Israel - Treasures of the Negev

Written by  Maxine Albert

AFRICA COVERSTORYI’ve always been drawn to the beauty and mystery of the desert. There’s something about the stillness that’s otherworldly. The Negev Desert is where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob tended their herds, according to the Christian, Judean and Moslem faiths.

The Negev covers Israel’s southern region, from the city of Beersheba down to the resort town of Eilat, and accounts for over half the nation’s land area. Despite its dry climate, I passed springs, olive orchards, fig and acacia trees and spurts of brightly colored flowers.
Bricks from Biblical times jutting from the earth are at the excavation site of Tel Beersheba. Once a ruling center with an elaborate water system and huge cistern, it’s believed to be the first planned settlement in the region. The patriarch Abraham lived in nearby Beersheva, capital of the Negev.
A jeep tour in Nahal Zin let me see the majesty of the Negev with its deep gorges, wadis (dry riverbeds) and stark beauty. It felt great to hike and feel the earth, the energy and breathe the desert air. Then, I swam in a spring-fed pool.
A trip to the desert home of David Ben Gurion, founder of Israel and its first prime minister, is a must. He had the “vision“ that for Israel to prosper, its people must build in the desert. He loved this locale so much that years later, when he left government he moved to the Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. Ghandi is the sole photo in the bedroom, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with Abraham Lincoln is framed in the sitting room. Ben Gurion spoke of solar energy in 1955; he studied Jungian psychology and at the age of 70 he began a daily yoga practice and was able to stand on his head.
I climbed Masada, the ruins of King Herod’s mountaintop fortress overlooking the Dead Sea and last stronghold of the Jewish revolt against the Romans. When they realized that there was no hope to win, the Jews are said to have taken their own lives rather than be slaves. You can still see the remains of the country club - the Northern Palace with spa, baths and rooms during the luxury period of Herod. Don’t miss Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave.
It was soon time for a real desert experience - a camel ride, then on to the lowest point on earth - The Dead Sea, more than 1,300 feet below sea level. With its extreme salinity, a never-ending source of mineral salts, you can actually sit on the water and read a magazine. Hotels, spas and solariums abound as people flock here from afar for the healing properties of the water.
I journeyed onward past Avdat, the remains of an ancient Nabatean city toward Maktesh Ramon - the largest crater on earth. It felt like I was walking on the moon.

AFRICA IsraelEilat
Then, it was onto the warm beaches in the resort town of Eilat, located on the Red Sea. Here I relaxed, swam and snorkeled with dolphins. ( I dined alfresco on Eilat’s lively promenade. The sound of waves breaking and cool jazz accompanied the scene of young and old, lovers and groups of friends and families strolling and laughing. The next morning, I awoke before dawn and stepped onto my balcony to watch the sunrise as it cast its famous red glow over the sea.
The luxe oceanfront Royal Beach Eilat is a favorite of the international set. I met guests who were French and British, as well as American. Newly renovated suites are stylish and spacious with balconies offering glorious views. Guests enjoy a large pool, reserved beach area and fabulous Israeli breakfast in a lovely alfresco setting.
The luxurious Dan Eilat Hotel is a beachfront resort featuring suites with Red Sea balconies, expansive, uniquely designed pool, private beach area with prime location and a large and varied dinner buffet with everything a traveler could want.

Excursion to Petra and Jordan’s Holy Sites
Many cross the border from Eilat to visit Petra, Jordan’s lost city in the desert, stopping along the way at exquisite Wadi Rum. Itineraries following the Exodus route include: The spring at Wadi Musa  (Valley Of Moses) where Moses and the Israelites passed Petra, the Byzantine church of St. George in Madaba with the renowned mosaic floor map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and Mount Nebo, overlooking the Jordan River and Dead Sea where Moses saw the promised land.


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