Continuing our voyage through Israel, we drove out of Jerusalem and headed up the mediterranean coast to Haifa via Caesarea. A perfect family day out, the park offers Roman, Byzantine and Crusader ruins for the history buff, restaurants with spectacular food and views for the foodie and beaches for the bored toddler.
A quick drive further north delivered us to hilly Haifa. The coastline on either side of the city is perfect for beach days but, with limited time, we stuck to tourist hot-spots and child pleasers. The Baha'i Gardens are world famous for a reason, manicured within an inch of their life, they are sprawled up the hill from the restaurant row of the German Colony.
Best for the little one however was the hillside cable car, taking you from the tippy top of Haifa down to the beachfront promenade. A nice little selection of restaurants greet you at the hilltop cable car station which offer great views.
Another a toddler favorite was the Haifa Zoo. Although hilly (prepare to work those stroller pushing glutes) the zoo has Bengal tigers, camels, monkeys and a lovely little petting zoo. My only complaint was that it was overseen by a pre-teen volunteer who seemed to care little that the young visitors were playing whack-a-chick and I had to bring out my best disapproving mommy speech...pretty ineffective given that it wasn't in Hebrew.The zoo exits right into a park with an ancient but none the less enjoyable carousel.
Out of Haifa we went west to the Sea of Galilee. This route will put you through many locations any child will recognize thanks to the story of the Nativity. We were disappointed by Nazareth (overrun by traffic) and were unable to visit Bethlehem due to West Bank travel restrictions (see the post script below). But the Sea of Galilee offers many sites important to christianity, including the Mount of the Beatitudes and Peter's primacy. All an easy drive from our home base in Tiberius where we stayed at the historic and elegant Scot's Hotel.
There is not much to see in Tiberius itself, but we did enjoy the local lakeside beaches (the Sea of Galilee is actually a fresh water lake). I can't recommend the Bora Bora Beach more strongly - a delightful paid access beach and bar/restaurant. We found this to be a much better option for us with the baby than the very popular dead sea destinations for sea side fun. While floating in the Dead Sea is assuredly a bucket list experience, it is not one I recommend with the littles (under ten). Any small splash can result in eye stings guaranteed to ruin any day at the beach.
Other treats in the Galilee region were the charming town of Rosh Pina which is a must see for gallery geeks. We loved the Gallery Gershon (04 6996189). The area also has multiple wineries making delicious blends. We picked up a yummy Pinot at the Tabor Winery.
We spent our last night by the lakeside enjoying Decks restaurant (ideal for grilled meats) and a walk along the quays. Next stop? Tel Aviv!
Post script: It is impossible to visit Israel without sensing and seeing the effects of ongoing conflict between it and the Palestinian territories. There are many books or films that you can watch to improve your knowledge of the history of the situation but there are two that I think pay particular attention to the impact of the years of tension and violence on families and children. Watch Promises, a documentary film that follows Palestinian and Israeli kids over four years who live only 20 minutes but worlds apart. And read "It is Easier to Reach Heaven Than the Other End of the Street" by British Mother Emma Williams who lived with her husband and four children in Jerusalem during the second intifada. It is a personal, readable and very powerful memoir.