From rockin’ with Elton John in trendy metro Tel Aviv to discovering the secrets of Mediterranean olive oil in the Holy City of Jerusalem, Israel is a summertime mecca of culturally scintillating attractions for tourists who are looking for fun, sun and adventure.
Israel’s resilient tourism industry, which has bounced back from the negative effects of the global economic downturn in 2009, is on the verge of a record-breaking 2010 tourist season. Accordingig
to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, incoming tourism figures for 2010 are already ahead of 2008, when the country welcomed 3 million tourists (the original all-time record). Even Iceland’s menacing volcanic ash cloud, which wreaked havoc on European travel in April and May, did not have a deleterious effect on incoming tourism to Israel.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov revealed that income from foreign tourism in the first quarter of 2010 reached $695 million.
“The constant growth in incoming tourism sharpens the contribution to the Israeli economy, which means a significant increase in the number of direct and indirect jobs associated with the tourism industry.
There are now 90,000 people employed in the local tourism industry,” he added.
During the forthcoming summer and fall seasons, the Tourism Ministry will be investing an additional $10 million in various advertising campaigns, in order to lure new and veteran tourists to the Holy Land.
While there are hundreds of attractions to choose from on the ministry’s goisrael.com Web site, we’ve created a compact list of venues intended to pique your interest.
Tel Aviv Rocks
It’s one thing to light a candle in the wind at the Hollywood Bowl when Elton John is in town, but it’s an entirely different experience when nearly 40,000 Israelis start rockin’ round the clock in metro Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan Stadium. For the third time in his illustrious career, Elton John will anchor a jam-packed live concert in Israel on June 17. The large and enthusiastic crowds have attracted a diverse group of rock icons, from Paul McCartney and Madonna (last year) to Rihanna (May 30) and Elton John. And yes, there are still some tickets available for Elton’s gig in Ramat Gan, with prime seats costing around $250 to $300.
The Port of Tel Aviv (Namal Tel Aviv in Hebrew) highlights a distinctly Mediterranean version of the Santa Monica/Venice beachfront lifestyle. Resplendent with trendy bistros, chic shopping outlets and hot dance clubs overlooking the inviting Mediterranean Sea, the Port of Tel Aviv has become a magnet for both Hebrew-speaking “Melrose Place” wannabes and young foreign tourists who want to sample a taste of Zionistic hedonism. During the summer months, Music24, Israel’s answer to MTV broadcasts from a glass-enclosed studio along the port’s boardwalk, attracts thousands of teenagers and curious tourists from all over the globe. And yes, you can also rent a sailboat or surfboard and ride the waves along the Mediterranean coast. The Port of Tel Aviv is easily accessible by bus or taxi from all hotels in the city.
Honey, I Shrunk Israel
Halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the heart of Israel’s picturesque Coastal Plain, the Mini Israel park, has become an exceedingly popular tourist venue. Mini Israel’s uniqueness revolves around letting you “seeing it all small.” In the span of about three hours, tourists of all ages can marvel at the remarkably detailed 1:25 scale models of Israel’s most heralded architectural, historical, religious and cultural sites, including a sound-enhanced miniaturized version of Jews praying at the Western Wall and soccer fans doing the wave at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Reservations can be made at minisrael.co.il.
The nearby Israel Defense Forces Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum (yadlashiryon.com) at the Latrun junction, provides an enlightening historical perspective on how valiant Jewish forces battled the vaunted Jordanian legion for control of this vital area in the heart of Israel. It is also home to one of the largest tank museums in the world.the world.
Oil’s Well in Jerusalem
Ancient tradition will literally be blended into contemporary culinary endeavors, when the TerraOlivo Mediterranean International Extra Virgin Olive Oil competition gets underway on July 23 at the Inbal Hotel (inbalhotel.com). During the weeklong competition, the hotel will host hundreds of olive oil companies from Israel and around the world. A panel of Israeli and international food service industry judges will sample hundreds of varieities and tourists will be able to enjoy a colorful outdoor festival where olive oils and olive oil-based products, including health foods, cosmetics and soaps, will be available for sampling and purchase. Israeli culinary experts, including Inbal Hotel Executive Chef Itzik Barak, will be creating a variety of original dishes based on various olive oils.
“As I pride myself on creating innovative dishes that are also works of art, I’m looking forward to enticing food industry professionals and tourists alike with a variety of tempting dishes,” Barak said. “The timing of the event is perfect, because olive oil has now been recognized as being one of the key ingredients within the healthy Mediterranean diet. And in Israel, we’ve known about the secrets of olive oil for over 2,000 years, since the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem.”
For a truly “Middle Eastern” experience, you might want to visit the nearby Machane Yehuda outdoor market, also known as the shuk. It’s loud, it’s colorful and most certainly never boring. From teeming fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, to well-stocked exotic spice stores and cramped 10-seat bistros serving up some of the finest Sephardic-accented dishes you’ll ever taste, the shuk is a cross between Mel Brooks’ “History of the World - Part 1” and William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur.”
And if you’ve never thought of the Holy City as a place for “idols,” think again. In late August, the Israeli version of “American Idol,” known locally as “Kochav Nolad” (A Star Is Born) will telecast the live final showdown between the top three candidates at Sultan’s Pool, in the Valley of Hinnom. Thousands of Israeli youth and curious tourists alike will cheer on their favorite singers, as a panel of judges and audiences at home decide who will become the Jewish State’s next musical phenomenon. Ninette Tayeb, who captured the title during the show’s inaugural season in 2003, sold out concert halls in Los
Angeles during her most recent visit to the United States. You can also follow “Kochav Nolad” on the popular Hebrew-language entertainment Web site mako.co.il.
Rothschild Was Here
In recent years, Israel’s wine industry has been lauded for its growing number of award-winning vintages. As a result, large numbers of tourists have been flocking to Israeli wineries all over the country.
The most popular stop along Israel’s “wine route” (known as Derech Hayayin in Hebrew) is the Carmel Winery (carmelwines.co.il) in Zichron Yaakov. Founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1882, the fledgling winery became the focal point for the rebirth of “Jewish winemaking” in Israel, which dates back to the Temple era.
“The story of Carmel is the story of Israel,” says Adam Montefiore, the winery’s development manager, who has an integral role in changing the way people perceive contemporary Israeli wines.
Montefiore’s associate, Valerie Hecht, who heads Carmel’s Center for Wine Culture, encourages tourists to experience Israel’s wine revolution by spending a morning or afternoon at the winery. “Based on the constant flow of visitors to our new Center for Wine Culture, along with the astounding reactions from visitors after the professional tour and wine tasting, we are proud of the dramatic changes the
Israeli wine industry has undergone in recent years.” The winery is open year-round.