Feel the spray of the waterfalls running down to the Jordan River. Slide down the slopes of Mount Hermon. Smell fragrant blossoms and taste the wine, olive oil, and fresh-picked apples, cherries and grapes of the Golan Heights.
Thanks to an award-winning 3D panoramic show at the Golan Magic (Kessem Hagolan) tourist center just east of Katzrin, you can do all that without stepping outdoors.
After experiencing the movie (in English, Hebrew or Russian), you’ll want to visit some of those places in real time. Katzrin, the unofficial capital of the Golan, is a great place to start the journey.
This town of 8,500 residents boasts clear air, green vistas fed by natural springs, fun activities and a rich history you can see and touch. The modern town is situated near the original Katzrin, which flourished in Byzantine/Talmudic times before it was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 749 CE and lay fallow for 500 years.
Golan Heights tour guide Yehuda Geller recommends starting with a nature walk at Eden Springs Park at Katzabia Junction. The park surrounds the waterway that supplies the Mey Eden water bottling plant nearby.
“You’ll see lots of plants and animals, and there are pools you can put your feet into,” says Geller. “There are signs throughout the park explaining about the water and containing Bible verses about water. You have a great view of the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] and the western slopes of the Golan Heights.”
There are archeological remains of early Jewish settlement under Herod the Great, the construction-crazy Roman client king of Israel from 39 BCE to 4 CE.
At Ancient Katzrin Park, a partially restored Talmudic-era village dating from the fourth to sixth centuries, step inside houses and a synagogue, watch an audiovisual presentation and see seasonal demonstrations of wine, olive oil and pita preparation.
The Golan Archeological Museum in Katzrin features relics of Byzantine-period churches and synagogues and an audiovisual presentation of the heroic defense of the Jewish town of Gamla against conquering Roman forces one year before the better-known standoff at Masada in 67 CE. Roman arrowheads, ballista stones, clay oil lamps, and coins minted during the siege are displayed as well.
Eat, drink and be merry
Katzrin’s industrial zone has several businesses open for tours available in English. Others, like the Tzabar Arts ceramics workshop and showroom, are open to browsers.
Book a tour in advance at the Golan Heights Winery, one of Israel’s largest and most award-winning wineries: a one-hour tour followed by tastings, a two-hour professional wine tasting, a vineyard tour or a premium tour that includes a gourmet meal accompanied by wines.
The Golan Heights Distillery – which won three medals in 2016, just one year into its existence – produces a dozen types of whisky, absinthe, gin and arak. To book a tour and tasting in English, call David Zibell, +972-(0)54-384-3069.
Olea Essence olive oil press produces organic extra virgin olive oils as well as olive-oil-based skin-care products. A guided tour starts with an explanation of olive harvesting and ends with tastings.
The Golan Brewery in the Golan Magic complex boasts a unique compound combining onsite beer manufacturing (book a tour to discover the secrets behind its four varieties), a bar and brew-house meat restaurant. Golan Magic also houses the Taste of the Galilee and the Golan kosher dairy restaurant.
When it’s time to stop for a bite, other alternatives include a selection of indoor and outdoor eateries in Katzrin town square, where a kid-friendly fountain and climbing mosaic by artist Ruslan Sergeev highlight a recently refurbished plaza.
At Sara’s Jam House, next to Katzrin in Kidmat Zvi, choose from among 40 flavors of jam, preserves, relishes and sauces cooked up from locally grown produce. Information: +972-(0)50-999-5543.
Also in Kidmat Zvi is the Bell Ofri farm refuge/ petting zoo, which includes a boutique winery, dairy restaurant and working oil press. Another free petting zoo is located in Katzrin proper, adjacent to an excellent playground, says Geller.
If you’re into tie-dying, Groovesters Studio in downtown Katzrin, run by two American immigrants, offers workshops for all ages.
The Golan Heights boasts many national parks and nature reserves.
The two closest to Katzrin – within a 15-minute drive — are Gamla Nature Reserve and historical site (including a road leading to the ancient town of Gamla) and Majrase Nature Reserve, where you can set out on a one-hour water hike in warm weather.