The Negev desert, shaped like a 4700 square mile inverted triangle in the south of Israel, makes up more than half of the country’s land area. I can arrange to make a visit to the Negev part of your itinerary, you have to experience the desert to understand its importance.
Geographically the Negev can be divided into 5 areas: the northern, western and central Negev, the high plateau and the Arava Valley. This article focuses on the high plateau area, Ramat HaNegev (Negev Heights). The plateau stands between 370 metres and 520 metres above sea level and has extreme temperatures in summer and winter and significant differences in temperature between day and night. Even though the area gets only 100 mm of rainfall per year and the soil is poor and quite salty, Israel is successfully growing olives, pomegranates, pistachios and grapes for wine.
Here are some places to add to your itinerary as you explore Ramat HaNegev.
- Kibbutz Revivim is growing 5 varieties of olives using brackish water and selling the olives and olive oil in an upmarket boutique dedicated to their products in Tel Aviv.
- Park Golda includes a lake and picnic tables to eat your lunch or for an unforgettable desert experience, try Beduin hospitality in a black goat’s hair tent followed by a camel ride.
- The Large Makhtesh is one of 3 craters in the region, a unique formation to the Negev, where the inside of a mountain is eroded by water, leaving the outer shell.
- Visit the tzrif on Kibbutz Sde Boker to get a glimpse of how Ben-Gurion and Paula lived. The Ben-Gurion Institute, a research facility for the study and the dissemination of his writings, offers visitors a multi-media program about the man and his vision.
- You can visit a string of family farms along route <40> for wine and cheese tasting and even sleep over in one of their cabins under the desert stars. On farms that are growing grapes and making wine, the vines have been planted on the same 1500 year old terraces that were prepared by the Nabateans and take advantage of runoff from the winter rains. These farms are also a symbol of Israel’s pioneering spirit in the 21st century, composting their waste, recycling their grey water and generating electricity using solar photovoltaic panels.
- Hike into the canyon at the Ein Avdat National Park with springs, pools and waterfalls, an oasis in the desert or from the Roman bath house (below Avdat) supplied with water drawn from a well tunneled 70 meters through bedrock hike north along the Israel Trail to the Ein Eikev spring that flows year round.
- Visit the remains of the Nabatean city of Avdat which was probably the regional capital. Located at the crossroads that join Petra in Trans-Jordan to Eilat and to Gaza, Avdat controlled the passage of the caravans from India and Arabia. Conquered in 106 CE by the Roman Emperor Trajan, it lost its importance when a road was built between Eilat and Damascus. Avdat adjusted by adopting agriculture, particularly the production of wine, as its means of subsistence. Numerous terraced farms and water channels were built throughout the region in order to collect enough run-off from winter rains to support agriculture in the hyper arid zone of the Negev. At least five wine presses dated to the Byzantine period have been found at the site showing us how important wine-making was in this region. In the Byzantine period (5th and 6th century) a citadel and a monastery with two churches were built on the acropolis of Avdat on the ruins of earlier pagan temples. The town was totally destroyed by a local earthquake in the early seventh century and was never reinhabited.