For a fine cup of coffee and organic wine, head north
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Five hotspots to visit before, during or after Passover break

For a fine cup of coffee and organic wine, head north

From freshly brewed java at Zichron’s Kilimanjaro Coffee to a light red Nebbiolo at Lotem, the Lower Galilee is where it’s at

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A glass of Lotem's Rose, with the valleys of the Lower Galilee in the background (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
A glass of Lotem's Rose, with the valleys of the Lower Galilee in the background (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Purim is over and there’s still a couple of weeks before Passover, making it the perfect time for a road trip as the weather warms up. From coffee breaks to wine tasting, from paper making to historic sites, Israel’s north offers endless opportunities.

1) If we’re talking coffee, start the day in Zichron Yaakov, where Kilimanjaro Coffee may spoil you for almost any other java joint in the country. Owner David Strausberg was a former Microsoft Israel technical writer with a yen for a cup of joe.

It was after a prolonged visit to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with his young family where he discovered and got hooked on some of the best coffee he’d ever had — this is a guy who used to travel with his own coffee gear — and started thinking about sharing his passion for java with others.

He ended up marrying his scientific approach to coffee and opening a stall in Zichron’s bus station before moving the entire operation to Rechov Hameyasdim, the main drag of the quaint, winery-focused town.

Watching David Strausberg siphon coffee at Kilimanjaro Coffee in Zichron Yaakov (Courtesy Kilimanjaro Coffee)
David Strausberg siphons coffee at Café Kilimanjaro in Zichron Yaakov (Courtesy Kilimanjaro Coffee)

His café also serves cakes, quiches and croissants, but the intensely fresh roasted flavor of his espressos and cappuccinos are what brings customers to Kilimanjaro. The coffee itself is imported — and Strausberg will send coffee beans anywhere in Israel — but Kilimanjaro’s distinguishing factor, said Strausberg, is the quality and hands-on approach to roasting and brewing, with Strausberg spending much of his time testing, weighing and prepping the coffee.

“We use instrumentation that we haven’t seen anyone else use,” he said, referring to his coffee refractometer, an optical device that measures the amount of coffee solubles in any particular coffee solution, helping him adjust the roast, grind or water temperatures.

“My customers don’t know what I’m doing; I’m not showing them everything, but the proof is in the pudding,” said Strausberg. “They know that no matter what they order here, they are getting a great cup.”

Café Kilimanjaro, 36 Hameyasdim, Zichron Yaakov, open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days.

Drying handmade, flower-studded paper at Zichron Yaakov's Tut Niyar workshop (Courtesy Tut Niyar)
Drying handmade, flower-studded paper at Zichron Yaakov’s Tut Niyar workshop (Courtesy Tut Niyar)

2) Need a place to occupy the kids while you drink your coffee in Zichron Yaacov? Book some spots at Tut Niyar, or Mulberry Paper, a family-run paper-making workshop set under the welcoming branches of the Neumann’s mulberry tree.

The Neumanns put participants right to work, choosing flowers and leaves to embed in their paper, making the bark and wood pulp mulch that eventually becomes wet frames that are pushed through a mesh strainer and then set it in a mold that dries into a thick, textured sheet of vellum.

Tut Neyar, 39 Hameysdim Street, 054-429-0559, call for prices and appointments.

3) When you’re ready to leave Zichron Yaakov, continue up Route 781 toward the Lower Galilee and Yodfat, an ancient site that has been home to a moshav for the last 40 years, and more recently, to the Yodfat Monkey Farm and the adjacent, recently opened crafts complex. This is a great place to spend the greater part of the day, particularly if you’re traveling with young kids.

The monkey farm is small and easily accessible for young kids, situated in a forested setting and with easy access to pet or hand-feed the wily primates.

If it’s time for lunch, head to the new complex next door where there’s the charming Café Yodfat, with great views overlooking the hills and valley, and a menu of soups, shakshouka, sandwiches and salads; the whole wheat bread is fresh, the tehina is particularly thick and tangy and there are a selection of gluten-free options as well.

Weighing creamy halva at Tootsie, a carefully curated delicatessen in Yodfat's recently opened commercial complex (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Weighing creamy halva at Tootsie, a carefully curated delicatessen in Yodfat’s recently opened commercial complex (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Another possibility — particularly if you’re with kids — is heading into the delightful Tootsie delicatessen, where you can have a fresh, crusty baguette piled high with whatever meats, cheeses and spreads you choose (nope, it’s not kosher). There’s also Bazelet on tap, and a carefully curated selection of mostly Israeli food products, from Nablus-made tehina that is pale and creamy to artisanal marshmallows and homemade fruit jellies, as well as packets of high-end potato chips, paleo spices and some unexpected imported wines and condiments.

Once lunch is over, be sure to visit the rest of the stores in the complex. There’s the sock store — this is Yodfat, after all, home to one of the country’s sock manufacturers — a home textiles shop with pillows, rugs, tablecloths and sheets imported from India, a jewelry boutique, bread bakery, Persian rug store and a general store that doubles as the local wine shop.

4) If you need one more outing in Yodfat before heading home, drive around the moshav until you reach the signs that point in the direction of the tel, an archaeological mound, down a meandering country road that takes visitors past olive groves and a baying donkey. It was here in Yodfat that Josephus, a general in the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (66-70 CE), who was also a writer and historian, was captured by Romans.

A sign pointing the way to Yodfat's archaeological site (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
A sign pointing the way to Yodfat’s archaeological site (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

 

Yodfat’s hidden caves and cisterns played a part in the dramatic story of Josephus, and there are remains of the Roman wall that can be seen on the northern side of the mound. Beyond the site are glorious views of the oak and carob groves below, as well as olive orchards and pine forests.

You can also reach Tel Yodfat from a rough gravel road off Road 784, just south of Moshav Yodfat.

5) After a long day of touring, you’ve earned a drink. Jonathan Koren owns one of Israel’s two organic wineries at nearby Lotem, where he makes a Shiraz, a light red Nebbiolo, a Cabernet as well as a Cabernet Franc Merlot blend, a Cabernet Nebbiolo blend and his Rose, a blend of the Nebbiolo with Petit Verdot.

So, why organic? Koren’s philosophy is you have to work with what nature gives you, rather than trying to make it bend to your will.

Now producing nearly 15,000 bottles a year, Koren would like to get to 20,000, but he seems relaxed about it all, sitting in a cozy corner of the cavernous hangar where his wines are made and stored under a steady stream of gentle background music. He also serves a menu of carpaccio, ceviche lamb tucked into pita and some tapas at the wine bar, which is open Thursday evenings, Fridays and Saturdays.

If you want food with your wine tasting, you do need to call ahead, or plan on visiting on April 9 when there will be Wine and Plenty Festival in the region.

Lotem Winery is open on weekends or by appointment only during the week, 04-621-4972.

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