Stretched taut on a narrow coastal strip between Tel Aviv and the Lebanese border, this gorgeous region has a rare blend of Mediterranean beaches, fertile fields and citrus groves of the Sharon Plain, and seaside historical sights. Whether you succumb to the delights of the ancient port of Caesarea, with its spectacularly restored Roman ruins, the alleyways and beautifully vaulted Crusader halls of the Old City of Akko, or the vistas and gardens of modern Haifa, this lovely part of Israel doesn’t disappoint.
It was in the softly contoured foothills of Mount Carmel that philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild helped found the country’s wine industry in the 19th century, now one of the region's most successful enterprises. The Carmel range rises dramatically to its pine-covered heights over the coast of Haifa, an amiable and thoroughly modern port city. Across the sweeping arc of Haifa Bay lies Akko, a jewel of a Crusader city that combines Romanesque ruins, Muslim minarets, and swaying palms. To the north, the resort town of Nahariya draws droves of vacationing Israelis. Just south of the Lebanese border, don't miss the amazing seaside coves of Rosh Hanikra, which have been scooped from the cliffs by the pounding surf.
As the scenery changes, so does the ethnic mix of the residents: Druze, Carmelite monks, Baha'is, Christian and Muslim Arabs, and Jews. In the caves of Nahal Me'arot on Mount Carmel, paleontologists continue to study the artifacts of the most ancient, prehistoric native people. The Baha'is, dedicated to the idea that all great religions teach the same fundamental truths about an unknowable God, dominate Haifa's mountainside. Their terraced gardens spill down the slope toward a gleaming golden-domed shrine. White Friars of the Carmelite order preside over their serene monasteries in Haifa and on Mount Carmel. The monastery in Mukhraka sits in the outskirts of Daliyat el Carmel, one of the two large Druze villages on Mount Carmel. The Druze of the Galilee and Carmel, now numbering more than 125,000, have lived here for 1,000 years. Although they consider themselves an integral part of Israeli society, they maintain a unique cultural and religious enclave on Mount Carmel, with the esoteric rites and rituals of their faith and the distinctive handlebar moustaches and white head scarves favored by the older men. Akko's vast subterranean Crusader vaults and halls, Ottoman skyline of domes and minarets, and outdoor shuk (market) are enchanting.
As you drive north, enjoy long stretches of unimpeded views of the sparkling blue Mediterranean. Beautiful beaches lie beside (and in between) Netanya, Haifa, and Achziv, with soft sand, no-frills hummus joints, and seaside restaurants. You can learn to scuba dive, explore underwater shipwrecks, hike the pine-scented slopes of Mount Carmel, tread the winding lanes of Ein Hod artists' village, and taste local wines and tangy cheeses at some excellent wineries.