Creating a Wine Trail

The isolated settlement as a farm of several families or individuals, that is not part of a community framework, used to be common primarily in the north.

The isolated settlement as a farm of several families or individuals, that is not part of a community framework, used to be common primarily in the north. Now eight individual farms have been set up in Har Hanegev and most grow grapes for the wine industry, just as was done in the Byzantine era, from the third century BCE until the fifth century CE. However, they also support themselves by offering guest rooms. Their guiding principle is integrating into the landscape while relying on the past and the ancient civilizations whose artifacts have been found in the area.

According to Raz Arbel, the coordinator of the Negev Tourism Forum, 30 individual farms that will supply the wine-manufacturing industry are to be set up in the area between Mashabei Sadeh and Mitzpeh Ramon. The farms have already been linked to highway No. 40 and marked with signs promoting "the Wine Trail." The first crop of grapes has already been harvested and the farm residents are dreaming of having their own boutique winery, like in France.

Among these farms are the Kronmel Ranch near the Tlalim Junction, which produces and sells goat cheese; the Nahal Boker Ranch on the road to Sde Boker, where they grow wine grapes and sell local wine and oil products; and the Karmei Uvdat farm.

The Yizreel family chose to settle at the Karmei Uvdat farm, built on the remains of a 1,500-year-old agricultural farm. Their modern vineyard was planted on the remains of ancient terraces while preserving the archaeological artifacts. The vineyard will yield its first crop of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes this year. "We were careful to make sure that our farm would be an original Byzantine farm that uses a Nabatean irrigation system with some modern additions," says Eyal Yizreel. He has also built with his own hands four guest cabins that blend well into the landscape. He says he got the inspiration for their design from desert architecture he saw in Yemen. There is no vehicular access to the living area.

The cabins are built so that a mild breeze wafts through the windows and cools them even without air-conditioning. Gravel is sprinkled on the floors and they are cleaned with a water hose. Two of the four cabins have toilets next to the bed with only a curtain separating them. Water from the small swimming pool is used to irrigate the gardens. A weekend or holiday overnight stay for a couple is NIS 600 per night, with breakfast on the veranda. There is an additional NIS 80 charge per child. A midweek stay is NIS 450 per couple (tel.: 08-653-5177).

Ami and Dina Avah have moved into Shivta, a 40-minute drive from Be'er Sheva and plan to set up a farm focusing on Nabatean agriculture. They are currently growing a variety of desert herbs and medicinal plants in the Shivta National Park. According to Ami Avah, Shivta was an outpost on the spice route and was also used to transfer herbs. The couple intends to plant a vineyard and an olive grove there as well as revive the widespread Nabatean agriculture, but does not plan to live exactly as the Nabateans did. "We're striving for a good, all-encompassing and diverse desert life, to understand the desert conditions and extract some benefit from it," says Avah.

The couple has one modest guest cabin built with insulating material, such as a 70 cm-thick wall made of stone. The price per couple for the cabin is NIS 380 a night, including breakfast (tel.: 08-655-0911). The cabin is closed during August.

Cycling trips here and abroad

The Israeli Bikes Hotel Group has reached an agreement with the Kibbutz Hotel Association to adapt its hotels to the needs of cyclists who want to tour the country. The Israeli Bikes Hotel Group was set up around a year ago by Eli Sat of Kibbutz Gadot, Aryeh Landesman of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel and Danny Beeri of Ashdot Yaakov (Ihud). All of them have vast experience in sports and cycling.

The designated hotels will offer a brief workshop on bicycle repairs, an area for checking tire pressure, a washing station and a safe storage place for bicycles. The company is now producing a package of cycling trail maps for the areas adjacent to the hotels. On one side, the map will have the trail marked and on the other, a description of the trail and explanations of the sites along the way.

The company has also started offering its services for trips abroad and has therefore linked up with Arkia. The first destination being offered is Crete. The vacation package will feature a range of activities for a weeklong vacation in Crete including professional cycling trips for groups with four days of guided cycling on a range of trails; differing difficulty levels; escort cars; professional Hebrew-speaking guides; transportation to distant trails; a supply of water; and first-aid and evacuation. The rides adhere to all safety requirements and there is an option of bringing your own bike along for no extra cost. Those interested can also rent bicycles on the spot.

Prices range from $720-$800 per person for a double room and include the flight, half-board accommodations in a four-star hotel, bicycle maintenance, airport tax and security levy. The trips are contingent on 20 people registering. The cycling package is for all age groups and families. For further details contact Danny Beeri, at 04-675-6223 or 053-739-517.

Irit Rosenblum

Concorde special

Air France is offering a round-trip ticket on from Ben-Gurion International Airport to New York via Paris for $2,999. The Tel Aviv-Paris leg will be in business class on one of the company's regular flights and the Paris-New York leg will be on the Concorde jet. The offer is valid through August 31.