From a stream with huge turtles to a fortress on the edge of a cliff – between Herzliya and Caesarea, beautiful gems that not all tourists know about are located a few kilometers from Tel Aviv. Here are 5 places worth leaving Tel Aviv for
By Marina Kigel
One of the special things in Israel is the combination of its rich history and its amazing natural treasures. Within a half hour drive from the big city you may arrive at a stream with huge turtles, an ancient Roman city, a Crusader Castle and a wild beach. So pack up water and refreshments and let’s leave the urban landscape for a great journey in nature.
1. Hof Hasharon National Park – a wild nature reserve
Upon arrival at the Hof Hasharon National Park, you will feel as if you have traveled in a time machine back to ancient times. This is a narrow beach strip above which hovers a 40 meter limestone cliff and an unforgettable view from up there. In the winter purple iris (iris atropurpurea) blossoms, in the fall – white lilies, and amongst them wild animal peacefully roam.
You may leisurely tour with your family on one of the tracks passing through the reservation, easy for walking both for adults as well as children. On the posts scattered along the way you may read the names of the flowers and plants surrounding you.
How to get there?
Hof Hasharon National Park is located west of the Ga’ash shopping and entertainment district and may be reached also through the Shfa’im Water Park. Dedicate a few hours for visiting the reservation to relax from the urban hustle and bustle.
2. Alexander Stream (Nahal Alexander) – sea turtles in action
The Alexander Stream flows from the Samarian Mountains and empties into the sea between Michmoret and Beit Yanai. Up until the early 30s of the 20th century the stream was flooded with the Hefer Valley industrial wastewater and almost all of the animals and vegetation in it had been eradicated. Over the years the stream had been restored and thanks to these efforts the animals and of course its natural habitats – sea turtles, have also returned.
The route along the river is only 2.5 km and at its end the Turtle Bridge awaits you. The road is paved and wide enough to walk on, ride a bike or walk with baby strollers, and if you’re not too tired, you may continue walking to the estuary at Beit Yanai Beach.
At the Turtle Bridge, which may also be reached by road without walking, turtles bathing in the sun or leisurely swimming in the stream will be waiting for you. They are used to people and may get closer to you in order to “ask” for food. Their usual menu consists mainly of fish, worms and insects, therefore it is not recommended to offer them other food and particularly to be cautious of plastic bags and food wraps that may cause them to suffocate. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see baby turtles hatching from eggs and immediately running into the water.
This is a very popular attraction and so it is best to arrive in the middle of the week.
How to get there?
Take Route 2 and at the Yanai interchange drive toward Michmoret. Cross the stream through the bridge, turn left onto the dirt road marked with the “Shvil Israel” (“Israel Trail”) sign, which goes along the stream going east.
3. Apollonia – a crusader fortress on the edge of a cliff
A breathtaking view is not only an expression: Apollonia is a crusader fortress on a limestone cliff edge looking over the sea and the coast, a beautiful site, whether you like history and archeology, a natural researcher, painter, photographer or traveler who wants to breathe fresh air drenched with saltwater drops.
Up until the 13th century, the Apollonia fortress protected the area against Muslim and Mameluke attacks – it had 3 sets of walls surrounded by a wide moat, out there were even a port with sea walls. Even today when you arrive here, it doesn’t take much to imagine right here the Knights Order, the Roman noblemen or Turkish warriors. And then take a peek at the miniature model of the reconstructed fortress, in order to see how much reality exceeds all imagination.
How to get there?
Leave the car at the Apollonia National Park and go on foot through a gravel road. Walking time: Only a few hundred meters away, however along the way you’ll discover the Muslim Wall, the Roman villa and the Ottoman well, layers on top of layers of various periods in history.
4. Caesarea – the old town from the Herod era
Originally, the City of Caesarea was planned as a Roman metropolis – a large port city built by King Herod in honor of the Emperor Augustus, and was the capital of the Land of Israel at the time it was ruled by the Romans. In the center of Caesarea stood a temple for Augustus, only a small part of which survived until present.
In the Old City stands one of the most famous structures – the Amphitheater which still today hosts music concerts and dance shows of Israel’s top artists, the Hippodrome, which hosted horse carriage competitions, spas and sculptures as well as the famous Aqueduct, which supplied water to nobility households.
The Caesarea National Park is a fun pastime area which combines old and new, where interactive exhibits and detailed explanations accompany the tour through it, which both adults and children enjoy.
The place is accessible and it is important to bring a hat and water, since also in winter it is not shaded enough.
How does one get there?
Take the Cost Route up to the Caesarea interchange, after exiting through the interchange turning west (to the sea). Pass by the “Orot Rabin” power station and drive northwest up to a “T” intersection with an anchor statue. Then turn right, continuing on the road going north. At the third roundabout turn west (left toward the sea) up to the end of the road, where a guest parking lot awaits you.
5. Emek Hefer (Hefer Valley) – a picturesque trip by car
In the northern part of the Sharon, between Hadera and Netanya and Kfar Yona, you will discover one of the most picturesque areas in Israel a number of towns located within the spectacular scenery of an ancient agricultural area which was revived by Zionist settlers in the early 20th century.
Usually people pass by the area heading north or back to the center, however few people know that it is precisely in the middle of the road where quite a bit of surprising sceneries hide between the farmland and the Mediterranean Sea, the Sculpture Garden, the Botanical Garden, a restored stream and a mini-nature reserve blossoming most of the year.
How to get there?
Turn off Route 4 onto Route 57 at the Beit Lid intersection. After passing by the entrance to Kfar Yona continue on until reaching the entrance to Burgata Village, which had been established in 1949 by Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. The village itself is named after the ancient settlement from the Talmudic era. In the village you’ll find the famous artist, Yigal Tumarkin’s Sculpture Garden, for which he obtained a complex for his workshop, and committed to place a new sculpture on the nearby lawn every year. Upon existing Burgata continue west toward the sea, along the blossoming valley.