Israel pilgrimage is real deal

Jerusalem, jewel in Israeli crown
Jerusalem, jewel in Israeli crown
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Lauded as Land of Creation, Israel offers perfect opportunity to follow in our forebears' sand-blasted footsteps.

Not blue-bloods like Richard Cœur de Lion, who as a 16-year-old commanded his own army against his dad in early example of juvenile rebellion, but less regal while equally lion-hearted ancestors who laid their lives on the line as pride of Third Crusade.

Some 800 years on this tourist, whose muddled knowledge of this Middle East Holy Land was confined to battered '68 Desmond Dekker 45rpm and barely recalled religious education, could not but be impressed by retracing crusaders' three lions tour long afore England's national sports adopted historic name and symbol.

Where to go

Tel Aviv: The country's coastal commercial, cultural, fiscal and entertainment centre is perfect base camp to begin mounting excitement of Israeli adventure, always preferable when guided by local expert with local knowledge, Ministry of Tourism's Michal Neumann proving our host with the most.

Old Jaffa: Ancient seaport's Old City and Artists' Quarter resonated particularly with this traveler who, as a child flashing family fruit stalls, saved stickers from just such far-flung exotic sun-splashed shores, celebrating Jaffa Genie's seedless citrus delights.

Chris with host with most, guide Michal Neumann

Chris with host with most, guide Michal Neumann

Apollonia: Hugging Mediterranean shoreline, Arsuf witnessed decisive dust-up at strategic stronghold that still today echoes with memories of conquering Crusaders.

Caesarea: Once Roman capital city, built by Herod the Great, who oversaw much good despite receiving biblical bad press, this National Park boasts reconstructed theatre, hippodrome, bathhouse, aqueduct, port and city.

Haifa: Israel's third largest city, its commercial port promises panoramic views, all overlooked by majesty that is Bahá'í Shrine and Hanging Gardens, whose lofty terraces celebrate the faith's world centre.

Ateret: Home to fortress of Daughters of Jacob's Bridge on the Jordan River, whose valley can best be surveyed from nearby Kochhav HaYarden, whose Belvoir remains offer vistas second to none across Dead Sea region plumbing lowest depths on Earth while Montfort Castle remains isolated example of Teutonic Knights' 13th century bastion.

Mount Zion Hotel's breathtaking view

Mount Zion Hotel's breathtaking view

Bet Shean: This tangible timeline of Scythopolis excavations, once an influential Decapolis city, amounts to unrivaled ruins of Roman and Byzantine bygone days, complete with colonnaded street scene.

Ginosar: Home of Jewish collective community kibbutz and ancient boat whose bows 2,000 years ago in Old Testament times broke waters of Sea of Galilee, actually a lake.

Jerusalem: Judean Desert inexorably leads to State of Israel's capital, controversially reinforced during our stay be US President Donald Trump's official recognition. Israeli-Palestinian conflict, considered traversing Golam Heights plateau, can be set aside in presence of such breath-taking beauty, best appreciated from heady heights of Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives. Biblical highlights among Old City Quarters, today host to three monotheistic orders, include worship landmarks aplenty including Church of All Nations, Church of Tomb of Mary, St Anne's Church and Church of Holy Sepulchre. Other iconic attractions number Garden Gethsemane's time-worn olive trees, Lion's Gate, Bethesda, Via Dolorosa 14 Stations of Cross, Temple Mount, Tower of David at the Citadel and Mount Zion Cenaculum Room of the Last Supper. Machne Yehuda fruit and vegetable market and shuk Arabian stalls provide real falafel flavour of a city, eclectic and enchanting in equal amazing measure. And wondrous Western or Wailing Wall, where Divine Presence dictates written wishes come true after insertion in its cracks.

Israel Museum: home of one of the world's most eclectic collections of art, archaeology, antiques and antiquities, includes model depicting days of Jesus as well as Shrine of the Book home of globally famous Dead Sea Scrolls
Abu Gosh: Arab village hosting Church of Emmaus, now base for Benediction monks, lies close to Ein Hemed National Park, where Aqua Bella ruins still hold sway.

Crusaders' Israeli invasion retraced on Jaffa shoreline

Crusaders' Israeli invasion retraced on Jaffa shoreline

Israel enjoys 60 weekly scheduled flights with El Al (www.elal.com/en/UK), British Airways (www.britishairways.com), easyJet (www.easyjet.com), Wizz Air (wizzair.com) and Arkia (www.arkia.com) flying direct to Tel Aviv from Manchester, London Luton, London Heathrow and Stansted. For full information contact Israel Tourist Board (info-uk@goisrael.gov.il). Tel Aviv ​low season three-night breaks ​start as low as £299.

Where to stay

Shalom & Relax Hotel: Short steps from Tel Aviv shoreline waves and calming white sands stands this four star beach-side bolthole. Clearly influenced by Mediterranean tranquility, its Euro-esque ambiance offers Englishmen aboard welcoming home from home. Pampering spa, lounge and rooftop terrace offer indulgence at every turn for occupants of 51 attractive rooms, four of which feature romantic Jacuzzis for that extra special stay. The accommodation's name derived from Jewish exclamation, on meeting and parting, the hotel loses nothing in translation of "peace," being most relaxing and restful of tranquil settings.

The Colony Hotel: Situated in German Colony, at the beating heart of northern city Haifa's restored historic centre, lies this unique preserved building that recently celebrated its hundredth birthday. But, entirely renovated into boutique base, the modern accommodation now offers 40 luxurious rooms and mini-suites, all embracing highest design standards. with state-of-the-art furnishings and accessories. Restaurants, bars, shops, even sea, are easily accessible from building overshadowed - as would anywhere on earth - by towering majesty that is Baha'i Gardens, a decade ago hailed UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.

Mount Zion Hotel: Big, bold and boutique meet at unique base overlooking Biblical landscapes and exuding distinct incomparable charm. On Old City outskirts, the premises' premier position provides panoramic views of David's Tower, Mount Zion and Hinnom Valley. A living legacy of the city's history, it reflects an eclectic combination of cultural styles among 117 guest rooms, 20 luxurious differently styled suites and banqueting garden, retaining quintessential colonial feel, having been renovated in 1930s by Brit architect Clifford Holiday after British Order of Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem's Duke of Kent established the site as an eye hospital in 1880s.

Where to dine

Israeli flag flutters above historic Sea of Galilee

Israeli flag flutters above historic Sea of Galilee

Yulia: Situated at southern tip of Tel Aviv port, recently restored into recreational haven, this restaurant offers spectacular shoreline views of hazy horizon beyond Mediterranean beach, breeze and surf. Serving comprehensive dining experience from morning to, refreshingly, last customer, the venue boasts interior hall, complemented by covered and open terraces. Chef Roman Dimant's preference is for fresh locally sourced produce. Meat, veg, cheese, fish and fruit all fall within this mission statement, for no greater reason than "we should all enjoy the abundance our country has to offer".

Douzan: Mouth-watering metaphor for home Haifa's unifying integration, Duzanne (as locals spell it) is where East meets West and winner is fusion cuisine. It doesn't come much more cosmopolitan than French, Italian and Arabic dishes in oriental ambiance within German Templar building. Most notable are Lebanese appetizers, prepared in-house by owner's mother. Sampling house specialty kubbeh's deep fried torpedoes of cracked wheat kneaded minced beef, pine nuts, onions and exotic spices, followed by bitter-sweet treat that is strong coffee with mouhalabieh's dried fruit-topped milk custard, proves mum definitely does know best.

Adom: It would be borderline cliche to say fine fare at this former Jerusalem Railway Station restored establishment is transport of delight. But it won't stop me! Because it was, warm welcome and ambient atmosphere adding to enjoyable experience in what is now thriving entertainment area where once trains ferried citizens and cargo to and from holiest of cities. Chefs Moti Davis and Elran Buzaglo are to thank for Mediterranean influenced menu featuring such seasonal ingredients as aged meats, seafood, gnocchi, pasta and risotto, all washed down by expansive wine cellar that would sate Dionysus.

Eucalyptus: Just as myrtle trees and shrubs that give this eatery its name are widely different, so too are diverse dishes here that amount to modern interpretation of biblical cuisine. The Land of Israel Restaurant embodies owner-chef Moshe Basson's passion to research and resurrect centuries past recipes that were neglected, nearly forgotten, over time. Judea's surrounding hills again today offer up their herbs to bring to life bygone tastes, all enjoyed in ancient stone building, declared by some this country's best restaurant, boasting balcony to witness crimson sunsets splash old city walls.

Zuni: What's in a name? Not Shakespeare's assertion "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Rather, etymology of this excellent eatery, whose owners were so enraptured by a Mexican riverside native American tribe, whose "wonderful memories they gifted us, did not fade with the years, but stood out brightly among many we collected throughout our lives". To the point where a dozen years or so ago they gave their name to a venue some 12,000 miles east of its namesake. And, today, this Frenchesque restaurant never closes, proving a mecca for we 24-hour party people.

Naura: Native dining doesn't come any better than this gastronomical gem, shining bright in pastoral wadi of Arab village Abu Ghosh. Since 2004 top class Middle East dishes have defined its reputation for an abundance of Mediterranean dishes from superb salads to homemade hummus by way of matbucha, tabouleh, labane, lamb kebab and tomato sinia. Carnivorous celebration of juicy skewers make it a meat eater's mecca while grilled fish dishes will also reel you in. Ibrahim Sallah's country decor evokes tranquility for diners, 450 of whom can be accommodated inside and out alongside cascading waterfalls.

Wondrous Western Wall, where written wishes reportedly come true

Wondrous Western Wall, where written wishes reportedly come true

Sapphire sea laps alongside Tel Aviv's welcoming Yulia restaurant

Sapphire sea laps alongside Tel Aviv's welcoming Yulia restaurant