Head south on the cheap, to smell the flowers and find other pleasures

Head south on the cheap, to smell the flowers and find other pleasures

Plan a winter weekend getaway at Darom Adom to soak up some sun, and a few other (mostly) free activities

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

Overlooking the hills near Nahal Besor, in the Negev (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Overlooking the hills near Nahal Besor, in the Negev (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

It’s been a long winter in Israel with plenty of rain, more than one dousing of icy graupel and hail, near freezing temperatures (but no snow) and it’s not quite over yet.

By this point, you may need a warm weather getaway. Eilat could work, but it’s far. And it can be pricey.

So we’ve got a quick — and cheap — winter getaway recommendation in the Negev that could work as either an inexpensive overnight stay or a day trip. It will probably get warm enough there during the day to walk around in a t-shirt and turn your face toward the sun.

This little jaunt in the Negev also takes advantage of Darom Adom, or Red South, a monthlong event celebrating the blooming of red anemones, along with pink and purple cyclamen, yellow narcissus and the occasional iris, which stretches far and wide in dozens of locations throughout the area. The festival offers perfect picnic spots and paths for walking.

The kalaniyot, or anemones, blossom across southern Israel near the border with Gaza. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The region, which includes many kibbutzim and moshavim, has banded together for several years to host the Darom Adom Festival, with concerts, workshops, kids’ activities and maps for guiding visitors to all that’s available.

This year, I’m letting you in on a recent trip my extended family took during the first weekend of Darom Adom, at the end of January. With a group of 30 people ranging in age from 1 to 65, we had to take into account all kinds of needs and pretty much covered it all.

1) We headed out at about 9 a.m. on Friday, with our bags packed for the hour-and-a-half long drive to Klachim, where a favorite ceramicist, Yaara Nir Kachlon, lives and works.

While an artist’s studio isn’t necessarily appropriate for every age, such as toddlers, preschoolers, 11-year-olds and even some 30-somethings and 50-somethings, there are several other stops in Klachim that may work for the rest of the crowd.

A glance at the wall of eggshell ceramics from Yaara Nir Kachlon’s moshav studio in Klachim. (Courtesy Yaara Nir Kachlon)

The moshav’s main playground is a good place to stop. It includes a kid-size zipline, or Omega, as it’s called in these parts.

While the adults shop in Nir Kachlon’s studio of lightweight eggshell pottery (there’s also a second table for some less expensive items), the rest of the gang can go pet the ceramicist’s dog, ride the Omega (adults will love it, too) or hang out in the playground.

102 Meating Point offers burgers and sandwiches out of a refurbished fire truck in Klachim, in southern Israel (Courtesy 102 Meating Point)

There’s a Columbia sportswear store just across the playground for those inclined to do some more shopping, and there’s also 102 Meating Point, the first food fire truck, selling burgers, schnitzel and vegan sandwiches out of a refurbished fire engine. It serves a dual purpose of pleasing fire truck-obsessed kids and hungry stomachs. (Not kosher, open on Shabbat, no mixing of milk and meat.)

Admirers of the fire truck are always welcome to pay a visit, whether or not they’re ordering food.

If you plan on traveling earlier in the day, as we did, and need to make a pit stop, check out the Aroma cafe at Beit Kama, a gas station complex with several restaurants and rest rooms and just a few minutes drive from Klachim.

2) During Darom Adom, take your pick of dozens of parks and fields filled with red anemones. We headed to Nahal Gerar, a stream that runs off the Nahal Besor, which has a riverbank and picnic tables great for holding an al fresco lunch, as well as plenty of rocks and hills for the younger set to clamber over and around.

Wading through water in Nahal Gerar to pick up stringy algae and other treasures. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

We sat near the river and were joined by other families and groups of ATV-riding kids, who were a little annoying but not overly so.

The kids and some of the adults rolled up their pants and took off socks and shoes to wade through a portion of the cement bridge, awash with a centimeter or two of water from the river, in search of snails and stringy algae as part of their nature explorations.

For lunch, we sent one of the cars from Klachim to Hummus Eliyahu in Netivot, about a 20-minute drive, where we pre-ordered hummus, pita, salad, french fries and all the fixings, a meal that included something for everyone in our tribe (NIS 50 per person).

3) Other options for family-friendly locations in the area are the Erez Forest, a park with picnic areas and a lookout point, and the Nahal Besor, a 13-kilometer ride that can be made with bikes or cars, and places to stop and look around.

Ruhama is another famed Darom Adom location, with walking paths that meander through the cyclamen and anemone-filled fields, offering plenty of places to picnic.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge over Nahal Besor. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Our final stop before heading to our accommodations was the Suspension Bridge over the Nahal Besor, which allows visitors to cross a portion of the stream to the opposite bank, looking out over deep brown desert hills that extend for several kilometers, creating a phenomenal panorama and space to climb and walk.

The top of one of the nearby hills is mounted with a sculpture commemorating two local young men who died in a tragic ATV accident. It often serves as a background for selfies and group shots.

4)  Our final destination was Kibbutz Gvulot, in the northwestern Negev, where we’ve stayed before and which appreciate for its relatively low prices (NIS 650 per room). It offers an easy atmosphere, green space and an indoor pool.

The recently renovated rooms at Gvulot are individual cabins that can sleep two adults and up to three kids (with crisp clean sheets and comforters). The accommodations are simple and comfortable, with a small kitchenette that includes a fridge, dish rack and counter space for cutting up a salad or cooking a small meal.

Each room has its own indoor table as well as an outdoor one that can seat four. That was crucial for our family gathering as we brought our own food to make another al fresco lunch.

We had dinner in the kibbutz dining room, a simple but full Friday night meal (NIS 75 per person), including salads, two kinds of chicken dishes, beef ribs, rice and some boring desserts. (We also brought our own wine, no corking fees at this location.)

A line of cabins at Kibbutz Gvulot Country Lodging, where accommodations are simple and comfortable. (Courtesy Booking.com)

5) What we like about Gvulot, besides its price and outdoor spaces, is the ample playground, Omega and indoor pool, all of which served as our Shabbat activities. It was fairly warm to go swimming on a Shabbat in January.

Hanging out on one of the hammocks at Kibbutz Gvulot (Courtesy Habesor)

There are lawns at each cabin which are good for tossing around a Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball, and are dotted with single and double-sized hammocks.

Some of us went on a free tour of the kibbutz on Shabbat morning, following the 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. breakfast of salads, hard-boiled eggs, yogurts and jachnun. The tour was an hour-and-a-half long walk around the kibbutz, featuring stories about its industries, members and history.

Lastly, Gvulot has freshly painted safe rooms, which we thankfully did not have to use, but given that the kibbutz is about 20 minutes from the Gaza border, it’s good to know they’re there.

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