Long before eco-tourism and healthy living came into fashion, a small village in the Upper Galilee region of Israel followed these principles because that’s how the families there saw fit. Today, Moshav Amirim – a vegetarian cooperative community – is considered one of the country’s best holiday getaways.
The craziness of everyday life is quickly forgotten upon driving into this comfy community of bed-and-breakfasts, galleries and spas. Set in a forested area with gorgeous views of the countryside, Amirim – which means “summits” in Hebrew — is known for its relaxed ambience, nature trails and delectable vegetarian cuisine.
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“You can breathe here,” Gitit Zarchi, owner of View 10 (Nof 10) Luxury Suites and Spa, tells ISRAEL21c. “The view here is breathtaking. We’re located in the heart of a nature reserve, and there are great people here.”
Amirim is one of the most welcoming communities in Israel. Nearly all 150 families in the community have a hand in the tourist trade and it’s their joint mission to make you fall in love with their locale.
Situated at a height of 600 meters above sea level, overlooking the Lower Galilee and the Sea of Galilee, Amirim is easy to love.
Beacon of guesthouses
Amirim was founded in 1958 by a group of vegetarians and vegans who wanted a community of their own where no animals would be killed for food and no pesticides would be used in farming. Whereas other farming villages (moshavim) during the early days of the state relied on cowsheds and chicken coops for income, Amirim’s members focused on agriculture.
“People thought we were crazy to start a vegetarian village,” Dalia Cohen, who has lived in Amirim for 50 years, tells ISRAEL21c.
Located just 20 minutes away from Safed (Tzfat), the number one tourist stopover in the 1960s, Amirim built its first guesthouses in 1961. Also not far from Tiberias – where many Christian holy sites are located – the village was soon popular with the foreign crowd as well as domestic travelers.
In 1985, the Tourism Ministry dubbed it the country’s first “rural tourist village” and set Amirim on its path to become the country’s beacon for rural holidays. As people looked for environmentally friendly vacations, this vegetarian community was immediately a natural choice.
There are some 250 bed-and-breakfast guesthouses and cabins set up along the winding roads of the community. Each place has its own style or theme. Many of the guesthouses also include spas; some are for couples only, while others cater to families.
Rustic they are not. Pastoral by location, many of these cottages and cabins are decked out with Jacuzzis, flat-screen televisions and other modern amenities. The Jacuzzi water, in case you’re wondering, almost always drains into the garden in keeping with the environmentally friendly character.
There’s also a community pool that is open to guests in summer.
“Amirim has restaurants, artists, galleries, nature trails, guesthouses and cabins. It’s a true holiday village,” says Zarchi, a retired educator who, together with her husband, turned to the tourism business in order to “share the plentitude that surrounds us.”
Amirim is a gastronomical adventure for anyone who likes food — and a paradise for vegetarians and vegans especially. Though many omnivores and carnivores may think of vegetarian fare as a mere side dish, Amirim’s chefs have a different perspective.
The little community has a growing culinary scene. There’s an Indian restaurant, a few vegetarian and vegan eateries and cafés, and bakeries, too.
“There’s more awareness about vegetarian food today,” says Cohen, 75, Amirim’s best-known culinary wizard.
Cohen is the owner of the village’s landmark restaurant, Dalia, which opened its doors 30 years ago. “There are two kinds of people who come to eat in Amirim: Those who are vegetarian or vegan and those who are used to eating a hamburger and fries but say they’ll try it out once and then return again and again,” she says.
Cohen – who loves to tell about the cooking competition she won 45 years ago with a vegetarian dish of eggplant filled with soya, orange and wine — dismisses any suggestion that her food is a side order. “My menu includes fritters with nuts, blintzes, soups, lots of organic salads, desserts, herbal tea. You leave here full and satisfied,” she declares. “You can be a master chef with a vegetarian meal.”
Moreover, much of the food served at Amirim’s eateries is home grown. Visitors to the village can wander through the different vegetable patches and see just where their salad comes from.
Attractions next door
Amirim is a jump-off point for many visitors to the Galilee region and Golan Heights. In addition to nearby Safed and Tiberias, there are also hiking trails leading from the village to nature reserves nearby.
Other attractions in the area include horseback riding, kayaking on the Jordan River, jeep tours in the Golan Heights and boat trips on the Sea of Galilee.
In summer, Amirim’s local musicians perform for free in an outside park area overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
And while attractions are nice, one of the real reasons to come to Amirim is for R&R. So, park your car at a guesthouse and don’t move it until your holiday is over. Walk around the village, taste the healthy cuisine, take in the views and just relax. That’s what you’re here for.