Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa … Arad?
If this southern Israeli city doesn’t come to mind when you think about touring Israel, Anna Sandler is working hard to put it there.
Sandler is the tourist coordinator for this 52-year-old city bordering the Negev and Judean deserts.Its proximity to the Dead Sea, 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) west, is at once its main attraction and its biggest problem, says Sandler.
“Arad was Israel’s first planned city, and tourism was built into the plan, but once the Dead Sea hotels grew so rapidly, tourism in Arad almost died. So now we’re starting over,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
The ethnically diverse city of about 24,000 offers quite a few advantages to travelers looking to explore the nearby Dead Sea, Masada National Park and Ein Gedi – some of Israel’s most popular tourist sites – as well as lesser-known destinations in Arad itself.
In fact, if you’re heading to the popular Light and Sound Show at Masada (972-8-995-9333), open from March through October, it is accessible only from Arad.
“Arad’s location gives it a number of distinct advantages,” Sandler says.“To the east lies the Dead Sea, with its array of attractions, just to the north is the Judean Desert and to the south lies the Eastern Negev with its moon-like craters, breathtaking ridges and timeless wadis.”
One of the most significant attractions in the area is Tel Arad National Park, just northwest of the modern city. It boasts the remains of a fortified Canaanite settlement from the Bronze Era whose walls, streets, shrines, castle and waterworks are still visible, along with a fortress from the period of the Judean kings (972-57-776-2170).
Arad Park, a Jewish National Fund grove, is perfect for picnics and nature recreation. Arad offers opportunities for rappelling, desert hikes, jeep and bike tours, and Sandler is planning some extreme sport festivals for the near future to showcase Arad as a destination for desert athletes.
Enjoying the desert air and views
Like the Dead Sea, Arad enjoys a year-round temperate climate with dry, fresh air beneficial for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma.
The Moav International Integrated Clinic offers Chinese medicine treatments and packages for medical tourists, while several private facilities in Arad house salt rooms and health spas.
Nineteen new, marked hiking trails in different levels of difficulty wind around Arad, affording spectacular views of the landscape. Especially recommended is the Moav Observatory overlooking the Judean Desert, Dead Sea and mountains of biblical Moab (972-8-995-1871).
In the western part of town, the wheelchair-accessible Lot’s Wife Artists Quarter has several galleries and museums. Tours and workshops with painters, metal-smiths and sculptors can be arranged in advance.
The Glass Museum (972-8-995-3388), established in 2003, serves as a permanent home for the artist Gideon Fridman and other Israeli glass artists. Arad also has a Visitors Center, Historical Museum (972-50-858-9373), Bible Museum and Doll Museum.
Where to stay
Sandler points out that guest accommodations in Arad generally are less expensive than in Ein Bokek, where most of the Dead Sea hotels are clustered.
“Overnight visitors have a choice of three hotels – one of them glatt kosher — a youth hostel, a boutique hotel and several guest houses,” she says. (Note: as of this writing, the kosher hotel, Yefe Nof, is closed for renovations.)
All told, Arad has around 500 guest rooms available, adding up to 1,024 beds. A weekend night costs about $240 at the 10-room Yehelim Boutique Hotel; $100 at Hana’s Guesthouse; and $500 at the 103-room, three-star Hotel Inbar.
Several holistic tourism initiatives are being established on the Arad-Masada road, offering vacationers a spiritual experience.
Among these is the Zman Midbar Eco Spirit Lodge, offering desert hospitality overlooking the Dead Sea, along with workshops in yoga, meditation, energy healing and other alternative disciplines. The lodge also offers guests a variety of journeys including a meeting with Bedouin neighbors and a four-day soul-refreshing hike in the Judean Desert.
Interested in Bedouin hospitality? Kfar Hanokdim promises an authentic experience complete with goat-hair tents, campfires, fresh ethnic feasts and camel rides. Tourists can also learn about cooking with solar energy and take part in a Desert Sounds drumming workshop.
Arad does not yet have an English-language website. For tourist information, email Anna Sandler at Annas@kalkalit-arad.co.il.