It was getting embarrassing. After living in Israel for two years, I still hadn’t been North of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Sure, I’ve explored the Negev far more than most people who live in “the center.” I’ve vacationed in Eilat and snorkeled in the Red Sea. I’ve hiked in Mitzpe Ramon, floated in the Dead Sea, and have even explored the tiny shuk in Ashkelon. I know Tel Aviv and Jerusalem nearly as well as I know Be’er Sheva, the city where I live. But I’d yet to make it up North. Everywhere else is just over an hour from me. As soon as you start getting into two-plus hours of travel, and the need for a car, well, it was easier to put off.
Which is why I had no choice but to take Anne up on her generous offer. Like most of my friends in this country, I met Anne virtually through my blog and our mutual love of food. When she found out I hadn’t been to her adopted home of Caesarea (pronounced kay-sarea), her reply was: “YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TO CAESAREA YET????? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Now listen here Missy – you have to come here! You have no idea what you’re missing – Caesarea is amazing!” It was exactly what I needed to kick my butt into gear. That and an invitation to stay with her at her incredible home and zimmer, Casa Caesarea. Beth and I decided to make a girls trip out of it, a “babymoon” if you will before she gives birth in the fall.
And what a fun two days we had. It turns out that Caesarea is even closer than I thought, less than two hours from my home in the South. Anne, a talented novelist and cookbook author, welcomed us into her little slice of paradise with open arms. Seriously, if you are in Israel take a detour to Caesarea and stay at Casa Caesarea. Anne, a former interior designer, has made sure that every detail is taken care of, from stylish furnishings to the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. She’ll fix you supper if you like and a lovely breakfast of yogurt, granola, croissants, coffee, and more will be waiting for you when you wake up. There’s a pool, and a view of the golf course. It was hard to leave. Anne hosts events for foodies there as well from time to time, like this food photography workshop this summer. How I wish I would be here!
But we did manage to tear ourselves away from Casa Caesarea to explore the sites. First, Beth and I checked out the historical port city of Caesarea, which was built by Herod the Great in 25-31 BCE. It played an important role in the Roman Empire, Byzantine Era, and Crusades, and people from every time have left their mark here. There are gorgeous remains of palaces and mosaics, a huge hippodrome and a stunning Roman amphitheater that is still used for performances to this day. And of course, with its breathtaking location along the Mediterranean, there is seafood. At Anne’s suggestion we hunkered down at Crusaders Restaurant, where Beth and I enjoyed a seriously fresh and amazing mixed seafood dish (when was the last time I had crabs?!) and an array of Israeli salads. Perfection.
Next, Beth and I headed up to the ancient crusader city of Akko (also spelled Acre), and one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the country (according to Wikipedia). It’s one of those cities that has been conquered by everyone – ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Egyptians, Crusaders, Ottomans, and even Armenians. The entire Old City is fortified and surrounded by massive stone walls meant to keep out invaders. It’s just gorgeous. Ancient tunnels connect different parts of the city, and it’s easy to imagine bygone eras at the port. The small shuk is wonderful and full of character – at first glance every shuk in Israel looks more or less the same, and its not until you dig a bit beneath the surface that you find what makes them special.
After wandering around for a few hours, Beth and I sat down for a much anticipated meal at Uri Buri, a famous seafood restaurant that Beth has been dying to take me to. We shared three half portions (I love that they offer half portions!) and each dish was better than the last. Perfectly cooked cod with crispy skin in a lemon-butter sauce with cauliflower puree. Shrimp and artichokes in a lemony turmeric sauce. Sea bass in a heady and intoxicating porcini cream sauce with roasted vegetables. Oh my! I wish our appetites would have allowed us to eat forever.
The next morning we headed to Tsfat (another town with a million spellings – Tzfat, Safed, and even Zfat are all acceptable). The home of mysticism and Kabbalah, this sleepy and touristy artist town gets mixed reviews – people either love it or hate it. But you have to visit at least once. The cobblestoned pedestrian streets are packed with artists selling (mostly overpriced) Judaica art, and it’s only once you get off the beaten path that you can take a breath and really appreciate the beauty of this religious town that overlooks the lush Galilee. A must stop is at Mr. Lachuch, a small Yemenite eatery where Ronen, the owner, makes pizza-like wraps out of traditional lachuch (a yeasty mix between a pancake and a flatbread).
Where to Eat and Stay
Old Caesarea Park
Old City, Tsfat
(it’s on the main drag, you can’t miss it)
93 Hagana, Akko
Near the lighthouse (Midal Or) in the Old City