When you hit the 40s, you have two choices: celebrate or cry. As my 40th loomed, I had -a celebration on my mind, but budgetary constraints made a glamorous resort out of the question. After much deliberation, I settled on a step-up to good old-fashioned camping. Or to be precise, glamping.
As a young adventurer, I traipsed across Greece and Turkey with a backpack, a tent and blissful thoughts of awaking to the sound of chirping birds, the sunlight streaming in through the tent’s windows. But time had taken its toll and 20 years later the idea of sleeping on hard surfaces was less attractive. To be honest, part of me still yearned for a little more luxury. What I needed was a glamping getaway.
“Glamping” is a glamorized version of camping, where the term “roughing it” has softer edges. Glampers enjoy the luxury of private flush toilets, comfortable mattresses and hot water. It is fast becoming a trend in Israel, thanks to reasonable prices coupled with the comforts of home.
There is no shortage of glamping options across the country, from teepees to Kazakhstani tents made from camel wool. I chose African Camping in the small settlement of Kela Alon in the Golan Heights, because it offered only three safari-style tents, each of which can sleep up to seven people. There were 15 people in my group, which meant we’d have the entire place to ourselves. In a country of almost eight million inhabitants and 377 square kilometers, it can be quite a challenge to find a secluded camping spot on the weekends, so this kind of privacy was beyond a blessing.
The long drive to African Camping was rewarded with magnificent views. As we snaked our way up the steep ascent to Kela Alon, I couldn’t help but catch my breath as I looked down on the Hula Valley and marveled in wonder at the Golan Heights and Naphtali Hills.
On arrival, Hannah Twito, the young and energetic owner of African Camping, extended a warm welcome. While she helped settle us in, the kids clambered into the hammock outside each cabin-tent and splashed about in the portable swimming pool we’d brought along. Our cabin-tent was neatly stacked with five thick, comfortable mattresses accompanied by fluffy pillows, linen and quilts which Hannah assured us would be needed. Even my two Swedish friends had a hard time braving the cool mountain air, so take my word for it – summer nights in the Golan Heights can be chilly.
With no restaurants in the immediate vicinity, we were thrilled to have a barbecue and fully-equipped outdoor kitchen at our disposal. What a pleasure it was not to have to lug heavy backpacks laden with equipment for cooking. The glampsite provided everything we could possibly need including the kitchen sink!
When nature called, the meticulously clean bathroom was a hop, skip and jump away. There, I cleansed my body and soul with an invigoratingly hot shower. The water cascaded down in full force, cheekily dispelling any bursts of cold air that had sneaked their way into the wooden cubicle.
One of the disadvantages of camping is the noise factor. The paper-thin walls of the cabin-tent were not made to keep the pleading cries of stray cats at bay, nor the sounds of raucous laughter and howling dogs. But after my essential morning cuppa, coupled with the energizing mountain air, I was ready to sample one of the area’s most popular attractions – cherry-picking.
Bustan Bereshit, with its breathtaking view of Mt. Hermon, promised a fun-filled day for all. After a short briefing on the basics of cherry-picking, we traversed the orchards, feasting on the ruby-red, deep purple and swirled apricot and rose-colored cherries, available for purchase at half their retail price. The kids had a ball climbing up ladders to pick the darker cherries with the most flavor, making sure to leave the stems on. When we’d had our fill of the luscious fruits, we explored the other attractions on offer, and then selected a shady respite under one of the cool, leafy trees to recharge our batteries.
Nearby Kibbutz Gonen with its picture-perfect location was our final stop. At an altitude of 1100m above sea level, the enticing swimming pool with its sweeping views of the Golan Heights and the Hula Valley provided a magnificent backdrop to a refreshing dip in the pool. It was the perfect end to a memorable weekend and I returned home an exhausted but happy glamper. Watch out 40s, here I come!
African Camping is situated on Matzok Orvim, (Crows’ Cliff) Kela Alon, in the Golan Heights. The price is NIS500 per tent for the first five people. It’s possible to accommodate two extra people for an additional fee. If you’re not a fan of the sizzling Israeli summers, the swimming pool at nearby Kibbutz Gonen is a lifesaver. It’s a short seven-minute drive away and the entrance for African Camping guests is free.
A visit to Ein Zivan’s Bustan Bereshit orchards in the Golan Heights is the perfect way to while away a few hours, especially with the kids. Visitors flock here from the end of May till the end of August to pick cherries, raspberries and other fruits. The site also boasts a coffee shop, a petting farm, horse and pony rides, shady picnic spots and a number of other attractions. The entrance fee is NIS30 for adults and NIS25 for children.