In direct contrast to Jerusalem, Akka, Haifa and Caesarea with their historical and archaeological wonders, Eilat is the playground of Israel and guarantees sun, fun and relaxation.
To make the most of a trip to Israel, a two-centre break with a guide would be ideal. Security is tight, so you feel perfectly safe as checks are made in shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and all public places. Allow lots of time for checking in at the airport. English is taught in schools so communication is generally easy.
If time is short however, you have the choice of visiting the historical areas and stopping over in the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv for a night or two. Tel Aviv is built on sand dunes and did not exist until 1909. It is now is a vibrant city full of skyscrapers with white beaches along the Mediterranean Sea. City dwellers jog and exercise along the promenade in the evenings and the area buzzes with sidewalk cafes and the finest fish restaurants in the country. Old Jaffa almost merges with the new city and this is where you find character and atmospheric restaurants by night and flea markets by day.
Or, for pure rest, relaxation and recreation you can head down south to Eilat on the Red Sea. I touched on the Med, the Dead and the Red Sea on this trip, what a country of contrasts Israel is!
The temperature was around 32C and very pleasant but air conditioning in our guide’s car was welcome as we drove through the Judean mountains down to the lowest point on earth – the Dead Sea. 1,365feet (416meters) below sea level and receding 1m each year, the Dead Sea has the Judean desert on one side and the soaring mountains of Jordan on the other. Famous for its healing properties the Dead Sea enabled even me to float and my skin felt wonderful the next day.
Pure human endeavour has created an oasis along our route to Eilat. Around Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, seeds were identified, replanted and today date palms, the same as those growing 1,250 years ago, flourish and wave their fronds in the desert winds.
On the Eastern edge of the Judaean Desert is Masada a UNESCO site. Once one of King Herod’s Palaces and fortified between 37 and 31 BCE. It is built on an isolated rock plateau and was the site of the last stand of the Jews against the Romans in the Great Revolt which began in the year 66 CE. By 73 CE, the Roman legion had surrounded Masada and built a wall and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau. During the Siege of Masada, Sicarii rebels and their families held out for 3 years due to their impenetrable position and ingenious water cisterns scoured out of the rock. Finally, as the tenacious Romans scaled the cliffs, the First Jewish-Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 souls.
Whatever you wish to buy in Eilat is 17.5% cheaper than in other cities. Israel tapers down to Eilat on the Red Sea with just 12km of water front, bordered by Jordan and Egypt. It is a city built for fun, sun and pleasure.
Hotel accommodation is excellent and the spread at breakfast is quite a choice challenge. The vast selection of unusual dishes is tantalising. Food is fresh and plentiful. Israeli settlers have all brought their own cultural dishes from all over the world, so eating in Israel is a foodies delight. Portions are huge, Silver Travellers may well want to share.
In this desert environment, hotels compete to create the most magical oasis of pools and green spaces. This is a city for non-stop shopping and high adrenaline experiences. In the evenings we strolled along the waterfront past marinas, busy restaurants and music bars.
Ten minutes’ drive out of Eilat there is a magical paradise where again we took to the water and snorkelled with bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin Reef is an ecological site where dolphins have the freedom to choose if they wish to be around people (and food) or swim out to sea. There is no attempt to domesticate or train them.
After sipping fresh orange juice in a structure resembling a set out of Pirates of the Caribbean, I experienced Watsu for the first time. Three tranquil pools surrounded by plants and wafting screens set the scene for Water Shiatsu, and I am hooked.
To float in a warm pool with underwater music, under a canopy of palms, with a therapist supporting your floating body whilst massaging tired neck, shoulder, back and limbs,to my mind, is heaven and brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘to chill out’.
With bodies and minds still floating we continue with the water theme and visit the Underwater Observatory Marine Park to see the coral reef, technicolour fish and feeding of sharks.
Water is very important in this part of the world and that evening we were lucky enough to catch the WOW show, now in its 12th year. This year’s theme is Splash! Family entertainment at its best and it certainly lives up to its name. With athletic aquatic performers diving in and out of on-stage pools and waterfalls, aerial acrobatics merging with 3D special effects and mermaids in glittering costumes, it is similar to Cirque de Soleil with lots of splashing (a front row seat is not recommended!), it is a great night out with tickets priced at £20.00 and all in English with good music.
Silver Travellers will be spoilt for choice when deciding on ways to fill the day. There is a chance to go bird watching or sail on the Red Sea with lunch and an opportunity to jump ship and swim. We went to visit the Botanical garden of Eilat which is an organic farm, the dream of three men who 20 years ago took over a disused military base. The result of their nurturing now offers the visitor a show of abundant desert flora complete with a rain forest, baobab trees, fruit trees, herbs and observation points overlooking the Red Sea and the Edom Mountains. This is paradise in the desert.
You could choose to take a jeep ride or ride a camel. As Jordan and Israel are friendly at the moment, a day trip to Petra is possible for $300.
The Timna Valley is also a must. Rich in copper ore it has been mined since the 5th millennium BCE and the area is linked to the legend of King Solomon’s mines. In 1990 an expedition made a deep excavation of Timna Valley and discovered 10,000 copper mines and smelting camps with furnaces, rock drawings, geological features, shrines, temples, an Egyptian mining sanctuary, jewellery, and other artefacts never before found anywhere in the world.
Israel is a land of contrasts and guarantees winter sun and fun in Eilat.
For tourist information, visit www.goisrael.com.
For travel to Israel Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cox & Kings.