On the blistering hot days of the Middle Eastern summer, Israelis can turn on the air conditioner, head to the beach – or, head out to a favorite spring to soak in the cool waters, sip a cold drink or pass around a nargila with some buddies.
Most Israelis first tap into spring, or maayan, culture in high school, once they can drive the family car over dirt roads to rendezvous with friends in a remote spot "known only to them". This week, as temperatures near the boiling point, it's a good time to discover these natural springs in which overheated locals have been dipping for thousands of years.
As a service to its readers, Haaretz has composed a representative if truncated list of some popular maayanot - springs. Given this week’s ultra-harsh weather, and in the interest of minimizing heat strokes and dehydration, we have restricted ourselves to springs within easy walking distance of the nearest parking spot.
Also, three million Israelis live in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, which has a sum total of zero maayanot. Unfair, but then again, this Jerusalemite has a sum total of zero beaches. So if you are reading this somewhere near Tel Aviv and wonder where the closest spring is, we’ve geographically prioritized them for you.
Some 2,500 years ago, our ancestors discovered water dripping out of the rock where water-permeable limestone lies atop the impermeable clay. They then took hammer and chisel and chipped away at the strata, coaxing a steady flow out of the rocks. The outcome is a manmade cave and tunnel, and a pool filled with delicious mountain water. During the day, the site is overrun with screaming tots crawling through the ancient water tunnel, but the after-hours atmosphere is blessedly sedate. If you’re coming up from the coast, exit Highway 1 at Mevasseret and head toward Kibbutz Tzuba. At Sataf, fill your water bottles at the visitor’s center and continue driving on the serpentine path to the parking lot halfway down the mountain.
Given that the Carmel mountain range provides the highest elevations – and precipitations - along the Mediterranean coast, it has quite a few springs, although most are harder to access than Ein Aviel. Sitting at this spring, you feel you are indoors – with walls and ceiling provided by overgrown reeds. This cool gem is off of Rt. 654, on the way toward Moshav Aviel. Where the asphalt road takes an abrupt 90-degree right turn, continue off-road for 100 meters to the loquat orchard, then turn right for 200 meters and look for the reeds.
Ein Yizra’el (Jezreel)
Wooing your love with Wordsworth or Shelley may be the thing to do at some other maayan, but if you want to impress your companion here at Ein Yizrael, or the Spring of Jezreel, read 1 Kings 21 in its entirety. The verses will come to life beneath the eucalyptus trees that shade this 35-by-25 meter pool, because the cold spring waters here are flowing next door to the Iron Age palace of Ahab and his piece-of-work queen Jezebel. Take Rt. 675 past Kibbutz Yizra’el, continue 2 kilometers and turn left onto the dirt road with the blue trail marker, then a sharp left until the next right turn toward the eucalyptus grove.
This heaven on earth is located within the gates of the kibbutz that goes by the same name. The delightful pool is about 35 meters long by 15 meters wide, and up to 3 meters deep. The crystal-clear spring water is inviting and invigorating, particularly in the steamy Beit She’an Valley with its temperatures in the high 40s (which pales in comparison to the highest temperature ever recorded in Israel – 54 –a few kilometers away at Tirat Zvi, back in 1942). There are benches in the shade, and inflatable mattresses in the water, and no admission fee. Sounds too good to be true? It is. You have to have a friend who lives on the kibbutz, or at least a friend of a friend. Park opposite the kibbutz gate, talk your way through, and take the second left hand turn onto a dirt path, and then the next left after that.
This series of springs, located in the water-rich Beit She’an Valley, used to have instant access right off the road (Rt. 669). But the easy entrée ensured that it was always filthy and filled with trash. A couple of years ago the Jewish National Fund-KKL decided to fence it off, build restrooms and a snack bar, and officialize the site. The stream is formed by water from a couple of local springs, Ein Homa and Ein Shokek, and it isn’t hard to find an isolated spot along its banks. Adventurers will love the water-flume pipes that feature rampaging torrents. Access is eased by rental bikes or golf carts; otherwise, it can be a 1.8-kilometer walk in the heat before reaching aqua-nirvana. Entry (still free) is via the traffic circle at the entrance to Sachne.
There are plenty of water holes and water hikes in the Golan, but most are a bit too on the beaten track. You are bound to find lush solitude at this spring, but getting there requires a tough 40-minute climb. Take Rt. 959 eastward from Kibbutz Gonen and stop the car at the very first turn. Follow the blue hiking trail all the way up and around to the eucalyptus forest.Hopefully the figs along the way will be ripe. Lots of water flows here. Head up and to the right to find a manmade pool with benches and a picnic table. It was dedicated by a group of Sayeret Nahal soldiers in memory of Tzachi Krispas, a comrade who fell in the Second Lebanon War. Depending on the time of day, you might see wild boar and hyrax. The author once had an exhilarating sunrise encounter with a full-grown caracal; it took the two of us a full ten seconds of staredown to decide that we didn’t want to get any closer. He blinked first.
A bit silly to go to the Judean desert this week, we’ll admit. But the contrast between stifling 45-degree heat and the cool single-serving waterfalls of Nahal David is divine; it is the Middle Eastern parallel to Finns jumping from sauna into an ice-cold lake. Of all the springs listed here, Nahal David (the most accessible of the four springs grouped under the heading of “Ein Gedi”) is the most exotic, complete with sculpted limestone canyon walls, lush tropical vegetation and adorable ibexes peering at you and wondering – why would a biped with AC at home ever come here?
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