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JEWISH Eilat-Mitzpe Ramon Region

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The south of Israel, between Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat, is one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the Middle East. Just a five or six hour drive south of Jerusalem’s rolling hills and Tel Aviv’s white sandy beaches is a whole other world of red desert. The entire landscape that you see on the drive south was at one time completely submerged under the ocean. Over time this area of land dried out leaving behind interesting and whimsical rock formations, caverns, and caves. Aside from the beautiful geography this happens to have been one of the more frequently populated areas in the history of the Levant. Some of Israel’s most complex and intricate archaeological sites and artifacts have been uncovered in the desert. It is also the birthplace of the kibbutz movement, and many of these communities are still hosting families today.

the eilat mountains in southern israel Eilat, Israel's Most Southern City

Israel’s most southern city, Eilat, offers a touchstone of urbanization in the vast red landscape of Israel’s south. Resting right on the edge of the Red Sea this is definitely one of the best places in Israel to relax and lounge on the beach. In the background are the red mountains of Eilat. During sunsets when the light catches the mountains they appear to be on fire. It feels more like you are on Mars instead of planet Earth. Just a twenty-minute car ride outside of the city are several hiking trails that allow you to explore these ancient formations in greater depth.

eilat mountains in southern israel Timna Park

Just north of Eilat is one of the staple national parks to visit, Timna Park. During the 12th and 14th centuries (BCE) when Timna was under the control of the Egyptian empire the region was mined for copper. Today there are still a great deal of natural resources within the valley of Timna. Visitors can schedule guided tours of the caverns and even partake in a bit of rock climbing. As mentioned these formations were sculpted underwater, giving the entire park a surreal appearance. Despite the intense temperatures there is also plenty of flora and fauna to be seen. The region hosts its own community of specialized desert dwellers from the Israeli ibex herds to foxes, hyenas, birds, as well as a few lizards. Park visitors are not encouraged to approach or feed any of the animals as all patrons of the park are guests in this wild environment.

Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve

While we are on the subject of wildlife, just 30 km north of Eilat is the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve and breeding grounds. The reserve’s mission is to rebuild populations of specific species on the brink of extinction, mainly the Asian wild ass and the Arabian oryx. The entire park is located on the Yotvata salt flats, which hosts a wide variety of flora. This was one of the main reasons for the chosen location of the nature reserve, because it could feed multiple large herds. Desert life is a welcome refuge for both animals and people alike.

Kibbutz Neot Smadar

If you were to keep driving a few miles north of Yotvata you would run into Kibbutz Neot Smadar, which you cannot pass without noticing the enormous cooling tower that stands out from the landscape. Cooling towers are an ancient form of air conditioning. They use the natural and ample power of desert winds to thermally cool several houses all interconnected by underground pipes. The tower serves a dual purpose in that it is also the arts and culture center for the community. Several Israeli artists and craftsmen call the kibbutz home and all sell their art from the boutique located inside the tower complex. The complex itself is a feast for the eyes with intricate carvings, pillars, and a very memorable color palette. Be sure to also ask for a tour of their local vineyards and winery. You may even be tempted to purchase a bottle or two for later in the evening.

Kibbutz Sde Boker

The other iconic kibbutz to visit on your road trip in the south is Sde Boker, located a few kilometers north of Mitzpe Ramon and about 187 kilometers from Eilat. Established in the early 1950s, this was one of the very first unofficial desert communities that later became a national landmark. It was this community that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, chose as his home and community. He was on a tour of the south of Israel and noticed the small collection of houses, vineyards, and open agricultural fields. Something drew Ben-Gurion to the community of pastoral peace and from that moment on, he considered the kibbutz his one true home. You can even pay a visit to the former PMs old hut residence where many of his original furniture and books still reside.

The south of Israel from Eilat to Mitzpe Ramon is a hotspot of ancient geographical wonder. Mankind has never created any sort of art or structure that can rival the natural beauty of the desert. The region is in fact not a land of hot emptiness, but a cornucopia of opportunity for new life. It is another world where communities of all kinds, whether they are animal or human, can be embraced with loving arms.

 

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SITES TO SEE

Sites

Sde Boker

Sde Boker is a kibbutz in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Best known as the retirement home of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, it falls under the jurisdiction of Ramat HaNegev Regional Council. A large agricultural farm or small village existed here in the early Islamic period, from the late 7th century to the early 9th century. Remains of dozens of structures exist, including a mosque near which hundreds of Arabic inscriptions were found. The modern kibbutz was established on May, 15 1952 and 1953, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion resigned from office and moved to the kibbutz. Although he returned to politics in 1955, he continued to live in the kibbutz until his death in 1973, when he was buried nearby at Midreshet Ben-Gurion alongside his wife Paula Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion moved to the kibbutz inspired by his vision of cultivating the Negev desert and building up its surrounding towns such as Yeruham and Dimona. He believed that eventually the Negev would be home to many Jews who would move to Israel, and he felt that Sde Boker was a trailblazer and example for what should follow. His home was later turned into a museum. In his official writings Ben-Gurion often mused about his efforts at rejuvenating the Negev: "The desert provides us with the best opportunity to begin again. This is a vital element of our renaissance in Israel. For it is in mastering nature that man learns to control himself. It is in this sense, more practical than mystic, that I define our Redemption on this land. Israel must continue to cultivate its nationality and to represent the Jewish people without renouncing its glorious past. It must earn this—which is no small task—a right that can only be acquired in the desert."

Sites

Mitzpe Ramon

Mitzpe Ramon was founded in 1951 as a camp for the workers building Highway 40. The town's first permanent residents, several young families from Kibbutz Re'im and other parts of Israel began settling there in 1956. After five years, the town was home to 370 residents including 160 children, most of them veteran Israelis. There were also 180 housing units to absorb new immigrants. They were joined by immigrants from North Africa, Romania, and India in the 1960s, and it became the southernmost of the Negev's development towns. Conditions in the early years were harsh, with limited food supplies and practically no modern-day amenities. Ice blocks and provisions were delivered once a week by a supply truck. There was a single school with one classroom for all ages. The homes of the first settlers were prefabricated asbestos barracks. Later, rows of small attached stone houses were built and after that, apartment buildings, beginning in the early 1960s. In 1972, Mitzpe Ramon had a population of about 1,400 people living in 300 households. The town further grew after Ramon Airbase was completed in 1982. In 1988, the town had a population of about 3,000, and it experienced more significant population growth when it absorbed Soviet immigrants during the 1990s Post-Soviet aliyah. The development of Mitzpe Ramon was adversely affected by the opening of Route 90 in the late 1960s. After the inauguration of this highway, traffic to and from Eilat bypassed Mitzpe Ramon almost entirely. However, growing interest in ecotourism, Jeep trekking (access to Nabatean ruins), mountain biking and hiking, stargazing and the upgrading of Route 40, which is considered a more scenic route to Eilat, have improved the economy. Jerusalem Marble, one of a few major suppliers and overseas exporters of Jerusalem stone (established in 1923), inaugurated a state-of-the-art factory in Mitzpe Ramon in January 2000. Jerusalem Stone is exported globally. Mitzpe Ramon has six hotels and dozens of bed and breakfast establishments. In 2011, the Isrotel hotel chain opened a luxury hotel, the Beresheet Hotel, in Mitzpe Ramon. The Tourism Ministry allocated NIS 9.5 million for infrastructure development in Mitzpe Ramon, and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee financed the construction of a landing strip for light aircraft. In December 2013, plans were proposed for a Las Vegas-style Casino in the town. The Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club hosts musical ensembles on the weekend. On weekdays, it operates as a music school. 'Me'ever', a unique hostel and event space, located in the artist quarter of Mitzpe Ramon, designated to connect between creative people and interesting ideas.

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TOURS OF Eilat-Mitzpe Ramon Region

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Jewish Style Restaurants

Restaurants

Pundak Neot Smadar

Pundak Neot Semadar is a restaurant, cafe and a shop that carries all of our local organic products grown and made in the Kibbutz. It sits on the road leading from Mitzpeh Ramon to Eilat (Rt.40), in a shaded green oasis surrounded by the desert. It is a good point for a stop on the long road for snack and refreshment. Here we serve light vegetarian meals, combining cheeses and juices produced and grown on the organic farm of the kibbutz, along with good coffee, homemade cakes, and ice cream. A choice of Neot Semadar’s organic products are sold here: wine, olive oil, pickled olives, juices, jams and dried fruit. These are all produced from fruit grown in the pollution-free desert environment and processed in small plants, paying careful attention to organic ingredients and given a homemade touch. We offer several kinds of cheese and yogurts made from fresh goat milk. Pasture twice a day in addition to organic food and good care contributes to the quality of the milk and cheese.You are invited to stop and relax here, and enjoy a good meal at the Pundak. You may sit inside the rustically decorated dining area, air-conditioned in summer, or outside in the shaded garden aside a small pool. From here you may continue for a visit at Neot semadar itself, on the self guided tour. Here you can view the large oasis where the food is grown and processed, and visit the Arts Center which is an unusual monument in terms of architecture and desert climate building. Inside you’ll visit the workshops and gift shop selling artworks made by the members of the kibbutz. One of the members will guide you in this tour and you’ll hear about this unusual community first hand.

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CITY GUIDES

Guides

Ron Harari

Ron is a fully qualified Tour Guide & driver guide, and specialize in private, tailor-made escorted tours for discerning visitors. He provides a comfortable and spacious people carrier which is air-conditioned and seats up to seven passengers but can organize tours for larger groups if required. Ron passed the Advanced Driving Test during my army service, a qualification which is proof of excellence in driving. Ron's aim is to combine an intimate knowledge of the best places to visit with extensive knowledge of the history and heritage of Israel. But he is also keen to tailor the tour to suit your interests around the time you have available. Should this involve heading away from the beaten track and introducing you to the wide open spaces of our beautiful country, so much the better! Ron can do half-day, full day and extended tours in Israel, Jordan, Sinai & Egypt and can arrange accommodation. He will also introduce you to some wonderful restaurants and bars where you can sample our fabulous Israeli fare! Based in the most southern town, Eilat, with easy and fast access to both Petra – Jordan & Sinai Egypt, Ron can meet visitors on their arrival at Ben Gurion or Ovda airport, Taba or Itzhak Rabin land crossing. Run is a qualified tour guide, it is his personal love and knowledge for his native Israel that makes Ron-the-Guide unique.Ron is also a keen hiker and loves introducing people to the mountains and trails of the Negev Desert where they can enjoy the unspoiled beauty of this amazing landscape. We will thrill you with stories of the colorful history, the legends and the magic of Israel in all its moods. We will show you stunning scenery from the green and wonderful Haifa, Galilee & Golan heights, historic Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Caesarea, down to southern Israel, the Dead Sea and Masada, Eilat Mountains and the wild and beautiful Negev Desert. With us, you can experience the remote tranquility of our deserts and the breathtaking scenery and wonderful history in Israel.

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READ MORE BLOGS AND EBOOKS

World Jewish Travel Official May 23, 2022

The Eilat-Mitzpe Ramon Region, Israel: The Desert is Where Life Can Begin Again

The south of Israel, between Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat, is one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the Middle East. Just a five or six hour drive south of Jerusalem’s rolling hills and Tel Aviv’s white sandy beaches is a whole other world of red desert. The entire landscape that you see on the drive south was at one time completely submerged under the ocean. Over time this area of land dried out leaving behind interesting and whimsical rock formations, caverns, and caves. Aside from the beautiful geography this happens to have been one of the more frequently populated areas in the history of the Levant. Some of Israel’s most complex and intricate archaeological sites and artifacts have been uncovered in the desert. It is also the birthplace of the kibbutz movement, and many of these communities are still hosting families today. Eilat, Israel's Most Southern City Israel’s most southern city, Eilat, offers a touchstone of urbanization in the vast red landscape of Israel’s south. Resting right on the edge of the Red Sea this is definitely one of the best places in Israel to relax and lounge on the beach. In the background are the red mountains of Eilat. During sunsets when the light catches the mountains they appear to be on fire. It feels more like you are on Mars instead of planet Earth. Just a twenty-minute car ride outside of the city are several hiking trails that allow you to explore these ancient formations in greater depth. Timna Park Just north of Eilat is one of the staple national parks to visit, Timna Park. During the 12th and 14th centuries (BCE) when Timna was under the control of the Egyptian empire the region was mined for copper. Today there are still a great deal of natural resources within the valley of Timna. Visitors can schedule guided tours of the caverns and even partake in a bit of rock climbing. As mentioned these formations were sculpted underwater, giving the entire park a surreal appearance. Despite the intense temperatures there is also plenty of flora and fauna to be seen. The region hosts its own community of specialized desert dwellers from the Israeli ibex herds to foxes, hyenas, birds, as well as a few lizards. Park visitors are not encouraged to approach or feed any of the animals as all patrons of the park are guests in this wild environment. Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve While we are on the subject of wildlife, just 30 km north of Eilat is the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve and breeding grounds. The reserve’s mission is to rebuild populations of specific species on the brink of extinction, mainly the Asian wild ass and the Arabian oryx. The entire park is located on the Yotvata salt flats, which hosts a wide variety of flora. This was one of the main reasons for the chosen location of the nature reserve, because it could feed multiple large herds. Desert life is a welcome refuge for both animals and people alike. Kibbutz Neot Smadar If you were to keep driving a few miles north of Yotvata you would run into Kibbutz Neot Smadar, which you cannot pass without noticing the enormous cooling tower that stands out from the landscape. Cooling towers are an ancient form of air conditioning. They use the natural and ample power of desert winds to thermally cool several houses all interconnected by underground pipes. The tower serves a dual purpose in that it is also the arts and culture center for the community. Several Israeli artists and craftsmen call the kibbutz home and all sell their art from the boutique located inside the tower complex. The complex itself is a feast for the eyes with intricate carvings, pillars, and a very memorable color palette. Be sure to also ask for a tour of their local vineyards and winery. You may even be tempted to purchase a bottle or two for later in the evening. Kibbutz Sde Boker The other iconic kibbutz to visit on your road trip in the south is Sde Boker, located a few kilometers north of Mitzpe Ramon and about 187 kilometers from Eilat. Established in the early 1950s, this was one of the very first unofficial desert communities that later became a national landmark. It was this community that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, chose as his home and community. He was on a tour of the south of Israel and noticed the small collection of houses, vineyards, and open agricultural fields. Something drew Ben-Gurion to the community of pastoral peace and from that moment on, he considered the kibbutz his one true home. You can even pay a visit to the former PMs old hut residence where many of his original furniture and books still reside. The south of Israel from Eilat to Mitzpe Ramon is a hotspot of ancient geographical wonder. Mankind has never created any sort of art or structure that can rival the natural beauty of the desert. The region is in fact not a land of hot emptiness, but a cornucopia of opportunity for new life. It is another world where communities of all kinds, whether they are animal or human, can be embraced with loving arms.  

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HOTELS IN Eilat-Mitzpe Ramon Region

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