Cooling off in the Valley of Springs

When a heatwave hit, a lazy day relaxing by natural springs in northern Israel was just what the doctor ordered.

The area known as the Beit She’an Valley, more recently rebranded as the “Valley of Springs”, is, on the face of it, not an ideal place to live. It’s the hottest part of Israel—a combination of its altitude (over 100m, or 300ft below sea level) and its basalt rock, which absorbs the heat.

Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, a farming collective located in the valley, holds the record for the hottest recorded temperature in Asia for a year-round settlement, clocking in 54C (129F). And yet, throughout history, people have lived and thrived in this area. In fact, under Roman rule, Beit She’an (or Scythopolis, as it was then known) was the regional capital.

What made this possible? The ready supply of fresh water. In addition to a couple of year-round streams, the geology of the area contributed to the formation of a plethora of springs. Combined with the fertile soil, it became a place where people could flourish.

Last October, after a gruelling few months of lockdown, and during a harsh heatwave, my wife and I decided to take a day to ourselves and drove up to the area to cool off in nature. We specifically chose to go during the week—during the weekend these places are normally packed.

Relaxing at the Shokek Spring in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel
Relaxing at the Shokek Spring in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel

We began our day in the appropriately named “Park of Springs” site. While many of the springs require a bit of work to find, this is an organised site that collects together three springs and associated streams, with trails connecting them and helpful signage and facilities. Entry to the site is free, but you can pay to hire bicycles, golf carts or to deposit valuables in a locker.

Given the heat, we splashed out on a golf cart and spent a wonderful few hours in the park. We drove between springs, alternatively dipping ourselves in the refreshing water, cooling off in the shade, and enjoying the picnic we’d picked up from one of our favourite bakeries on our drive north.

A delicious takeaway breakfast picnic from the Jacobs Dairy and Agadat HaLechem bakery.
Breakfast Picnic from Jacobs Dairy and Agadat HaLechem Bakery

There are fish pools in the park, owned by the local kibbutz. October is the beginning of the big annual bird migration across Israel, with half a billion birds flying in from Europe and Asia to head down to warmer climes on the African continent. We were able to spot a whole flock of pelicans in the pools, quite majestic animals.

Migrating pelicans in the fish pools located in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel
Migrating Pelicans in the Fish Pools located in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel

One thing we didn’t have time for was the Kibbutzim Stream water hike. It’s located in the park, and with the water going quite deep at parts, can become more of a swim than a hike. I’ll have to get back there to give it a go.

Having enjoyed the park, we set off on our way home, via a stop at a different spring, in the Jezreel Valley. The Harod Spring is mentioned in the Bible, in one of my favourite stories. Detailed in Judges 7, Gideon takes his Israelite warriors to the spring ahead of a major battle with the Midianites. In what I sometimes jokingly refer to as the first HR assessment centre, he invites them to drink, and then selects his fighters based on the result. You can read the full story here.

Today, the Harod Spring is a national park in a beautiful setting. There is an entry fee, but the advantage is that it was even more peaceful and relaxed than the Park of the Springs. We spent another good couple of hours relaxing in and out of the water, and just enjoying nature after so long stuck in the city. You can read more about the Harod Spring from when I visited it on the tour guide course.

Some of the Treats on Offer at the Maklot Vanille Cafe in Afula, Israel
Some of the Treats on Offer at the Maklot Vanille Cafe in Afula

Sadly, it was time to head home, but we made time for a couple of culinary stops. First, for a yummy early supper at Maklot Vanil in Afula, and then to pick up some crisp, fresh and very reasonably priced veggies from the Carmelim farm shop in Yogev.

Browsing the Carmelim farm shop in Northern Israel
Browsing the Carmelim Farm Shop in Northern Israel

All in all, a wonderfully relaxing day in nature, with some delicious treats to boot. 

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