Take a hike!

Join Oscar Marvin on the world’s finest matzah ramble


The greenery is so lush and the water is so plentiful that if it was allowed you would jump in. Welcome to Banias, one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Middle East. It is a bit of a schlep to the Golan Heights but it is worth it to see Banias and to hike along one of the trails in the large nature reserve.

For Israelis, the word Banias is synonymous with tranquil hiking - yet it does not mean much to most overseas visitors. But you can bet they will have heard of the waterway formed from Banias and some other tributaries - the Jordan River.

Mount Hermon is home to Israel's only ski resort and is, to many, the emblem of the Golan Heights. A spring emerges from the foot of this mountain, runs through a canyon, and then cascades down 30ft. True, it's hardly the Niagara Falls but it is the stunning scenery around the cascade that makes it such an impressive place to visit - and happily the scenery thrives in the spring. The dense forest, with its poplars and willows, seems out of place in a part of the world that is so hot, and is often actual desert.

The trails give you views, nature and history. As well as the forest and the water, you will see animals including porcupines and rock hyrax - and you will encounter the history of the place. One trail, a 45-minute loop, features sites from the Roman and Crusader eras. Another trail lasts an hour and a half and takes you under a Roman bridge and onwards to a thoroughly modern site - a hydroelectric power station.

The very name Banias tells you something of its history. The place was originally named Panias but it later became known as Banias, because in Arabic there is no "P" sound and the area was Arab-controlled for a long period. Pan was a Greek God and the area was dedicated to him. You can see the remains of a temple and other ritual facilities.

A trip to Banias can contract or expand, depending on the time you have and the mobility of the people in your party. If you are travelling with elderly or very young relatives who want to minimise legwork, you can park and take a relatively short walk (though the ground is uneven) to the waterfall. Longer trails allow you to get a real feel for the area.

For another hike combining greenery and history - this time, the more recent past - consider Hanita Forest in the Western Galilee. There are prime trees, orchids and annuals, as well as natural vegetation developing in the shade of the conifers. Enjoy the scenic lookout, make use of the picnic spot and take a trail.

This is also a great place to learn about the establishment of Jewish neighbourhoods in the Galilee in the early 20th century. You can see a reconstruction of the tower and stockade, the infrastructure that was put in place when Zionist pioneers of the 1930s laid down roots on land that they had purchased, to increase the Jewish presence in British Mandate Palestine.

On nearby Kibbutz Hanita you can see a film about how the
kibbutz began as a tower-and-stockade community and see models of similar communities. And the reconstructed tower at the forest is open for climbing, providing a physical challenge that is fun for kids and adults.

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