A Tour of Wineries in Eretz Binyamin / Samaria

Tanya Winery vinyeards. Ofra. Fun Joel Israel Tour Guide.

The vineyards of Tanya Winery in Ofra

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting five different wineries with some other tour guides and friends. The wineries were all located in the region of Eretz Binyamin — the area that was designated in the Bible for the tribe of Benjamin. Today it is part of the region known as Samaria, and there are at least 7 or 8 wineries in this small part of the hill country, a mere 25 miles or so apart. But before I get into the wineries themselves, I want to talk briefly about Israeli wines overall.

I love the story of the wine industry in Israel. Clearly one of the oldest and most famous industries in the land, winemaking was always an important identifying feature of Israel. Images, for example, of the spies sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan, and their reports of giant grape clusters spring to mind. In fact, that very image is the logo of both Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the largest wine producer in the country — Carmel Wineries.

However, with the arrival of Muslim rule, which lasted for about 1100 of the 1300 years prior to the 20th Century, Israeli wines virtually disappeared. Since Muslims are prohibited from drinking wine, virtually all Israeli wine production ceased, with perhaps a minor resurgence during the 200-year period of Crusader rule in the land (1099-1291, with periods of Muslim rule inside that time frame as well).

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What Is… Shawarma?

Turkey Shawarma Roasting on a vertical spit. Fun Joel. Israel Tour Guide.

Look at that succulent roasting meat on a spit. Yummmm...

I love food. I love eating it and I love cooking it. Most people would consider me a “foodie.” And Israel has so much amazing food that it is a foodie’s dream country.

That’s one of the reasons why Israeli culinary tourism is one of the niche areas I’ve been developing for myself, in addition to the general tourism that most people want. Winery and brewery tours, visits to other boutique food production facilities, guided tours of shuks (outdoor markets), trips to agricultural installations (both current and historic) and of course meals in some top-notch restaurants. Any of these options can contribute to a specially designed culinary tour, or worked into a general itinerary for a little spice.

But my approach to food and the foodie mentality is not snobbish. To appreciate the culinary offerings of a country, one must often look at the meals of the common man. Working-class restaurants and street foods are among the truest culinary delights that most cuisines have to offer. And this is no more true than here in Israel. Which brings me to this specific post.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Jerusalem – Part 1

Jerusalem Old City.

The Old City of Jerusalem

I love lists like this, where people list the top things to do in a certain place. But I find that often those lists are just a rehashing of the tourist sites you can find in any Lonely Planet, Let’s Go or Fodor’s Guide. And other times they list a number of places that barely scratch the surface of the location.

So I wanted to do something a bit different with this post. This is not a list of ten places to visit in the Holy City of Jerusalem. This is going to go a little bit deeper. I want to give you some things to do so that you really get a feel for what life in Jerusalem is like. So I have chosen ten categories of things that will help you feel like a Jerusalemite while also seeing, smelling, hearing and tasting everything that my wonderful city has to offer!

Due to length, I’m splitting this post into 3 parts. Now, in no particular order…

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Top 10 Things to Do in Jerusalem – Part 3

Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The Shrine of the Book at Jerusalem's Israel Museum

Back to Jerusalem Top 10 – Part 2

And now the final entries:

8. Go to a Museum

(Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a clever title for this one!)

I’m not sure who keeps statistics on such things, but I’ve heard that Israel has more museums per capita than does any other country in the world. (Okay, when adding links I found that these guys apparently keep such statistics, or at least report them.) And whether or not that is true, Jerusalem definitely has some of the most significant museums in this country that is full of them.

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Israel Mystery Photo #5

Israel Mystery Photo

And now for something somewhat different...

Well, I suppose last week’s photo was more challenging. Only people from my class who were there with me recognized where the photo was taken. But that’s not all that surprising, considering that it is not a popular spot on the typical tourist trail.

As those who got it correct guessed, the photo was taken at the Mony Winery cellars, near Beit Shemesh. (There was one guess that said Mony Wineries, but gave the wrong location for it — half a point!) I’ll tell you a bit more about the winery and the cellars in a bit, but first I wanted to discuss this week’s photo. I decided to choose something from a place that my tour guide course did not visit, so that my classmates don’t have the edge in this one. That being said, however, it is a site that I really enjoy, and hope to take tourists to in the future.

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The Final Itinerary

Inside one of the natural grottoes at Rosh Hanikra

In my last post of a few weeks ago, I asked for some advice in helping my friend Lara to plan a great itinerary for her first trip to Israel. Many of you here, and on my Facebook, made wonderful suggestions of things to do, places to go, and even food to eat. In total, Lara was here for 16 days, and I spent a large portion of that time with her. Your collective assistance was a great help, and I wanted to share with you the bulk of her trip, so you can see the kind of balance we included.

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IMTM Report

Brazilian capoeira and samba at IMTM to promote travel there.

Ever been to a trade show of any kind? Auto show, food industry convention, hotel and hospitality conference or energy industry gathering? Well, the International Mediterranean Tourism Market (IMTM) is a fairly standard example of this type of event.

I say this only because I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect before I attended it last Wednesday. I mean, I knew it would be a trade show, but I’d never been to one in Israel before. Plus, with a name like that, I wasn’t sure how much would be related to Israel travel in particular and how much would be geared towards tourism to other countries in the region. I also had no idea how relevant it would be for me, as a specifically Israeli tourguide-to-be.

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