Looking for a place to cool off for an hour or three on your summer trip in the north of Israel? Try the park that Time magazine once listed as one of the best in the world.
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True, skeptics may quibble about the hype, but they readily acknowledge the charm of the place. The slow-moving, teal-blue Amal Stream that eases out of the earth right at this spot creates a wonderful, landscaped scene for a swim.
The park sprawls around the foot of Mount Gilboa, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, just west of the ancient town of Beit She’an.
The water is a constant 28°C (82°F) year-round, making it refreshing in hot weather yet caressingly warm in cooler seasons. This is the origin of the older and more popular Arabic name of the site: “Sachne” ("hot"), a reference to what is, geologically, a thermal spring – or at least a “warm spring," depending on the scientists' definition – created eons ago by the tectonic movements of the Great Syrian-African Rift that slices through the area.
The official Hebrew name is Gan Hashlosha (the "Garden of the Three"), in memory of three men who came to survey the land on behalf of the Jewish National Fund in the dangerous days of 1938, before Israel's birth. Their car rode over a land mine and all three were killed in the explosion.
Lifeguards are on duty at the primary swimming holes. A short distance downstream are artificially created cascades to sit under, and shallower areas for less-confident swimmers. Kids always remember the tiny fish that tickle their toes. Picnic tables dot the lawns and the coveted patches of shade under the great trees.
Early in the day is a good time to visit, to catch the park at its cleanest, and find a prime spot before the professional picnickers arrive, complete with kitchen sink, ready to barbecue the day away. Fridays tend to be particularly crowded. Watch your belongings, and don’t tempt fate by leaving stuff in the changing rooms (one at each end of the park) or untended at your picnic spot. Refreshment stands are a welcome addition.
The website of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority notes that “an old water-powered mill now operates again and also features a display of agricultural tools. The adjacent madafeh, or Arab hospitality room, has also been restored.”
In the park is a restoration of Tel Amal, a famous “tower-and-stockade”-type settlement, set up overnight using prefabricated wooden structures, in December, 1936. Opposite Tel Amal is the regional Mediterranean archaeological museum featuring rare Greek tools found in digs throughout the Bet She’an Valley, "some of which come from as far away as Egypt and Persia – and a unique exhibit about the Etruscans,” the Parks Authority says.
The adjacent Australian game park, called “Gan Garoo,” is the happy grunting ground of kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, cassowaries, kookaburra and more. It’s been an, um, pet project of successive Australian ambassadors to Israel.
The Sachne park is off Rte. 669, between Hashita Junction and Bet She’an, accessible by bus (Kavim bus line 412 from Bet She’an to Afula).
Opening hours: April-September 8 A.M. – 5 P.M.; October-March: 8 A.M. – 4 P.M.
Closes one hour earlier on Fridays and holiday eves.
Last entry one hour before closing time.
Entrance fees apply.