Only a few minutes drive west of the bustling streets of Jerusalem, nature reigns supreme. On a hike of an hour or two in this area, you’ll find wooded hillsides with memorable vistas rich in testimony to the presence of those who walked these paths long before you.
Thousands of years have passed since determined hilltop farmers realized that by taking the rocks from these slopes and building walls with them, they could hold back the meager soil, creating terraces on which to raise olives, grapes, spices and other crops. When you run your hands along these old stone walls or dip your feet into cool spring water flowing through a channel dug by the ancients, you step straight into the imagery of Isaiah and the romantic Song of Songs.
You can enjoy this kind of “added-value hike” along many Judean Mountain trails. At Sataf, a village restored by the Jewish National Fund, the clear mountain air carries the scent of pines and spring-fed fig trees. One trail leads from the mountaintop along terraces to the spring, where you may meet the modern Jerusalemites who enjoy free-time farming here. On the way, you’ll also be treated to sweeping views of the Rephaim Valley, where David fought the Philistines, as well as Ein Karem, Hadassah Hospital and the capital’s southwestern neighborhoods.
Across the valley from Sataf, near Hadassah Hospital, is Ein Handak. Here, too, you can see channels the farmers hewed into the heart of the mountain to release the springs to irrigate their land. One look at the wall 24-foot-high wall of the terrace you’ll find along the trail makes you realize the kind of community effort it must have taken to build it – some stones are as huge as those in the Western Wall!
The Amminadav Forest is most famous for the striking Kennedy Memorial. But several trails also lead through its pine groves and natural woodlands to terraces, wine presses carved into the rock, springs and picnic areas.
You can enjoy a short and easy nature walk at Ein Hemed National Park, off the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. Ein Hemed means “beautiful spring,” after the Latin name the medieval inhabitants gave this place – aqua bella. Here you can explore a stone, fortress-like family farmhouse. Playground equipment, barbecues picnic tables are also available.
Along any of these trails, especially early in the morning or at dusk, you may be treated to a glimpse of the region’s wildlife: hawks hovering motionless before swooping down on their prey, an Indian-crested porcupine waddling across the path (or more likely, the quills it shed on a previous trip) and chukars (small pheasants) scurrying along with their young in tow. Less likely to be seen, but probably watching you from the bushes are gazelles, foxes, and even jackals.
For precise directions to these and other sites, call the JNF in Israel at 1-800-350-550.
For Ein Hemed: www.parks.org.il