Take your travel itinerary to another level of fulfillment with a visit to one of Israel’s most outstanding regions. A visit to the Golan Heights sparks the imagination and encourages exploration and discovery of times past while enveloping visitors within lush landscapes filled with ancient ruins and hidden gems. While experiencing the culture and cuisine of the Golan Heights, you will be captivated by the many attractions and natural wonders that are a continual beacon leading to exciting destinations.
Introduction to the Golan Heights
Aside from the military importance the Golan Heights provides to Israel, the area has a lot to offer the country and visitors.
The region is arid, but the land is fertile with its volcanic soil, which is used for farming and raising cattle, maintaining orchards, and cultivating vineyards for exceptional wine.
For snow enthusiasts, the only ski resort in Israel is located in the Golan Heights.
Historical Importance of the Golan Heights
The history of the Golan Heights is extensive and dates back to the 2nd century BCE when the area was settled by the Itureans. In the 3rd century AD, the Golan was controlled by the Christian Arab Ghassanid, and by the 7th century, during the Muslim conquest, the Golan was annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate.
Moving into modern times, the expansive region was part of Syria until the Six Day War in 1967. During the war, the region was taken over and occupied by Israel and ultimately annexed in 1981. With the Golan Heights under military control, the area was blended into Israel’s financial and communications network.
With its 500 square miles that offer panoramic views of Israel and Syria, it is considered a strategic area for the military. With the wide-open landscape overlooking Syria, monitoring any movements in that country provides a natural buffer zone and military advantage to Israel.
Exploring the Natural Beauty
The undulating landscape of the Golan Heights is like a patchwork of color and design with its multiple shades of green, patches of blue skis on the horizon, sparkling white waterfalls, and morning mists of gray blanketing distant mountains. Consider visiting some of the Golan Heights’ natural wonders to experience the beauty and serenity of the region.
The imposing fortress is a must-visit location for several reasons. First, it is a historical landmark. The fortress, also referred to as Nimrod Castle, was originally built by Al-Aziz Uthman in 1229 CE. Decades later, the fortress was enlarged by Mamluk ruler Balbars.
Next, the 13th century mountain-top medieval fortress is the largest castle remaining in Israel from the Crusade-era. The fortress is located on the southern slope of Mount Hermon and offers some of the most breathtaking scenic views to be found in Israel.
Last but not least, walk along the ancient pathways and past stone walls to see the massive Beautiful Tower, The Donjon with its four towers, and the Northern Tower. You will also see the roofed water reservoir, the moat, and the Secret Passage that the defenders used to exit the fortress without being seen.
Gamla Nature Reserve
Natural beauty abounds in several ways in the Gamla Nature Reserve. The reserve is known as the “Masada of the North,” which signifies that the reserve is an impressive and historical site. Throughout your visit, you will experience nature, history, and archaeology.
Wear a solid pair of hiking boots and make your way up the steep trail where ancient ruins stand majestically, defying time. Throughout the reserve, you will see a variety of wildlife that resides in the park. Enjoy more scenic views with a hike to the Gamla waterfall.
Banias Nature Reserve
One of the most beautiful places to visit in the Golan Heights is Banias Nature Reserve, which is home to Israel’s largest waterfall. The reserve is a favorite destination for travelers who enjoy nature and history.
Within the reserve, spend the day exploring and walking the scenic trails. Bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy near the Banias Spring, then head to Banias Cave where ancient history resides. Herod the Great built a temple within the cave, and the ancient ruins still remain.
Outdoor Activities in the Golan Heights
When visiting the Golan Heights, there is no lack of activities for all ages. History buffs have plenty of ancient ruins to peruse, hikers have miles of scenic trails, water enthusiasts can soak up some rays at the beach, or go white water rafting down a river. Snowboarders and skiers also have access to the snow-covered trails. Whatever your pleasure, you can find it in the Golan Heights.
For the adventurous, the Dan River is where you will want to go. Situated at Mount Hermon’s base, water activities abound for those who do not mind getting wet. Choose to rent a tube and enjoy leisurely floating in the water that is sure to cool you off on a hot day. If you prefer breathtaking excitement, take on the challenge of kayaking or white water rafting down the river.
When it is time to refuel and replenish your energy resources, stop in at the Dag al HaDan restaurant situated near the river for the fresh catch of the day and other delectable dishes.
Save some time to visit the nearby Tel Dan National Park. The park is located upon the ruins of what was once the ancient city of Dan. In the park, enjoy hiking trails, the natural landscape, and archeological ruins and artifacts.
While there are plenty of activities to keep travelers busy during the summer, those with winter travel plans will want to put Mount Hermon Ski Resort on their list of places to visit. Situated near the Israel-Syria border, Mount Hermon has an elevation of 9,292 feet (2,814 meters).
Enjoy one of the 14 scenic snow-packed ski trails, each averaging 28 miles long. Snowboarders will also find plenty of space for showing off their techniques.
More fun awaits at Duga Beach, set along the Sea of Galilee. The tranquil beach with its turquoise-blue-green water is an oasis for swimming and relaxation. The beach has shady areas, and it is quiet. A lifeguard is on duty. There are restrooms and shower facilities plus a convenience store. If you would like to camp under the stars, air-conditioned tents with a refrigerator are available to rent for an overnight stay.
Hidden Gems and Must Visit Spots
Exploring and discovering hidden gems is a fun part of any vacation whenever you are visiting a destination with as much history as Israel. From beaches and archeological sites to national parks and wine cellars, the Golan raises the excitement meter to another level.
Golan Heights Winery
The Golan Heights Winery has the distinction of being known for igniting Israel’s wine revolution. The revolution started in 1983 when Golan wine connoisseurs decided to incorporate winemaking techniques from the New World to Israel. The result was wines that are considered to be some of the finest in the world.
Enjoy a wine-making process tour that includes wine tastings of their main brands, take a guided tour, or hop aboard an ATV and drive through the wineries’ vineyards. Either way, your tastebuds will thank you.
Located in the northern region of the Golan Heights, Mount Bental is one of the two craters that were once part of a now-extinct volcano. A visit offers both a beauty and a history lesson.
The views from atop Mount Bental are stunningly beautiful and well worth the trek. Also, atop the mountain is an abandoned army outpost with living quarters and bunkers. It offers an unclose view of the sparse living conditions for Israeli soldiers. The view outside the bunker is the Kunetra Valley, which means the Valley of Tears.
For those who enjoy horseback riding, as well as those who might like to experience a cowboy-type adventure, plan a visit to Ramot Ranch. Pick your pleasure, and ride like the wind, exploring and soaking up the beautiful scenery. Whether it is for a leisurely trek for a few hours or an extended ride through the Golan Heights and Galilee, you can enjoy and see a lot of the area with a capable steed as your travel companion and mode of transportation.