Traveltino + [Zikhron Ya'acov]

Land of Milk and Honey... and Wine?


After a breakfast of various cheeses, eggs, sweet honey and jams, and a Biblical spread of organic fruits and vegetables from Hotel Spa Mizpeh Hayamim, a group of us basked in the mild climate of Israel's Eastern Galilee. With stunning, Alpine-like views of Mount Hermon and the Sea of Galilee, you get the feeling that you are far, far away from the moils of city life.
Although the name Mizpeh Hayamim means sea view, there is not one sea in sight unless you counted the Sea of Galilee as one, which it is not. The Sea of Galilee is, in fact, a freshwater lake. It is also known as Lake Kinneret, the second lowest lake on earth (after the Dead Sea, which is also not a sea, but a lake, albeit a saltwater one).

Horseback riding, ATV off-roading, and even whitewater rafting are among the many activities available in this area, while the wineries of the Carmel mountains are a short 1-1/2 hour drive away.

Approximately 110 kilometers south from the Galilee's popular Rosh Pina town, is Zikhron Ya'acov, one of the original settlements by Romanian pioneers of the Zionist movement. Along with Rosh Pina, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild assisted in developing the colony of Zikhron Ya'acov with his knowledge in city planning as well as in agriculture. The Carmel-Mizrahi Winery, the first of its kind in Zikhron Ya'acov, is still a functioning winery with bottling done on its premises.

Zikhron Ya'acov's main street, Hameyasdim (meaning wine path), is flanked by restored European-style stone houses with red tiled roofs. The town bustles, especially on weekends when the lively atmosphere created by commerce is at its most vibrant. Merchandise tables filled with artsy goodies and wicker cafe chairs spill out from patios into the cobblestone lane. It's a beautiful day in wine country.

A highlight on Hameyasdim street is the Aaronson house, owned by siblings Aron, Sarah, and Rebecca, who along with Avshalom Feinberg (Aron's assistant), aided the British by spying on Ottoman positions within the land during World War I. When the Turkish uncovered the spy operation, the subjects were caught and tortured. When Sarah was to be transported to another place, she begged her captors to let her change clothes at her family home. There, in the bathroom, Sarah shot herself with a pistol. The house is now a monument with an exhibit dedicated to the Aaronsons.

A few steps away from the Aaronson house is this beautiful, creamy stone cottage which is a retail outpost for Tishbi, a wine estate founded by Jonathan Tishbi in 1984. However, don't let this date fool you into thinking that the Tishbis have no winemaking tradition, since the family business really began some 120 years ago. In 1882, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild commissioned Jonathan's great grandparents to plant a new generation of grape vines in the Zikhron Ya'acov plains. To this day, Tishbi is a recognized name in Israel's winemaking industry.
Current owner Jonathan Tishbi, an Oakley-sunglasses-and-bush-hat-wearing chap, studied viticulture in numerous countries, but is most impressed by Australian winemaking techniques. He reported that Shiraz, a grape varietal from Iran, is the easiest to grow in the valleys and foothills of Mount Carmel.

His hobbies include collecting and restoring vintage automobiles, along with distilling Cognac in his vintage Cognac-making super machine straight from this region of France.

Wine tasting events can be organized, free of charge, at such estates as Tishbi. At our own wine tasting headed by Jonathan himself, we were served an assortment of cheeses to start, along with piping hot plates of stonebaked pizzas with only the simplest and freshest ingredients. Everyone agrees that, oddly, it feels more like Napa Valley or Tuscany rather than Israel's Carmel range.