The cyclamen, or rakefet in Hebrew (Latin name: Cyclamen persicum), is blooming in Israel. These blossoms are so gorgeous, captivating and cheering that we cannot hold back any longer.
While the cyclamen is a protected species in Israel, it is by no means rare. Huge carpets of pink cyclamen can be seen covering the ground even now. The flower, which stands modestly upright, bends its head so gracefully – something no other flower does – in seeming contradiction to the legends about its royal origin. It is said that King Solomon saw it as the model for his crown, and one of the Hebrew nicknames that has stuck to it is “nezer Shlomo,” King Solomon’s crown. There is no hurry, though, because cyclamens bloom for a long time. They can be seen from now until March, but January and February are the peak of cyclamen season. Here are four hikes to satisfy your cyclamen craving.
Cyclamen hill at Tal Shahar
South of Moshav Tal Shahar, near Nahshon junction, in an area that is not zoned as a nature reserve or a Jewish National Fund forest, is a simple hill covered with cypress trees, and a huge carpet of pink cyclamen blossoms is beginning to spread out on it. The blossoming began one afternoon this week, when sunbeams penetrated at an angle through the trees; one could see white, pink and purple blossoms there, in all their breathtaking beauty. If we judge by the state of the leaves, the future is about to get even rosier. Improvised, unmarked paths with no signs crisscross this lovely grove in all directions, allowing visitors to walk around and enjoy the sight of the cyclamens without stepping on any.
Directions: Head south on Highway 6. At the Sorek interchange, get onto Route 3 eastbound. About a kilometer west of Nahshon junction, turn right to head southward, entering Tal Shahar. Cross the moshav and leave through its southern exit. Drive along a dirt road until you reach the train tracks. Cross the tracks and continue for about 50 more meters, and park. The hill is in front of you, slightly to the left.
Cyclamen hill at Gilad
Route 672, which goes from Elyakim Junction to Kibbutz Gilad (Even Yitzhak), is, for me, a leading candidate for the title of Israel’s most beautiful road. It is a place of serenity, with spaces that do not exist anywhere else. Now it has color as well – a fresh, bright green that covers the round hills of Ramat Menashe. It is a good idea to drive slowly on that road because it is only about 10 kilometers long. The cyclamen hill is four kilometers south of Kibbutz Dalia. Park on the right side of the road, cross the road, go through the gate and start heading down the path. The hill has acquired a reputation in recent years as one of the largest cyclamen spots in Israel. The huge quantity of blooms at the season’s peak is breathtaking, but close, intimate contact with the flowers is lost here. You will have to look for that elsewhere.
Directions: Drive on Route 70 to Elyakim Junction. At Elyakim Junction, turn right onto Route 672 southbound. Pass the entrance to Kibbutz Dalia and the hill is a kilometer north of Kibbutz Gilad. Entrance is free.
The Alonei Yitzhak Nature Reserve – a tiny reserve adjacent to Givat Ada – is a wonderful gem that has not received the honor and recognition it deserves. What makes it unique is the impressive group of Tabor oak trees growing there. It is said that long ago, until the early 20th century, a forest of Tabor oaks covered the entire area. Styrax officinalis shrubs and hawthorn grow alongside the Tabor oaks in Alonei Yitzhak. The forest clearings contain many spiny broom bushes. Millions of cyclamen flowers blossom among and beside the trees, near the rocks and in tiny bald spots on the ground. A short and comfortable hiking trail encircles the nature reserve. It takes a half hour to walk it at a slow pace, but there is no hurry here.
Alonei Yitzhak has two commemorative sites. One is in memory of Revital Ohayon and her children, who were murdered in a terror attack on the kibbutz in 2002. Nearby is another site that commemorates three teenage boys from Givat Ada who were kidnapped in the area in 1938. Their bodies were found only about two years later near the village of Zalfa, near Megiddo Junction.
Directions: Drive on Highway 4 until you reach Route 653. Turn east toward Binyamina. Continue east on Route 653 until you reach Givat Ada. Drive through Givat Ada and continue toward Kfar Glickson and Alonei Yitzhak on Route 6522. The nature reserve’s gate is on the right side of the road facing the Alonei Yitzhak boarding school. Entrance is free.
Defenders’ Forest, Karmei Yosef
Defenders’ Forest, which is also known as the Nahshon Gezer Forest, is located near the community of Karmei Yosef, fairly close to Ramle. The forest spreads out east of Route 44 and west of Highway 1, between Karmei Yosef and Kfar Bin Nun in the north and Nahshon and Bekoa in the south. A narrow paved road about five kilometers long runs through the forest along its entire length. In the winter, the pine forest turns into an excellent flowerbed for cyclamen blossoms. In past years I saw lovely blossoming here on large areas of land.
A walk in Defenders’ Forest is a wonderfully pleasant experience until understanding dawns: It is hard to find a single place in the forest where the visitor can stand without seeing, in the corner of his eye, a memorial tablet inscribed with names, a sign leading to the next memorial or a sitting area named after someone who loved nature.
The fact that the forestry work depends on donations does not explain sufficiently why, every time we come here, we encounter marble signs commemorating the dear departed.
Directions: Drive along Highway 1 toward Jerusalem. Turn right at the Latrun interchange and continue along Route 44. Turn right, and the entrance to Defenders’ Forest is two kilometers north of the junction and 200 meters south of the entrance to Karmei Yosef. Entrance is free.