For me, being in nature uplifts my soul. It has been proven that exposure to nature not only makes one feel better emotionally, but it also contributes to your physical wellbeing – it reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and lowers the production of stress hormones.
Following these couple of incredibly stressful an anxiety-ridden years, I’m sure most people will agree that taking a break to heal our mind and souls is a necessity. In Israel, you can combine a variety of wonderful experiences, from hiking in nature and exploring historical sites, to eating delicious food and enjoying leisure time on the beach. But, if you love nature, the perfect time to visit is at the end of winter/early spring (Feb-Apr). This is the time of year when the country is simply blooming with flowers, from the north to the south. And after the rainy winter season, the landscape is green and lush, and the streams are full and sparkling.
If you have travelled to Israel before, you may have visited Beit Guvrin and the beautiful Bell Cave, or even Tel Azekah, the arena for the famous battle between David and Goliath. You may, however, have missed Tel Sochoh, a fascinating and breathtaking place where blue lupines carpet the entire hill.
One of the most unique things about traveling in Israel is that you can hold the Tanach (Bible) in your hands and read the actual story of the location you are visiting.
When standing in the Ella Valley, you are at the very spot where the battle between David the shepherd and Goliath, the Philistine giant, took place. “Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered together at Sochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Sochoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.”(Samuel 1 17:1). At the start of the war in the 11th century BCE, the Philistines attempted to penetrate eastward through this valley, towards the Judean hills. The two armies faced each other across the very valley that we see spread out at our feet.
Climbing up a steep path to the top of Tel Sochoh will lead you to a beautiful lookout over the Ella Valley. Looking north you can see Beit Shemesh and Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Heh, as well as a reserve of trees rare to Israel – the white acacia – remnants of the ancient tropical forest that used to cover this area. Across from the Tel (hill), another ancient biblical site called Khirbet Qeiyafa, also known as the Ella Fortress is visible, and looking west, we can see the bald top of Tel Azekah, the city mentioned in the verse above.
Sochoh is one of four fortified cities that was established along the road below connecting the shore with inland cities. Sochoh was also mentioned on ancient Hebrew seals stamped on the handles of large storage jars, issued in the reign of the Judean King Hezekiah (around 700 BC). It is presumed that the jars were filled with liquid and collected by the Judean governor as tax or for emergency.
But, back to nature. In late winter/early spring, the Tel and its slopes are covered with magnificent blue lupines, making it one of the most popular places for Israelis to visit when it’s in full bloom. The deep blue flower can grow to a height of up to 48 inches! It often appears in large cluster, but is also very impressive as a single plant. The leaves track the sun’s movement in the sky and move accordingly throughout the day. The deep blue color is rare among flowers in Israel, and especially in this family of plants. The flowers have five petals that form a sailboat-like structure with a wide spinnaker with a vertical stripe down the middle. This stripe is white at first and turns red after the flower has been pollinated, indicating to incoming bees to go to other flowers. (To read more go to: wildflowers).
Of course, as with all places in Israel, you are just a short distance from many other breathtaking view and eye-opening experiences. In this geographical area you can visit with locals and eat various traditional foods from Kurdish Cube to an Algerian tajine. And, did you know that the nickname of the Ella Valley is “Israel’s Tuscany”? Here you will see beautiful vineyards that are spread across the fertile valley, where you can stop by to enjoy a visit to any one of the local and excellent wineries.
This lesser-known geographical location is also., in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in Israel. I even chose to get married in a garden nearby. I hope that you will come with me to visit this lovely place the next time you visit this breathtaking country