Katzrin, Capital of the Golan

Katzrin (Qazrin), ‘capital of the Golan’, with 6,725 people living there, makes an excellent base for exploring the central Golan and stocking up on picnic supplies. Founded in 1977, it is the region’s only real town. The lively little commercial center, Merkaz Eitan, is a classic 1970s complex that was spruced up considerably in 2013 – adding a tile-covered sculpture that is as whimsical as it is colorful. In addition to a bank and some eateries, it has a first-rate museum. Everything closes on Shabbat. Map.

Golan Archaeological Museum (04-696 1350; http://www.mpkatzrin.org.il; Merkaz Eitan; adult/child 19/16NIS, incl Ancient Katzrin Park 28/20NIS; 9am-4pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2pm Fri)

Golan Archaeological Museum in Katzrin
Golan Archaeological Museum in Katzrin

A real gem! Highlights include extraordinary basalt lintels and Aramaic inscriptions from 30 Byzantine-era Golan synagogues; coins minted during the Great Jewish Revolt (66–70 CE); a model of Rujum al-Hiri, a mysterious Stone Age maze 156m across, which was built some 4500 years ago; and a film (available in English) that brings to life the Roman siege of Gamla. Wheelchair accessible. Situated 100m west of the Merkaz Eitan commercial centre, next to the library.

Ancient Katzrin Park (04-696 2412; http://parkqatzrin.org.il; adult/child 26/18NIS, incl Golan Archaeological Museum adult/child 28/20NIS; 9am-4pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2pm Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, closes 1hr later in Aug )

To get a sense of life during the Talmudic period (3rd to 6th centuries), when the Golan had dozens of Jewish villages, drop by this partly restored Byzantine-era village, whose highlights include a basalt synagogue and an audiovisual presentation on Talmudic luminaries (not shown on Saturday). On Jewish holidays such as Passover and Sukkot and in August, there are reenactments by actors in period costumes. Situated 1.6km east of Merkaz Eitan.

Kesem Hagolan (Golan Magic; 04-696 3625; http://www.magic-golan.co.il; Hutzot HaGolan Mall, Katzrin Industrial Zone; adult/child 25.50/20.50NIS; screenings 9am-5pm Sat-Thu, 9am-4pm Fri )

An excellent introduction to the Golan, this center takes you on a half-hour virtual journey around the region, projected on a 180-degree panoramic screen (in English hourly on the half hour). Also has a 1:5000-scale topographic model of the Golan. Situated in the shopping mall 2km east of Merkaz Eitan, next to the Industrial Zone.

Golan Heights Winery (04-696 8435, 04-696 8409; http://www.golanwines.co.il; Katzrin Industrial Park; tasting 10NIS, incl tour 20NIS; 8.30am-at least 5.30pm Sun-Thu, 8.30am-2.30 or 3.30pm Fri, last tour 4pm or 5pm Sun-Thu, 1.30pm or 2pm Fri )

Golan Heights Winery
Golan Heights Winery

Winner of many international awards, this outstanding winery offers guided cellar tours (advance reservations highly recommended) and wine-tasting. The shop sells more than 40 wines bottled under its Yarden, Gamla (Gilgal), Hermon and Galil Mountain labels. All wines are kosher but, mercifully, not mevushal (flash pasteurised).

Sleeping

Golan Garden Hostel (072-230 3565; http://www.golangarden.com; 13 Hofit St; dm 100NIS, d without bathroom 285NIS)

Golan Garden Hostel
Golan Garden Hostel

Katzrin finally has a hostel. Opened in 2013, this place – run by super-friendly Alon and Milou – has a chill-out lounge with bean-bag chairs, dorm rooms with four or six beds, a hammock on the back terrace, and guitars and drums for guests to play. Situated 1km southeast of Merkaz Eitan – take Si’on and then Gilabon St. Laundry costs 15NIS, including drying. Rents out camping equipment (eg a sleeping bag for 15NIS a day).

SPNI Golan Field School (04-696 1234; http://www.natureisrael.org; 2 Zavitan St; r 438-504NIS, additional adult 140-164NIS, child 98-114NIS )

SPNI Golan Field School
SPNI Golan Field School

Housed in an unpretentious, 1970s complex on the edge of town. The 33 simple rooms, all with fridge, can sleep up to nine and so are a good option for families and groups of friends. Does not rent individual dorm beds. Sometimes (eg on Jewish holidays) offers free group hikes. Situated 1km from Merkaz Eitan – head down Daliyot St and then turn left on Zavitan St; follow the signs to ‘Field School’.

Eating & Drinking

Fast food (hummus, shwarma, bad pizza and the like) is available in Merkaz Eitan – except on Shabbat, when your eating options shrink to two restaurants 2km or 3km east of Merkaz Eitan in the Industrial Zone.

Co-op Shop (Lev Katzrin Mall; h8am-9pm Sun-Thu, 7am-2.30pm or 4pm Fri )
Picnic supplies for a hike or Shabbat.

Golan Brewhouse (04-696 1311; http://www.beergolan.co.il; Hutzot HaGolan Mall, Katzrin Industrial Zone; mains 49-126NIS; 11.30am-11pm daily)

Golan Brewhouse
Golan Brewhouse

This pub-restaurant, with a circular wooden bar and panoramic windows, serves red meat, chicken, fish, soup, salad, veggie mains and some damn fine microbrews.The  brewhouse Beer Sampler (14NIS) gets you a whisky tumbler of each of the  Brewhouse’s four beers (an amber ale, a pilsner, a Doppelbock and a wheat beer), brewed in the copper vats in the corner. For 48NIS you can sample 200mL of each and munch on olives and sauerkraut.

Meatshos (04-696 3334; http://www.meatshos.co.il; Katzrin Industrial Zone; mains 65-169NIS, 15% off Mon-Thu ; noon-11pm Mon-Sat)
Renowned for its flavorsome steaks, chops, kebabs and hamburgers (400g to 750g),  all made with Golan-raised, kosher-slaughtered (but not certified) 1½-year-old calf and lamb. Also serves Salokiya boutique wine (red/white per glass 42/32NIS), made right on the premises. Situated at the far northern end of the Industrial Zone next to the fire station, 1km past the Golan Heights Winery.

Pub Savta (Ancient Katzrin Park; h9pm-2am or later Sat-Thu)
Inside the archaeological site, this beer pub is popular with both locals and young Israeli travellers.

Information

Information Center (04-696 2885; http://www.tourgolan.org.il; h9am-4pm Sun-Thu)
Run by the regional council, this tourist information office has brochures and free maps in Hebrew, English and Russian, and can supply information on accommodation, hiking and winery visits. Situated in the shopping center 2km east of Merkaz Eitan, behind the round fountain next to Kesem HaGolan.

SPNI Hiking Information (04-696 5030; http://www.teva.org.il; SPNI Golan Field School, 2 Zavitan St; h8.30am-5pm Sun-Thu)
Free consultations with experienced SPNI guides about Golan hiking options. You can also phone with questions.

Transport

Katzrin is the Golan’s public transit hub. Rama buses (1 900 721 111;  http://www.bus.co.il) head to virtually every part of the Golan, as well as to Tiberias, Hatzor HaGlilit (near Rosh Pina) and Kiryat Shmona.
Bus 57 follows the Sea of Galilee’s eastern and southwestern coasts (eg Kursi) on its way to Tiberias; bus 52 goes to Tiberias via the lake’s northwestern coast (eg Capernaum). To get to Neve Ativ, Majdal Shams and other places near Mt Hermon, you have to change in Kiryat Shmona. Egged bus 843 (49.50NIS, four hours, one or two daily) links Katzrin with Tel Aviv. On weekdays there are departures from Katzrin early in the morning and from Tel Aviv at 4pm.

Hiking

The southern Golan – the area between Katzrin and the Sea of Galilee and the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee from the east – has some excellent hiking.

Yehudiya Nature Reserve

One of the most popular hiking areas in all of northern Israel, the 66-sq-km Yehudiya Nature Reserve (Meshushim entrance 04-682 0238, Yehudiya entrance 04-696 2817; adult/child 22/10NIS; h7am-4pm or 5pm Sat-Thu, 7am-3pm or 4pm Fri ) offers walks suitable for casual strollers as well as experienced hikers, especially those who aren’t averse to getting wet. Mammals you might encounter include  gazelles and wild boar; its cliffs are home to birds of prey as well as songbirds.Most  of the trails follow three cliff-lined wadis, with year-round water flow, that drain  into the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee. Wadi Yehudiya and Wadi Zavitan are both easiest to access from the Yehudiya Parking Lot (Chenyon Yehudiya), which is on Rte 87 midway between Katzrin and the Sea of Galilee.

Wadi Meshushim, easiest to get to from the Meshushim Parking Lot, is situated 2.8km along a gravel road from Rte 888, which parallels the Jordan River. The parking lot is 8km northeast of the New Testament site of Bethsaida. The rangers at both entrances to Yehudiya (pronounced ‘yeh-hoo-dee-yah’) are extremely knowledgeable and can point you in the right direction, as well as register you, for your own safety.

The only map you’ll need is the excellent color-coded one provided at ticket booths. At both entrances, snack counters sell sandwiches and ice cream. Stick to marked trails – people have fallen to their deaths while attempting to negotiate treacherous makeshift trails, and there’s an army firing zone east of Wadi Yehudiya (across Rte 87).

New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail

New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail
New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail

This new circuit, which replaces a trail closed by a cliff collapse, takes 2½ to three hours. Blazes are red, then black. The trail begins at the basalt ruins of the pre-1967 Syrian settlement of Yehudiya, built – as its Arabic name hints – on the remains of a 3rd- and 4th-century Jewish village. To get there from the Yehudiya Parking Lot, cross the highway via the tunnel in the lot’s southern corner.

One section of the New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail involves 20 to 40 minutes of walking in water 50cm to 1m deep. A variant is the Yehudiya Waterfall Trail (red blazes; 45 minutes one-way from park HQ).

Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail

Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail
Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail

This three-hour circuit offers great views of 27m-high Zavitan Waterfall, spectacular in the rainy season. The descent begins at the ruins of the Arab village of Sheikh Hussein, northeast of the Yehudiya Parking Lot. An easy trail with blue, then black, then red, then blue blazes, the path heads downstream to link with the Lower Zavitan Canyon Trail and, eventually, Meshushim (Hexagons) Pool.

If you begin hiking after 11am, don’t plan on making it all the way to the pool. Branches of the Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail can be picked up near Katzrin and on Rte 9088 between Katzrin and Katzrin Darom Junction.

Meshushim (Hexagons) Pool

Meshushim Pool
Meshushim Pool

Surrounded by extraordinary, six-sided basalt pillars (thus the name), this chilly (19°C), 7m-deep pool makes for a refreshing dip. Getting there from the Meshushim Parking Lot, which has changing rooms, requires a delightful, 20-minute downhill walk; getting back up takes 30 to 40 minutes. The Stream Trail (Shvil HaNahal), which hits Wadi Meshushim further upstream (and has a 3m cliff ladder), takes 20 to 30 minutes downhill. Begin these routes before 2pm (3pm during daylight savings).

At the pool, remember that there is no lifeguard – and jumping and diving are absolutely forbidden (people have died here from hitting their heads). It’s possible to hike down to Meshushim Pool from the Yehudiya Parking Lot (four to six hours, depending on your route) but transiting from Wadi Zavitan to Wadi Meshushim involves a steep ascent and then an equally steep descent; and getting back up to your car (assuming you have one and parked it at Yehudiya) could be a problem. This route cannot be started, in either direction, after 11am.

Sleeping

Yehudiya Camping Ground (Orchan Laila; 04-696 2817; http://www.campingil.org.il; Yehudiya Parking Lot; per person incl next-day park admission 50NIS; 24hr)

Yehudiya Camping Ground
Yehudiya Camping Ground

Open year-round, this well-lit camping area is securely fenced (against wild boars and jackals) and has hot showers, barbecue pits and shade constructions. If there’s no one around, just make yourself at home and pay in the morning. Bags can be left at the information desk (when it’s open); nearby there are lockers (10NIS) for valuables.

Transport

Rama buses 52 and 57 (10 daily Sunday to Thursday, six on Friday), which connect Katzrin with Tiberias, stop at the Yehudiya Parking Lot (20 minutes from Katzrin). Egged bus 843, linking Katzrin with Tel Aviv, also passes the Yehudiya Parking Lot.A bus schedule is posted to the right of the Yehudiya snack counter.

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