Golan Heights: let’s leave the controversy and see the real beauty of Israel’s wine country
What is it about Golan Heights that's in the news?
I didn’t want to go to this topic but you deserve to know. You are already knowledgeable about how I continuously express my undying love for Israel but the Golan Heights controversy is about bordering Syria and Lebanon – aka, the war-torn countries. If you try to Google the Golan Heights, you will see an endless string of negative news but if you ask me if it’s safe, well, I was there and definitely didn’t feel threatened.
It feels a little weird to be sipping wine and eating grapes with no hands when you can see Syria, not from a far distance but what can we do? Don’t make yourself feel bad about visiting Israel’s wine country and don’t you ever feel scared because it is truly a place you should pay attention to. If you think Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are the only places to visit when you travel to Israel, it’s up to you. But I am telling you, Golan Heights is worth a shot.
Here are some of the amazing things I’ve seen and done during my visit
4x4 jeep tour
I didn’t know where we were going but when I saw the jeeps upon alighting the bus, it already smelled fun. I immediately called for shotgun. At times like this, the front row is always the best seat. The jeep had this foldable windshield feature that came handy when I was almost drowning in dust. Of course, what else do you need when doing rides like this? Music. The jeep had fecking usb plugs and speakers where I freely put my roadtrip playlist on. The driver was kind enough to offer his humble sound system and didn’t mind whatever I played. He even sung to “No Scrubs!”
It’s dusty, it’s rough, it’s bumpy but we drove around for hours seeing endless fields and impressive mountain views. This is where the diversity of Israel comes in. I proved it to be true that this small country has everything. From beaches to deserts to forests – Israel has it all!
In one of the stops, we saw huge windmills overlooking Syria. We had a chance to sit there and listen to silence. “It’s a peaceful day today, thank God,” our tour guide said. On normal days, you can hear lound bangs in that area because of its close proximity to Al-Harra, a small town in the south of Syria. Look at my jumping pic above. You can literally see this town!
Cooking classes with an Israeli chef
After the bumpy ride, we arrived a vineyard thinking assuming lunch is set. The mighty Chef Nir Margalith of Puzzle Israel surprised us by saying that we will have to make our own lunch. I love to cook with all my heart but all I wanted to do at that moment was to eat!
As a world citizen who wants to be part of the experience, I took the plunge. Chef Nir assigned us to chop a lot of veggies while the rest of his crew was already searing and grilling meat that I secretly tasted while everyone was busy chopping. There were strong winds in between I didn’t know if the vegetables we were chopping were clean but feck it – Chef Nir makes it easy. We didn’t have to do much. He did everything!
I got really confused when food was served. Different dishes were flying left and right and they didn’t look familiar. “Where the hell are the vegetables I cut?!” was the only thing I can think of. The dishes were so gorgeous there is no way that I did that.
“Wine conveys a feeling of its source from within. The region in which the grapes are grown is embedded in the taste, aroma and color of the wine. Wine, therefore, has the power to embody the culture, language, scents and people of its region.” – Victor Schoenfeld
As if we didn’t have enough wine in our system (we were drinking since noon that day), The Golan Heights Winery invited us for another treat – wine tasting in their very own factory. In here, we got a chance to have a private tasting with the cool winery peeps that gave us nothing but the best experience.
Did you know that wine civilisation started in this area? Not really in Israel but no matter how many regions and countries in the world are claiming wine originated from them, it is definitely Assyrian. I wonder why every time wine comes up, it’s always France, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa and not Israel or Syria. No matter how famous these countries are for wine, as a wine enthusiast, I think Israel’s wine country should be in that map.
Music festival at a vineyard
I told you the drinking never stops (sorry, mum). Can you imagine that super long day of drowning in wine didn’t end there? After the wine tasting, we immediately went to a party at a volcanic crater in the Golan Heights. Yep, volcanic crater. More sand. More wine. More fun.
On most of the photos above (please check the slideshow, I promise it’s fun!), you will see me rocking and rolling because this event was with unlimited wines! Upon entry, we were given plastic wine glasses which we can refill as we please. Music was super upbeat and this was the time when I slowly discovered the heart of the artistry of the Israelis.
I don’t really remember how the night ended but I do remember the day after – I was hung over and slowly concluded that I wanted to live in Israel.
And I did.