"Israel's Little Tuscany" has long been a nickname for the Upper Galilee. The green countryside, the growing numbers of both large-scale and boutique wineries, and the laid-back atmosphere have attracted urbanites on weekend jaunts as well as adventurous travelers.
The mountain air is redolent with the fragrance of spice plants; visitors can hike, cycle, or ride horses along trails that range from easy to challenging; and opportunities for kayaking, bird-watching, and other outdoor pursuits abound. These are the best vacation treats, all in a fascinating historical setting.
The main geographical feature of this region is towering Mount Hermon, known as Israel's "sponge." Huge volumes of water from winter snow and rainfall soak into its limestone, emerging at the base of the mountain in an abundance of springs that feed the Jordan River and its tributaries and provide a significant amount of Israel's water supply. The water also sustains lush vegetation that thrives year-round and is home to wildcats, hyraxes, gazelles, and hundreds of species of birds.
This water and the strategic vantage points of the Galilee mountaintops and the Golan Heights have made the region a source of political contention since time immemorial. Over the centuries, Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, and Ottomans locked horns here; in the 20th century alone, the borders have been changed by Britain, France, and, of course, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.
Borders aren’t the only things that have shifted here. A geological fault line, the Syrian–African Rift, cuts straight through the 30-km (19-mile) Hula Valley; in 1837 an earthquake razed Tzfat and Tiberias, though no significant rumbles have been heard since. Extinct volcanic cones give the Golan its unusual topographic profile.
With all this water and fertile soil, the region has long been an agricultural center and is today studded with apple and cherry orchards, fishponds, and vineyards. The pastoral beauty and variety of outdoor activities attract visitors from elsewhere in Israel and the world, supplying the region's other main industry: tourism.
Proximity to Lebanon and Syria doesn’t ordinarily deter people from visiting the Upper Galilee and the Golan. On the contrary, the combination of an exciting past with a gorgeous natural setting is precisely the draw here.
Over the last century, both Jews and non-Jews have faced hardships and hurdles in this region. Yet the tenacious Galileans will say there's no better place to live. Although the area is only a three-hour drive from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, visitors find this is a world away in personality.