Friday, July 29, 2011

Sea of Galilee & Beyond

The Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, also called the Kinneret, is one of Israel's four main water bodies along with the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. This landlocked sea is actually a freshwater lake which is 33 miles in circumference. Israelis have always had a sort of love affair with this romantic body of water nestled into the country's heart (in Israel's Galilee region) and bordering the seaside city of Tiberias. The Kinneret is much more than the country's largest supply of fresh drinking water, however; instead, it is also a first class tourism center with much to be seen and appreciated.


In terms of the surrounding scenery, there are a variety of different landscapes in each direction that you face. To the west you have the Galilee mountains, to the east you have the foothills of the Golan, to the north there is the scenic Beit Tsida Valley, and to the south is the Jordan estuary which flows southward toward the desert regions. Here's me appreciating the view of the Sea of Galilee from the mountains in the west:




These differing geographies make for all kinds of beaches that border the 33 mile circumference of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the Kinneret's beaches have soft sand, some are rocky, some are narrow and some are wide. No matter what type of beaches border the Sea of Galilee, you can bet that it will be a tourist draw. Most of the beaches allow nature-loving visitors to sleep in camping areas on the sand; and of course there are also dozens of hostels, guest houses, zimmers and beachfront hotels from which to choose.


Most of the beaches also offer various types of water sports and water activities, such as boating in inflatable rubber dinghies, canoes and kayaks. Children can also enjoy the giant slides at the water parks of Luna Gal, Tsemakh or Gai Beach. There are plenty of restaurant and grocery stores along the way so that food will not be a problem. Most of all, the Kinneret is the "it" place in Israel where one can enjoy restful calm and serene tranquility. 


Once you've had enough of the beach, the Kinneret actually makes a perfect starting point for nature tours in the area. Some of the more popular and beautiful sites are the Jordan Park, the Beit Tsida Nature Reserve, Khamat Gader and Naharayim. There is also the lower Golan Heights region which borders the Kinneret and is full of swift, flowing streams, historic sites and nature reserves. Of course, the nearby Golan Heights is also home to my favorite wineries in Israel. Combine a half day hike with an afternoon of leisurely wine tasting.



Lastly, one of the more famous tourist draws to the area is the city of Tiberias, which has become a jumping off point for the vast amount of holy sites in the region with ties to the early years of Christianity. Thus, the Sea of Galilee and its surrounding area has become a pilgrimage site for many Christians. According to Christian tradition, Jesus lived, preached and performed miracles in the Kinneret and the surrounding region. It was here that he walked on the water and the miracle of the loaves and fishes happened in the nearby town of Kfar Nakhum, also known as Capernaum. 


In fact, just a few months ago in April 2011, Israel unveiled the The Jesus Trail (see details here), a 40 mile hiking trail in the region for Christian pilgrims. It includes a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples. It ends at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus espoused his teachings. Another key attraction of the trail is the site where the Kinneret's water flows into the Jordan River, where thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to be baptized every year.


Along the way, pilgrims and hikers will pass by a number of key holy sites including the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of Loaves and Fishes, Kfar Nakhum, Kursi, and the wooden boat discovered in the lake and now on display in Kibbutz Ginosar. Other nearby historic sites includes Migal, Tel Hada, Ubeidiya, Beit Tsida, Kibbutz Dganya Alef, and Moshavat Kinnert.


Seems to me that there is quite a lot to see in the Sea of Galilee region. It's one of those places that you can go back to time and time again and continue to see new things, stay in new places and explore new trails, waiting to be unveiled.

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