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Israel Travel: 10 Things About Israel You Probably Didn’t Know, Part Two

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Caesarea National Park, Israel - Things You Didn't Know About Israel TravelFrom deserts to nature reserves to green initiatives, a journey to Israel can encompass a lot more than you might expect.

In part two of her roundup of 10 things you probably didn’t know about Israel, Jeanine Barone explores outdoor activities and under-the-radar cultural experiences.

5.  Desert Adventures

The Negev, a vast swath of arid land that was part of the ancient Spice Route, is an adventure seeker’s playground.

Adam Sela’s Challenging Experience offers a range of activities to satisfy thrill seekers, including rappelling, hiking, canyoning and mountain biking.

I pedaled along wadis (stream beds) and trails where I spied the ruins of caravansaries and ancient forts.

Israel Biking in the NegevPaths course past wind-sculpted rocks, river valleys, blooming flora such as acacia, and even across the Makhtesh Ramon, an unusual erosion crater.

6. Art in the Holocaust Museum

Many visitors to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust, may be unaware that the complex is also home to the Holocaust Art Museum, which exhibits works created by the victims.

The paintings, drawings and sculpture change every few months.

As I examined them, I couldn’t help wonder how the artists, who may have been in one of the many ghettos or lived in hiding, were able to find the physical and mental strength (let alone the art supplies) to create these luminous works.

Among the works that have been on view are the delicate landscapes of young Charlotte Salomon and the vivid gauche illustrations of the Bible that Carol Deutsch painted.

Headed to Israel? Try the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Tel Aviv, Israel

Caesarea Park, Israel - Underwater Diving7. Diving in a National Park

In the south of Israel, Eilat is well known as a diving destination, but an under-the-radar dive site is Caesarea National Park.

The erstwhile elaborate port city of King Herod makes for an unusual snorkeling or diving excursion. Four different underwater routes in the submerged port provide access to the remains of a Herodian pavement, the ruins of a tower, a Roman shipwreck, marble columns, and sunken breakwaters.

You can go on your own or sign up for guided snorkeling or diving tours. Diving in the park is especially significant to the locals given that this is the site where Israel conducted its first underwater archeological research.

8. Lush Nature Reserves

Ein GediFor a country that’s often linked with its industries, Israel is sprinkled with verdant nature reserves and national parks. Ein Gedi, a nature reserve just west of the Dead Sea, is an oasis amidst an arid environ.

Walking along the trails, I spotted an endangered ibex and also a hyrax, creatures that are attracted to the reserve’s spring waters.

Depending on the trail you choose to hike, you’ll find soaring pines and palms and even temple ruins dating back millennia. Maidenhair ferns cling to cliff walls and giant reed cluster along the banks of springs.

But, no matter where you wander, the tumbling of waterfalls, and the chirps of migratory or resident birds are just about the only sounds you’ll encounter.

Another green space that will thrill bird watchers is the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, a vast waterscape that’s populated by pelicans, cranes, egrets and many others. I found that the best way to get around this expanse is to bicycle along the loop trail, hop about a tractor-driven wagon or take one of the reserve’s night or early morning wildlife tours.

9. Tasty Tapas

Vicki Christina Tel Aviv - Israeli TapasTel Aviv seems to have a love affair with Spain. Reminiscent of Barcelona’s Boqueria Market, the city’s new indoor night farmers market, along Tel Aviv’s old port, sells everything from charcuterie to Manchego cheese.

Over the past few years, an array of Spanish-inspired tapas bars have opened up, including Vicky Cristina, a new establishment that debuted on the grounds of the restored Hatachana train station in Jaffa.

Like the two disparate personalities in the Woody Allen movie for which the restaurant takes its name, the Vicky side is a sublime fine dining eatery that’s set across the courtyard—where a tall fig tree, the oldest in Tel Aviv, grows—from Cristina, a more boisterous wine bar where you sit at long tables sharing food and drink.

Listening to the rhythmic beat of Spanish and Latin music, including flamenco, patrons can choose from more than 100 different wines (including Spanish sparking wines) to complement the international medley of 30 different tapas (such as goose liver in brandy, and spare ribs topped with a spicy citrus sauce) that Chef Roi Harari whips up.

More Israel travel: Jerusalem Shopping & Market Experiences

Eco-Park10. Eco-Consciousness

With its extensive green technology, whether it’s solar panels or electric cars, or its development of piezoelectric pads that will soon generate electricity from high-traffic situations, Israel is one of the greenest nations around.

On the outskirts of Tel Aviv, a 300-foot-high former landfill, and the surrounding grounds are being transformed into a verdant landscape. The Peter Latz-designed site, which includes Hiriya Mountain and Ayalon Park, is being planted with palm trees, forests, fruit orchards, and more, with a projected completion date of 2020.

For now, you can tour the visitor’s center with its self-sustaining garden as well as colorful furniture produced from recycled cans, bottles and tires. In a section of the 2,000-acre property, pedestrian paths and picnic spots are already open. Groups can also climb to the summit of the Hiriya mound where they’ll have views of the Tel Aviv skyline.

By Jeanine Barone for Jeanine Barone is a freelance writer and consultant who has written for publications such as Town & Country, National Geographic Traveler and Conde Nast Traveler. Visit her on the Web

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