The Baron's moshava on the edge of the Carmel offers an enjoyable day trip–interesting history, pastoral nature, wineries, plus a range of worthwhile culinary choices.
The 200 Jewish pioneers who settled in the former village of Zamarin owed the turning point in their lives to the Baron, Edmond James de Rothschild. The immigrants from Romania who settled at the edge of Mount Carmel in 1882 planned to live off of farming. Members of the Hovevei Zion movement, however, knew little to nothing about agriculture and soon found themselves in serious trouble, turning for help to Baron Hirsch. The response was quick to come, stating help could be had if they relocated to Argentina. The pioneers declined, citing their Zionist motives for settling the land.
The desperately needed help came from a different source: the Rothschild family. Since that time, the village—renamed in memory of Edmond's father, James (Ya'akov) Mayer de Rothschild—and the Rothschilds have been associated with each other. The Baron built homes and communal structures in the moshava, helped the farmers plant vineyards, and established the Carmel Winery. Residents of Zichron Ya'akov and visitors to the area are quite literally still enjoying the fruits of that labor.
The downtown promenade, whose current name is Hameyasdim (Founders) Street—it's had other names in the past, including Farmers Street, Wine Way, and others—is a kind of spinal cord of the moshava that's well worth visiting. Low stone houses full of character line its sides alongside several well-preserved farmyards, restaurants, shops, special galleries (including one that runs workshops on traditional papermaking), and the Beit Aharonson museum commemorating the WWI Nili espionage ring (an interesting visit for history buffs).
A few minutes’ drive south of Hameyasdim Street is one of Israel's best-tended gardens, Gan Ramat Hanadiv—70 dunams of diligently pampered green lawns and native local greenery (ramat-hanadiv.org.il/en). In addition to a sea view and walking trails (the Israel Trail passes through the park), a number of events are held here. For instance, there's an evening tour along a trail illuminated by colorful lanterns. The guide who accompanied our family night tour fascinated the children with tales on nocturnal animals, the Baron who established no less than 44 settlements in Eretz Yisrael, and on the new fragrance garden designed especially for the sightless. Our tour ended with a visit to the graves of the Baron and his wife, located in the center of the park. The Carmelim Tourist Association offers a variety of tours (carmelim.org.il/eng).
Sushi, chocolate, and fine wine
It's hard to avoid the culinary traps in central Zichron Ya'akov. A few spots worth stopping in for a bite include the kosher Uma restaurant, offering sushi and trendy dishes near the promenade, located in an old stone building at 29 Hanadiv Street whose walls are decorated with Magna. For the benefit of Israeli visitors, the sushi rolls have been given names like Ovadia, Herzl, Shmuel, and the like. Some of the rolls are classic while others are local compromises, but all are made with the freshest fish. The menu is accompanied by seasonal cocktails, and there's a beer brewed exclusively for Uma. Enjoy rolls, delicious drum fish ceviche, and a few other nibbles and a few drinks (uma.rest.co.il).
The Tishbi complex, a few minutes drive south of Ramat Hanadiv on Route 652, encapsulates the Zichron Ya'akov-Binyamina regional experience. It's the venue for the Tishbi Winery, a visitor’s center for wine and excellent Valrhona French chocolate, kosher dairy restaurant, beef smokehouse (open on Fridays and for events), and bakery, sitting between them a pleasant vine gazebo. It's a multigenerational family business overlooking the vineyards themselves, visited by many who come to enjoy several experiences: good food, a sip or two of wine, and learning about Valrhona chocolate, exclusively imported by the Tishbi family and used by prestigious bakeries.
Several new chocolate products have been introduced here recently with the participation of Valrhona pastry chef Sandra Ornelas. Speaking of her delicious sweets, Ornelas says that “life is short, so it's worthwhile eating dessert first.” We learned to appreciate this way of life while tasting the new ice cream made solely from Valrhona chocolate (tishbi.com/en).
Culture and accommodations
Zichron Ya'akov's Elma is not simply a hotel, but a cultural center that includes lodging and a kosher chef restaurant, all inside a building long considered one of the pinnacles of Israeli architecture. The hotel building won its designer, architect Yaacov Rechter, the 1972 Israel Prize for Architecture. Rechter designed the building on the slopes of the hill, parallel to the natural topography and overlooking the sea, with agricultural fields and fish ponds spread out below. After years of decline and neglect, the building—originally a provident fund's rest home—was renovated and revamped at the initiative of Lily Elstein, a patron of the arts and daughter of one of Zichron's founding families. The hotel has everything needed for a vacation of art, luxury, rest, and culinary delight. The rest home's original 80 chambers have morphed into 40 spacious, airy rooms redesigned in colors reflecting the landscape of the hotel's surroundings—greens, blues, yellows, whites, and turquoise. A contemporary addition includes several ground-level villas designed for families, an indoor pool, a pool that's heated in winter, the Oratorio chef restaurant, and the main attraction: works of art.
The hotel's public spaces have become one large art gallery, in addition to which there are two galleries for Israeli and international visual and plastic art. There's also a concert hall, dug out four meters below ground level with world-class acoustics in what's called a “box in a box” in order to carry the most precise sounds in classical music. The Cube, another auditorium, is a club in the Zappa style with tables and a bar for jazz, rock, and other musical performances (elmahotel.co.il).
Lavender, a manufacturer of natural cosmetics, conducts workshops in the large courtyard of its visitor's center at Karkur near Zichron Ya'akov. Subjects include gray water, preparation of natural soaps, lectures on “dying to be beautiful?,” dealing with topics like whether cosmetics permeate the skin, and the components of deodorants, creams, soaps, and fragrances. In Hebrew and English.
54 Ne'urim Street, Pardes Hana-Karkur (lavender.co.il)