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Northern Negev by: Yaffa Raziel,


The younger members of the kibbutzim and moshavim are returning home from their post-army trips to the Far East and South America with many original ideas. It’s all there: ethnic restaurants, ecological projects, beautiful guest houses among olive groves, and even a magnificent spa on the edge of a moshav. There are also new trails for hiking, bike riding, and jeep trips.

Gayah: Bistro Bar

The Courtyard Bistro Bar Cafe is located at the home of Aviva Schumer and her son Eran on Moshav Gayah, and was originally a store selling housewares, furniture, and other items, mostly from the Far East. When evening falls the yard turns into a bistro bar for young people featuring artistic programs, musical evenings, board games, and other activities. The food ranges from breakfast to pasta to meat. Price range: NIS 30-90.

The Courtyard, Moshav Gayah 42, open every day from 9 a.m. to midnight, not kosher. 972-8-6728861, 972-50-5217919.

Kfar Aza: Artwork and books

You’ll find plenty of culture in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Shosh’s Gallery is located in the heart of the kibbutz, and painter and sculptor Shosh Segev receives her inspiration from her surroundings. Her gallery displays her colorful works, such as ceramic and papier maché, and jewelry in shades of red and orange. Visitors are also invited to take a peek at her workshop, where she holds creative activities open to the general public. Cost: NIS 40 per person.

“Shosh’s Gallery,” open every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Telephone 972-50-649-2864, 972-8-680-9233.

Itamar Levy’s bookstore, on the outskirts of the kibbutz, attracts book lovers from all over the country. Enormous, orderly, and logically organized, it has hundreds of thousands of volumes, mostly books that cannot be bought from publishers or bookstores. Levy recently opened a special hall featuring books on the history of the Land of Israel, the history of the Jewish people, and the history of the ancient period. Lectures on philosophy, music, literature, and history are held in the hall. Cost: NIS 35-45.

Levy’s Bookstore, open every day from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Telephone 972-8-680-9233.

Niram ecological village

As soon as you enter Fauna you can see that the owners feel connected to nature: Faunus was a Roman god of nature and fertility. Yoram Cohen, one of the partners, is a biotechnology and environmental engineer who visited ecological villages all over the world and returned to his kibbutz to fulfill his childhood dream of turning Niram’s small zoo into an ecological village for tourists.

The pool he built has a natural life cycle of water plants from all over the world, alongside red koi fish and mosquito-eating Gambusia fish. Cohen holds workshops for city-dwellers to introduce them to the animals and other living creatures, including competitions such as who can lead the flock of sheep from the pen to the pasture in the shortest time possible.

If it’s hard for you to leave Niram’s chirping birds and tranquility you can stay overnight in a large tent with showers and toilets for NIS 50 a person. Niram is wheelchair accessible, and there are hiking trails in the area.

Fauna is not Cohen’s only business: He and partner Ronit Rebibo of Sderot have an Indian restaurant called Nemasta. The Shanti ambience complements the high standards of the traditional Indian foods served on hand-embroidered tablecloths. The food is prepared by Suka, Nemasta’s Indian chef.

The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating, and also offers Indian cultural activities for children. Cost: NIS 30 per child. Meals for adults are NIS 40-70, children’s meals NIS 36.

Nemasta at Fauna, Kibbutz Niram, open Monday-Saturday 12 p.m.-midnight. Not kosher. Telephone 972-50-575-0792 (Yoram) or 972-50-727-5255 (Ronit).

Talmei Bilu: Guest house with olives

Even while living in Kfar Saba, Orly and Chiko Behar thought of building guest houses among olive groves. Seven years ago they left the Sharon region to become farmers on Moshav Talmei Bilu. Their recently-opened guest house has two suites, and is located on a hill in the heart of an olive grove.

The cozy and pleasant cabins are furnished in a rustic style. Each room has a Jacuzzi and a well-equipped kitchen. The Behars produce quality olive oil that they serve to their guests. Cost: NIS 350 mid-week for a double room, NIS 450 on weekends. Breakfast in your room is an extra NIS 30 per person.

Guest house in the olive grove, telephone 972-54-660-21299.

Mifalsim: The tastes of the world

After several years of wandering between kitchens in New York and South America, Shani Marom opened a restaurant in Kibbutz Mifalsim, where the children’s house used to be. Marom, who grew up on Mifalsim, built the picturesque restaurant with her own hands and called it “Kokela.”

The varied cuisine includes food from Italy, South America, and the rest of the world as well. Marom makes the pasta, the cheeses, and the various types of bread herself, as well as the meat dishes and the desserts.

The restaurant is painted in warm colors, and the painting of a large belly dancer hanging on the wall is perhaps a hint of what awaits you if you eat all the enormous portions served there. Blues music plays in the background, and a simple, well-tended garden gives the place a homey feel.

The prices are cheaper than in Israel’s central region. A 350-gram entrecote steak costs NIS 65, and comes with generous servings of side dishes that can feed more than one hungry person.

Kokela, open from 12 p.m.-midnight. Not kosher. Telephone 972-8-680-4444.

Kelahim: A spa and a forest

At the edge of Moshav Kelahim, between fruit trees and vegetation, is the Moldio Spa, located in a wooden building surrounded by greenery. Relaxing music, the sound of bells, and the scent of oils provide the proper atmosphere. There is room for eight in the Jacuzzi, and the Finnish dry sauna and soft chairs lit by candles can accommodate everyone else. The menu includes wine, fruit, hot drinks, and cookies.

The treatments, including aromatic oils, are given by professionals using a combination of methods: deep tissue massage, hot stones, scalp massage, Shiatsu, seaweed masks, and mud wraps. The spa also features lectures, workshops, and meditation evenings for groups of up to 25 people. Cost: NIS 150 for a 45-minute treatment, NIS 200 for a 60-minute treatment.

The moshav is surrounded by a forest where you can hike, ride a bike, or picnic among the trees.

Moldio Spa, 84 Moshav Kelahim, telephone 972-50-636-5085.

Re’im guest tent

Bedouin encampments are the place to go for people who like togetherness 24-hours a day. At “Saj Encampment,” opened by some of Kibbutz Re’im’s younger members, you can sit in a spacious tent near a large pool that is open even at night, drinking beer from the nearby bar. Movie fans will be pleased to know that films are shown the old-fashioned way, against a white sheet.
The tent has toilets and showers and sheet and towel service. Cost: NIS 80 per person, including breakfast with pastries made by kibbutznik Keren Oren. Telephone 972-54-791-5480. The kibbutz also has eight well-kept guest rooms surrounded by a colorful garden.

The area has many historical sites that can be visited with a guide in the early morning, or at dusk by bike, on foot, or in a private vehicle. Cost: Group tours NIS 40-50 per person, depending on the size of the group.

Betzel Hetel, Re’im Tours, telephone 972-8-994-0571, 972-54-791-5300.

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