The Galilee Panhandle (Hebrew: אצבע הגליל) is the northernmost part of Israel (not including the Golan Heights), a narrow strip of land running north-south. It borders Lebanon to the west and north, the Golan Heights to the east, and the rest of the Galilee region to the south. It is a rural area mostly known for its natural beauty. The only city in it is Kiryat Shemonah (Hebrew: קרית שמונה), population 22,000.
Geographically, the Finger of Galilee mainly consists of two parts: the Hula Valley, a very flat region known for agricultural kibbutzim and as a focus of bird migration, and the Naftali Mountains, a steep hilly region along the Lebanese border. Route 90, the main road in the area, runs north-south on the boundary between these areas.
Kiryat Shemonah is the urban center of the region. It has facilities like stores and restaurants that will be of use to travelers, and it's the destination for all the area's buses. However, it's not very interesting in and of itself.
From the south, one drives into Kiryat Shemonah on Route 90 from the direction of the Sea of Galilee.
There is frequent bus service from Haifa (routes 500, 505), Tel Aviv (840, 845), Safed (511), and Tiberias (541, 840). The bus from Tel Aviv takes 3 to 4 hours; the one from Haifa two hours. Buses from Jerusalem (963) are infrequent. Buses terminate at the Kiryat Shmonah 1 Central Bus Station.
Ayit Airways has two daily flights between Tel Aviv (Sde Dov Airport) and the 2 Rosh Pina airport just to the south of the Finger of Galilee. Cost is 260 NIS per person (185 NIS for residents of the north). Sundays-Thursdays, no weekend service.
Infrequent buses run from Kiryat Shemonah to neighboring villages and to the Golan Heights. Taxis are easily obtained, they are expensive if you want to go a long distance, but sometimes you can share with other people and it will be cheaper. You could also try hitchhiking from the edge of Kiryat Shemonah. The most efficient way is by private car though.
- 1 Metulla. The northernmost community in Israel. Somewhat yuppified. Until 2000 it was home to the "Good Fence", a border crossing where Lebanese citizens could cross into Israel to work and receive medical care. But since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, the border has become heavily militarized and little trace of the Good Fence can be seen.
- 2 Nahal Iyun nature reserve (Iyon, Ayun stream). A beautiful nature reserve following one of the tributaries of the Jordan River, next to Metulla. The river flows through a canyon and goes over several waterfalls, the highest of them over 20 meters tall. NIS 28 (kids NIS 14).
- 3 Tel Hai. Established in 1907 by workers from the nearby Jewish town of Metulla, Tel Hai was attacked by an Arab militia in 1920. Eight people were killed in the attack, including Joseph Trumpledor, one of the few Jewish pioneers at the time to have any military experience. In retrospect this is often seen as the very first military confrontation of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Trumpledor's alleged last words were "No matter, it is good to die for our country" and for decades afterwards he was seen an Israeli military hero. Now the site has been restored as a museum about the early Jewish pioneers who lived here.
- 4 Kfar Giladi. The eight pioneers killed in Tel Hai are buried here. Near their grave, in 1934 a large statue of a lion was erected as a memorial to them.
- 5 Prehistoric Man Museum (In Kibbutz Maayan Baruch). Exhibits prehistoric artifacts recovered in the area, particularly from ancient burial caves located near the museum. Among the exhibits is the oldest known domestic dog skeleton in the world, 12,000 years old.
- 6 Nachal Snir nature reserve (Senir Stream nature reserve). 8-5 Sat-Thu, 8-4 Fri, closes one hour earlier on winter time. A nature reserve on one of the Jordan River's tributaries. The river has a powerful flow here, and if you're lucky you can see various forms of wildlife. NIS 28 (kids NIS 14).
- 7 Tel Dan. A beautiful nature reserve with Israel's largest spring. It also contains a Biblical tel, which was an important site in ancient Israel. You can see the remains of the altar built by King Jeroboam as an alternative to worship in Jerusalem, as well as "Abraham's Gate" which is one of the world's earliest attested arch constructions, dating to around 1700 BCE when (according to the Bible) Abraham visited the area. Nearby Ussishkin House is a museum documenting the tel and its natural environment. The Israel National Trail begins here.
- 8 Banias. One of Israel's best-known nature sites. The river Nahal Hermon, one of the Jordan River's main tributaries, originates here, passing through a series of rapids and the most powerful waterfall in Israel. You can also see ruins from the Hellenistic city of Paneas (after the Greek god Pan), whose name became Banias in Arabic.
- 9 Hula National Park. The Hula Lake was once a massive area of wetlands, which served as a stopping place for huge numbers of birds on their yearly migration from Europe to Africa and back again. Most of the wetlands were drained to eliminate malaria and create new farmland, but one part of the lake was revived and is now a national park. Every year 500 million birds pass through this park, especially in the migration seasons of fall and spring. There is a 3-story lookout tower, a boardwalk over the lake, and other facilities to help you observe them.
The ridge to the north and west of Kiryat Shemonah is great for hiking, mountain biking, and free-riding. There is a spectacular panoramic view of the Hula Valley and the Golan Heights. If you are adventurous, you might try paragliding.
The northern Jordan River is a popular site for kayaking, rafting, and other water activities. The water is pleasantly cool even on the hottest days of summer. You can do this in several different places:
Other things to do
- 5 Manara Cliff. Located on a steep 800-meter-high mountain just south of Kiryat Shmonah. The highlight is a cable car which leads to the top of the hill, where there is a beautiful view of the Hula valley and Lebanon. Other attractions include rappelling, climbing walls, and a toboggan run. The site is relatively expensive - a round-trip cable car ride costs about NIS 70 per person, and the other attractions have separate tickets.
- 6 Canada Centre, Metulla. Go skating in Israel's only full-sized ice rink, fittingly located in the northernmost inhabited place in all of Israel (though the weather is no colder than elsewhere in Israel).
- 7 Shulman Chocolate Museum, Kibbutz Dafna, ☎ . A small chocolate factory with attached visitors' center and boutique chocolate shop. You can see or buy interesting chocolate sculptures, and you can take part in chocolate activities, mostly intended for kids.
This region is not a shopping destination. The one thing you might want to buy here is hiking/camping gear if you forgot to bring it with you:
- 1 Hagor Tzafon, Kiryat Shmonah north industrial zone. Hiking and camping goods
- Camping HaTzafon, HaMakabim 13, Kiryat Shmonah.
Eating in Qiryat Shemona is probably not at the level of gourmands. Nevertheless, there are a number of Israeli-style places to eat where you can walk away feeling satisfied and well-nourished.
At the most basic level, there are any number of falafel stands. Probably the best is Falafel Shel Aharon, across the street from the police station in the Rasko shopping center. Another good one is found in Kikar HaHistadrut, near the municipal auditorium.
More elegant dining is found in a number of places that combine Italian influence with Israeli style. These include:
Toscana - Just outside of town on Highway 99 in the direction of the Golan Heights, this place is recommended for good coffee and fine Israeli-style breakfasts.
Focaccia Bar - In a small shopping center on Highway 99 near the entrance to Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch, this place has outstanding wood-fired pizza.
Kiryat Shemonah has no hotels inside the city limits. So either stay at a tsimmer (what most Israelis do), or at a hotel in a nearby kibbutz.
- 1 Kfar Giladi Hotel, ☎ .
- 2 Pastoral (Kibbutz Kfar Blum), ☎ . A bit more luxurious than Kfar Giladi's hotel, Pastoral is located in the middle of the Huleh Valley and, as such, can be a little hot during the summer. This is offset by the overall quality of the services but also renders the bill a bit higher.
- Kibbutz Manara hotel (Manara), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A more basic - and much less expensive - hotel service than Kfar Giladi or Pastoral, but gives the advantage of truly stunning views of both Lebanon and the Huleh Valley right from your hotel window.
- Lev-ari Guest House (Metulla), ☎ .
- Galila Bed & Breakfast, 22 Harishonim St, Metulla, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. The best known bed & breakfast resort tsimmer in the Metulla area. Air conditioning and TV. Magnificent view, Jacuzzi in open garden, and Israeli breakfast. They can also recommend attractions. Cell-phone: +972523494349
Southern Lebanon, which borders the Finger of Galilee, is controlled by the Hizbullah militia which is dedicated to destroying Israel. There have only been a handful of border incidents since the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war. But a major war could in theory break out at any time. Visitors should be aware that the regions immediately next to the border (typically 1km away or less) are heavily militarized. If you see any military installations, or signs declaring areas to be closed military zones, stay away!
If you've made it this far, you might as well continue a few last kilometers east into the Golan Heights.
- In particular, northern Golan attractions like Mount Hermon and Nimrod Castle are very close to Kiryat Shmonah, Tel Dan, and other northern Finger of Galilee destinations.
|Routes through Galilee Panhandle|
|Eilat ← Tiberias ←||S N||→ Metula → END|