Cherry-picking in the Golan: A Feast for Both the Palate and the Eyes

Delicious fruit orchards in Israel's north are a feast for both the palate and the eyes; but hurry because cherry season won't last much longer.

On the off chance that cherries aren’t your absolutely favorite fruit, it’s still worth taking a trip this time of year up to the Golan Heights where the picking season is in full steam. Because even if you’re not crazy about their taste, the sight of these gorgeous red nuggets dotting trees across the landscape is a guaranteed feast for the eyes.

So hurry up, because before you know it, the short season will be over, and it’ll be time to move on to other summer fruits, like berries and peaches – not such bad choices either, come to think of it.

Several kibbutzim and farming towns on the northeastern plateau offer cherry-picking activities this year. Since our base happened to be Ein Zivan, we opted for Bustan Bereshit Hagolan, the 25 acres of orchards run and owned by this particular kibbutz.

By 9 A.M., when the gates opened, there was already a pretty long line outside the main ticket desk – not uncommon this time of year. In fact, according to the locals, even days after the latest clashes on the Syrian border that scared many of the UN peacekeeping forces away, thousands of Israelis were descending on their fruit orchards, standing in line to pay for the privilege of getting their hands dirty performing this menial agricultural task.

Once inside the orchards, we were each handed a small basket and given a quick lesson in basic cherry picking: the fundamental rule is that you don’t tear the cherry off of its stem, but rather, gently pull the cherry with its stem off of the branch. Since the branches are pretty low, most children will have no problem reaching the fruit on their own.

Our guide pointed out two different types of cherries that happened to be in season the week of our visit (it turns out there are several other varieties that ripen later on in the summer): one was the classic deep red, and the other, a lighter, more pinkish color. Our intuition told us that the darker variety would be sweeter, so what a surprise to discover, after our first delicious bite, how wrong we were. So sold were we, in fact, on the paler-colored variety that once we had filled our tummies to capacity with them, we proceeded to load up our baskets. The price of admission, incidentally, includes all the cherries you can eat on the premises, but whatever you take home needs to be paid for separately, according to weight.

It’s quite shady in the orchards, particularly under the trees, but arriving early, especially in the midst of the summer, is always a smart choice. Most children will probably have gotten the point and had enough of the picking and munching after about an hour, so it’s a good idea to plan on doing other things while you’re up here. Bustan Bereshit does offer other activities tailored for kids, among them wagon, pony and mini-tractor rides, as well as fruit-pie baking. There’s also a nice little café on the grounds, where you can sip tea made from locally grown herbs while taking in the stunning vistas. Just point the kids in the direction of the nearby hammocks, which they’re sure to love taking a swing in, and lift up your feet. If none of these options appeal to them, rest assured there are many other kid-friendly things to do up in the Golan – not to mention a plethora of authentic Druze eateries in the area – to help justify the long drive there and back.

Since our eyes once again turned out to be bigger than our stomachs, we ended up bringing back home with us three large baskets filled with cherries. Thankfully, even after three-and-a-half hours on the road, they hadn’t lost any of their taste and were the first the thing we dug into to satiate our hunger after the long drive.

Bustan Bereshit Hagolan

Getting there: from Kibbutz Ein Zivan, drive 2.5 kilometers north, and you’ll see the sign on your right.

Telephone: 04-6993612

Hours: Open June through September, Sundays through Thursdays from 09:00-17:00 and Fridays and Saturdays from 09:00 through 16:00.

Admission price: NIS 33 for adults and NIS 27 for kids.

Amenities: Picnic tables are available on the premises .

Judy Maltz