Jan 23, 2014  By Geri Shatz  Category: Go North,

Western Galilee artisans: Tourism off the beaten path

JNF's Makor Speakers Bureau

Hagit Stern. Edna and Eyal Hefer. Tami and Yaron Cohen. Jaris Hadid. Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweetat. Michal and Danny Kalderon.

No, you don't know these names yet. They are those of artisanal entrepreneurs in Israel's Western Galilee, and the quality of their work is original and excellent.  Each workshop is worth a visit, each food should be tasted, and I will tell you just how to do that in a moment.

But first, there is some recent history to relate:.

Johnny Stern, the owner of Stern Winery at Kibbutz Tuvat, and Amnon
Gopher, a tour guide specializing in the Galilee recognized that forming a coalition of local artisans to work in concert to enhance their products and promote their businesses could also help to expose the public to the under-appreciated Western Galilee. They would rely on each other, not government agencies, to create, fund and direct their association. The next steps would be to hire an executive director, whom they found in Michal Shiloah, whose marketing and public relations background was honed at Motorola, and to develop a concept of bringing enough top-rated artisans to the association Western Galilee Now to be able to offer tour guides the ability to craft trips for discerning visitors that maximize the quality of visits to the religiously, historically and culturally diverse region.

Members of Western Galilee Now meet regularly at each others establishments to resolve the challenges of promoting their own businesses while cultivating the Western Galilee as a tourist mecca and as an attractive place for relocation. Gaining membership is rigorous: good business practices have to be established and a willingness to cooperate is essential. More than 30 small operators have joined in two years, ranging over several categories including cafes and restaurants, specialty foods, crafts and local tour guides.

And Western Galilee Now made an effort to meet with the organization whose mission includes bringing 300,000 people to live in the Galilee. JNF has committed to assist WGN because their framework of cooperation, not competition, fits so well with our desire to see the region promote itself. Look for a link to WGN on the JNF website in just a few months!

Hagit Stern has leapt from life as an executive in the Belgian offices of Ford to restauranteur. After a dream year studying baking in France, she opened Brioche Cafe in Nahariya,. Her sunny bakery and cafe set in the leafy, green family estate serves French-influenced beautiful salads and outrageous cakes and provides catering as well. Tami and Yaron Cohen own and operate Tamar & Gefen,  a luxurious retreat in Mitzpe Hila. Their three elegant rooms each with its own outdoor spa include open access to the wine cellar they operate privately - the 300 bottles of wine they produce annually are for their own use and that of their guests. Edna Hefer is a cheese-monger, and let me assure you, creates some of the lightest, most delicately flavored crumbly and washed-rind cheeses ever. She and her husband Eyal conduct their businesses on the honor system: the refrigerator containing their cheese and the shelf of baked goods sit outside their B&B and customers who help themselves leave their payment on the counter.

Come visit Jaris Hadad at Massada Arak in Meilya and you will learn how his multiple prize-winning arak is distilled while you sip the three types he makes. (I heartily recommend the smooth, anise-flavored drink, particularly if you are partial to tequila.) Meilya itself is worth a stop, as it is one of only two totally Christian Arab towns in Israel. And do not miss Buza Ice Cream Parlor in Tarschicha where remarkable ice cream in chocolate and chocolate-hazelnut or chocolate-peanut butter, and pistachio or dulce de leche, among other just-slightly decadentflavors are the creamy creations of Jewish Israeli Adam Ziv and his Arab Israeli business partner Alaa Sweetat, who happens also to be the owner of the wonderful restaurant Alouma.

A final stop on our day was Kalderon MD, where Danny and Michal create innovative glassware that is sold from their small factory to hotels and restaurants throughout the world, but you have more than two dozen additional choices to create your personal expedition off the beaten path.

The drive through the wooded hills of the Western Galilee was as beautiful as each of us remembered, but every visit to these Western Galilee Now boutique businesses provided a surprise in design, taste and interaction. Planning a trip to Israel? Visit www.westgalil.org.il for a map and listings of these unique artisanal businesses.