Israel has long been a fascinating place to visit for food lovers. The country's diaspora communities hail from around the globe, from Russia to Northern Africa, with far-reaching culinary traditions evident in restaurants, snack shops, and street stalls. Add to that mix abundant Mediterranean seafood and vibrant fruits and vegetables for an unforgettable foodie destination. Now, the country is beginning to embrace wine. Since the early 1990s, Israel's wine industry has swelled from seven to more than 300 wineries. Currently, there are just a handful of wineries with proper tasting rooms, but many more are in the works. For a wine- and food-filled vacation in Israel, here are six can't-miss experiences.
Start or end your trip at the country's first wine-focused hotel, opened in June 2013, in a wine-growing area less than 10 miles from Jerusalem. The sleek, modern property is fully dedicated to wine, from its "vinotherapy" spa treatments to its wine shop stocked with bottles from the country's best producers. The hotel's knowledgeable sommeliers will recommend cult-worthy wines to pair with the restaurant's local, seasonal fare. Beyond that, they can also suggest top visiting experiences at wineries around the country.
Don't miss: Tasting some of the country's rarest bottles at the Cramin's just-opened wine bar, followed by a soak in the indoor or outdoor pools.
One of the first boutique wineries to pop up in 1998, Flam Winery is located just 15 miles outside of Jerusalem. Founded by brothers Golan and Gilad Flam, the winery is a must-visit for its memorable wines, intimate tasting room experience, and lovely views of the Judean Hills. Guests can unwind on the outdoor patio as they're taken through a guided tasting, which is paired with artisanal cheeses and breads. Tasting experiences range from $25 to $40 per person, and reservations are required.
Don't miss: The Classico, a spicy, structural Cabernet blend; and, the rosé, made from Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
Israel's best-known chef, Erez Komarovsky, offers weekly cooking workshops from his stunning home in Galilee, located on an organic orchard surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens. "My inner language revolves around lamb and hyssop, tahini, garlic, and tomatoes," Komarovsky says. "That's where I'm most at home." Hands-on classes run for a half-day and focus on topics from bread-baking to seafood preparation. Included with each workshop is a multicourse meal, paired with wine. Classes start at $160 per person, and reservations are required in advance.
Don't miss: A guided tour of the garden, where you can sniff and sample dozens of fresh herbs.
Set back in a residential neighborhood in the Judean Hills, this refined tasting room is the perfect spot to sample elegant bottlings from winemaker Eran Pick. Tzora Vineyards grows eight varietals—from Cabernet Sauvignon to Gewurtztraminer—on its 80-acre estate. Pick and his partners strive to reflect the specific terroir of their vineyard, making wines only from grapes grown on the estate. The tasting room is open every day except Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm. Tastings start at $15, paired with local cheeses; reservations are required in advance.
Don't miss: Shoresh Blanc, a bright, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc; and Shoresh Red, a deeply flavored blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot.
Israel's best wine-growing region is located in the northeastern-most corner of Israel, just a few miles from the borders of Syria and Lebanon. Most of Golan Heights Winery's 28 vineyards are planted here, from 1,300 to 4,000 feet above sea level. The extreme temperature swings at these elevations help the grapes gain complexity, making for elegant wines. The Golan Heights visitors' center offers a range of tastings, tours, and food-pairing experiences, and is open daily, except Saturdays. Reservations are required in advance, via the Golan Heights Winery website. To find these wines in the U.S., look for bottles labeled as Yarden, Gilgal, or Mount Hermon.
Don’t miss: The fresh, guava- and melon-scented Yarden Sauvignon Blanc; and the smooth-sipping Yarden Odem Vineyard Merlot, a full-bodied wine with notes of black cherry and coffee.
Also called HaCarmael Market, this is the largest open-air food and vegetable market in Tel Aviv. Enter off Allenby Street, and meander past the clothing stalls to find a kaleidoscope of produce, pastries, candies, spices, and prepared foods. There are stands selling boureka pastries filled with spinach, potato, or cheese; rainbows of olives and pickled vegetables; and towers of pastel halvahs and nougats, alongside honey-drenched, date-filled sweets. Customers are enticed into spice stalls by merchants calling out the superiority of their shakshuka and harissa blends, and wooed by fruit sellers to sample luscious strawberries, loquats, prickly pears, and persimmons. The best times to go are Tuesday and Friday mornings, when a crafts fair pops up near the market entrance.
Don't miss: The standout hummus at Hummus HaCarmel (Shop No. HaCarmel 11), topped with soft chickpeas, pickles, and skhug (Middle Eastern hot sauce).
Itay Sikolsky (Cramin Hotel); Noa Magger / Kinetis (Flam Winery, Erez Komarovsky cooking class); Courtesy of Tzora (Tzora Vineyard); Erica Duecy (Carmel Market)
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