dinner at a cute little restaurant called The Witch and The Milkman (seriously, just check out the menu!). It was a scrumptious meal! We enjoyed an amazing cheese plate followed by an incredible Truffle Ravioli and hardy lamb stew accompanied with local Golan Heights wine… so delicious! AND then dessert!
In the morning, we packed up and skedaddled to Nimrod Fortress. The fortress is situated on a long narrow protrusion from the slopes of Mt Hermon and has a commanding view of the Hula Valley.
The fortress was built by the Muslims in the 13th century to protect the road to Damascus from those pesky Crusaders. It is an impressive fortress complex stretching 420 meters long and up to 150 meters wide… and it left me scratching my head about where they got all the stones. After being built by the Muslims in 1229, it was captured by the Mongols in 1260 for a brief period of time who destroyed some of its defenses but then recaptured after the Muslim defeat of the Mongols in 1261(?). Once the Crusades ended, the fortress lost its strategic value and was more or less abandoned for military purposes. It was used as a “luxury” prison by the Ottoman Turks for some time but was heavily damaged by a earthquake in the 18th century. Okay Matt… stop boring them with history!
After completing our walking tour of the fortress, we drove down the hill to Banias Nature Reserve. The Banias spring is one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River and creates one of the larger waterfalls in Israel. The spring is steeped in history with many shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan and others and shout-outs in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (by a different name).
After exploring the caves and shrines, Kelley and I hiked several kilometers to Banias Waterfall. It was a hot day so it was torture hiking next to a rushing stream lusting to be enveloped in its cool waters. Alas, the nature reserve has signs everywhere that forbid swimming – such a tease! Despite this the waterfall was quite lovely but wading in its teal waters would have felt amazing!
Well, that concludes our adventure!! Stay tuned for a change of scenery and a journey through Romania!