Gush Etzion – A Variety of Landscapes
Gush Etzion, otherwise known as the Etzion Bloc, comprises a cluster of rural communities dotted along the Judean hills, south of Jerusalem. Its history and rolling landscapes play host to a treasure of archaeological delights, natural wonders, and a pastiche of cultural happenings, with Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, Tekoa, and Rosh Tzurim among the many intricate communities inviting the ardent traveler to experience a taste of rural Israel.
The Gush is an area replete with changing landscapes, from verdant highlands to flat lowlands, which merge into the plains of the Judean Desert. The diverse terrain is resplendent with farmland.
The first modern day developments began in 1927, when Yemenite Jews settled here on land purchased by the Zichron David Company. “Migdal Eder” was founded as the regions first farming community and today is recognized as Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, which lies at the heart of 22 small communities. Kfar Etzion offers a Sound and Light Show depicting the heroic heroism of the early settlers, the battles during the 1948 War of Independence and the history of Gush Etzion. For further information phone: (02) 993-5160. The Kfar Etzion Field School offers the Museum of Man on the Mountain, bike rentals, organized hikes and tours, a youth hostel and Beduin camping. For further information phone: (02) 993-5133.
Farms in Israel
Today, the harvesters and their businesses are holding steady, and visitors can participate in helping to crop the fruits of their labors during harvest time. Among the many celebrations is the annual cherry picking festival in June that brings thousands of people to Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim. For further information email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (02) 993-5411, (02) 993-1775.
The Gush Etzion Winery, one of several boutique kosher le’mehadrin wineries in Gush Etzion offers wine-tasting and also has a fish dairy restaurant. For further information phone: (02) 930-9220.
The Ferency Farm Winery in Bat Ayin makes organic kosher l’mehadrin wines out of organically grown grapes on their farm and also offers a tour by of an archeological site that has a large winery from the time of the Second Temple. For further information phone: (02) 993-2 490 or 054-453-4425.
The Tekoa Winery- Organic Domestic Winery is a boutique winery specializing in organic dry red and aged wine vinegar certified kosher by the Religious Council of Gush Etzion. In the courtyard there is a gallery of paintings and sculptures by the winery owner, Dov Levy-Neumand. For further information phone: (02) 996-4903 or mobile: 054-230-7373.
The Jerusalem Mountains Winery is a boutique kosher l’mehadrin winery in Elazar. on the historically famous Patriarch’s Way whose wine won a silver Teravino Medal in 2010. Wine tasting and visits must be booked in advance. Phone (02) 993-2312 or mobile: 052-545-6759.
The Patriarch’s Way, derech ha’Avot is an ancient biblical route, traversing Israel from the north to the south. It follows the watershed ridge line of the Samarian and Judean Mountains which are enveloped in five natural springs and aqueducts.
The Biyar Aqueduct offers a treat for the whole family, where adventure-seekers can burrow through some 24 ancient underground tunnels channeled through the chalk cliffs of the Judean hills, said to trace back to the Hasmonean Period. For further information phone: (02) 993-5133.
Meanwhile, cheese-lovers can head to the eastern edge of Gush Etzion, where Sde Bar Farm rests at the foot of Herodium. The farm specializes in goats’ cheese pasteurizing as well as olive oil pressing and horse rearing. It is one of the farms in Israel which serves both as a farm and as a school. Here, guests will be guided around the farm and facilities, leaving enough time to stop for a delightful tasting session. Tours are available year round at both the winery and the Sde Bar Farm. For further information phone the Sde Bar Dairy: 052-525-5710.
Those with an appetite for nature can enjoy touring the Judean hills at another pace, riding horseback from Tekoa Horse Ranch (by reservation only, 052-357-4567) along the desert border, or treating the kids to a pony ride at Moshe’s Farm in the village of Efrat. While in the heart of Gush Etzion’s Elah Valley, visit the Deer Land Nature Park, opposite the entrance to Kfar Etzion. As the name suggests, the park is regarded for its variety of deer and more peculiarly has the longest zip-line in Israel, which crosses more than 400 meters of what locals call Wat Gan Edi (Valley of the Garden of Eden). A mini zoo, pony riding for children, extreme sports activities, jeep safari and ATV tours and a kosher mehadrin meat restaurant with a “Wild West” setting are also at Deer Land. For more information phone: (02) 570-9768 or mobile: 050-204-1201, 050-538-8705.
For a lesson in history, take a trip to the ancient ruins at Herodion National Park, a mountain and monumental fortress built by Herod the Great more than 2,000 years ago. Here visitors can explore the depths of the Judean Desert, picking up millennia-old pottery shards along the way. For more information phone: 057-776-1143.
For a look at some newer, modern-day ceramics, head to Adam Ve’Adama Ceramics Studio in Alon Shvut (reservation only, 054-592-4043).
No matter what choice you make: to view the ancient ruins of Herodium, soak up the country views on horseback, or tantalize your senses at boutique cheese farms and wine arbors, the Gush will offer you a truly authentic insight into rural living steeped in ancient history.
Gush Etzion Trivia: Did you know?
The majestic surroundings provide inspiration and motivation for local artists such as painter Hanna Nussbaum and poet Eliaz Cohen, a member of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion.