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Jerusalem Hills

Take a breather from the city by getting out to see the Jerusalem Hills, the expansive low mountain ranges, surrounding Jerusalem to the north, west, and south. Also known as the Judean Hills, Judean Mountains, or Hills of Judea, the area stretches from the Judean Foothills (in Hebrew, HaShfela) to parts of the Jordan Valley Rift (Bik’at HaYarden), and encompasses well known cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah. Most strikingly, the rocky Judean Hill mountains, reaching up to 1000 meters (3500 ft.), are landmarked contrastingly for both lush vegetation as well as dry, desert terrain.

Judean Hills History

A lot happened in the Judean Hills. First and foremost, the famous scurmish between David and Goliath occurred in the Judean Hills’ Ella Valley. Any Israeli tour guide can take you to the traditional spot where David hurled the rock from his sling, slamming it into Goliath’s head about 3000 years ago. Don’t expect a big attraction here – it’s a small spot amidst the Judean Hills’ greener areas  – one spot among many on any Judean Hills tour.

About a thousand years after King David, Bar Kochba led the Jewish revolt against the Romans, partly  in the Judean Hills. You can tour the Beit Guvrin caves where Bar Kochba’s comrades hid during the revolt, and you can also participate in the area’s archeological digs.

What to Do in the Judean Hills

The Judean Hills are lovely for touring outside Jerusalem. You have your choice of national parks, hikes, a stalactite cave, cave excursions, archeological digs, and Mini Israel, to name a few.

Getting Around

The Judean Hills spread west, north, and south of Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, Highway 1 and Route 443 run through the Judean Hills heading northwest toward Tel Aviv, and Route 60 runs north/south. Most tours will use these main roads, exiting off towards a variety of Judean Hill destinations.

Top Attractions

Below we highlight top attractions in the Judean Hills.

Omri’s Ranch

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Located in Moshav Ora in the Jerusalem Hills, Omri’s Ranch offers a variety of horseback riding excursions and activities for all ages, therapeutic riding sessions and even a petting zoo in a serene pastoral setting against the backdrop of the gorgeous Jerusalem Hills.

The magical ranch is perfect for family outings, romantic day trips and even a personal day of peace, riding and natural beauty.

Contact: 072-3281870

Beit Guvrin-Maresha

An interactive way to spend time learning about the area’s history is to participate in an archeological dig down in the area’s caves with Archaeological Seminars’ “Dig for a Day” at Beit Guvrin (archesem.com/).  You can also arrange for your own tours of the series of cave mazes (sans archeological dig), at the  Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

Mini Israel

See Israel in miniature. Major Israel attractions and sites are reconstructed at Mini Israel for all to gaze in awe. And not only that, there are many activities and spaces for young children and toddlers to have a thrilling time.

Stalactite Caves

For a different angle from the usual historical-religious focus of Israel tours, relish in these geologically unique stalactite caves, just near Beit Shemesh.

National Parks

There are a few welcoming national parks in the southwestern areas of the Judean Hills, good for picnics and short hikes, easily accessible by car.

Rabin Park (Eshtaol Forest)

Near Beit Shemesh, overlooking Shaar HaGai, this park is excellent for a hike (tops: four hours) and picnics. Accessible by public bus.

Park Canada (Ayalon Park)

Also excellent for hikes and picnics, this park contains archeological sites and aqueducts, and is home to the Christian site Emmaus (in Hebrew, Hammat), one of the stations, where, according to Luke, Jesus was seen revived after his crucifixion .

Israel Wine Tours

An enticing, boutique way to see the Judean Hills is via an Israel wine tour – the central and southern Judean Hill areas have prized terrain for wine cultivation.  In fact, since the 1980’s, Israel rose exponentially in wine production, winning international awards regularly. And with around 40 wineries, the Judean Hills are home to more Israeli wineries per capita than any other region.

Latrun Trappist Monastery/Winery

On Highway 1 across from Emmaus, take advantage of the serene setting where monks live under a vow of silence and also tend to their wine orchard and olive oil production. (Don’t worry – those selling wine and oil to visitors do speak.)

Judean Hills Accommodation

Given the countryside feel, it’s no surprise that there are many choices for resort accommodation – all perfect for an Israel getaway vacation for individuals, couples, and families.

Judean Hills hotels are easily accessible by car, and many even by bus. Top resort areas include Shoresh Green Hills, just 10 minutes outside Jerusalem, and Yearim Hotel, just a 15-minute drive from Jerusalem in Maale Hahamisha.  Be sure to book in advance before holiday season.

A Resort Area Day Trip

If you don’t need seek lodging, you can also purchase restaurant meals, pool-entry and spa treatments separately – a good idea for a getaway day trip.

Specialty Restaurants in the Judean Hills

While you can do a day trip to a resort and order meals on the premises, when you’re looking for something more unusual, there are plenty of eateries in the Judean Hills. Here are three highlights.

French Chateau

For both a winery, an olive press, and a restaurant (non-kosher), check out the Kela David off of Route 38.

Hummus

Get the “best hummus in the world” in Abu Ghosh while visiting this Christian Arab town with longlasting good relations with the neighboringJewish Israelis. It’s just near Maale Hahamisha.

Goat Cheese Farm

Israel is full of surprises, one of which is the burgeoning number of dairy farms including the Judean Hills’ Har HaRuach Goat Farm. Its name means “spirit (or wind’s) mountain” and the farm produces divine organic cheeses of various types. While not a restaurant per se, it’s located in quaint Nataf, and you can purchase a picnic lunch.

In Summary

A surefire way to enjoy a day trip outside of Jerusalem is in the Judean Hills. And no matter what, the nice thing is that when you leave Jerusalem for Ben Gurion airport (or anytime you head toward Tel Aviv), you’ll be able to take in the Judean Hills from your window.

Photo: Avinoam