The hills northeast of Caesarea contain a pretty area that could be called Israel's "wine country." Zichron Yaacov, the main town in this region, was founded in 1882 under the special patronage of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and has the distinction of being one of the first agricultural towns to be developed in Israel in modern times. With sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean from its vantage point on the Carmel mountain range, Zichron Yaacov has undergone major restoration in the past few years. Its main street, the quaintest in Israel, is dotted with cafes, craft shops, and restaurants -- some have begun comparing the ambience here to a fragment of Carmel, California, or the Hamptons, on Long Island.
Zichron Yaacov means "memorial of Jacob," and was named for the baron's father, James de Rothschild (in Hebrew, Jacob); these days, many just call it "Zichron." Of interest here are the Carmel Mizrachi Winery in Zichron Yaacov and the Baron and Binyamina Wineries in nearby Binyamina .
Hameyasdim Street, old Zichron's main thoroughfare, is lined with the town's original houses, some of which have been restored. Stop in to see the Aaronson House, 40 Hameyasdim St. (tel. 04/637-7666), where a small museum commemorates the heroic and tragic Aaronson family. The Aaronsons' story is a national legend that has grown more romantic and poetic with time. Aaron Aaronson (1876-1919) was an agronomist of international repute who received his training in France under the aegis of the Rothschilds. He discovered and studied an ancestor of modern wheat that grows in the vicinity. He and his sisters, Sara and Rebecca, and his assistant, Absolom Feinberg, with whom he had set up an experimental farm at Athlit, were at the center of NILI, an anti-Turkish spy ring that supplied the British with intelligence during World War I (Palestine at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire, an enemy of Britain, France, and America). Feinberg was killed while traveling through Gaza on a desperate mission to contact the British army in Sinai. After the Six-Day War, 50 years later, when a search was made so Feinberg could be reburied in Jerusalem, the site of his grave in Gaza was identified by a palm tree that sprouted from dates he had been carrying in his pocket when he was ambushed. Both Sara and Rebecca had been in love with Feinberg; Sara was arrested and committed suicide after being tortured by the Turks. Aaron Aaronson himself, one of the most promising and admired members of the Jewish community in Palestine, died in a plane crash on his way to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I. The house, with its period ambience and display of historical mementos, is open Sunday to Thursday from 8:30am to 1pm, Tuesday from 3:30 to 5:30pm, and Friday from 9am until noon. Admission is NIS 16 ($4/£2).
The First Aliyah Museum, 2 Ha-Nadiv St. (tel. 04/621-2333), is a multimedia exhibit of life in the 19th-century Jewish agricultural centers, especially those such as Zichron Yaacov, founded under the patronage of the Rothschild family. The attempts to reenact elements of 19th-century life are sometimes didactic or heavy-handed, but the methods of presentation are interesting. The museum is wheelchair accessible. It's open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 9am to 2pm; Tuesday 9am to 7pm; Friday 9am to 1pm; and Saturday 10am to 2pm. Admission is NIS 20 ($5/£2.50).
You can also visit Ramat Ha-Nadiv, or the Heights of the Benefactor, containing the tomb of the Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) and his wife, Baroness Adelaide de Rothschild, set in handsome gardens filled with all the varieties of plantings the Rothschilds helped to develop in Israel. Near Ramat Ha-Nadiv's vista point, overlooking Caesarea and the Mediterranean, you'll see a stone map marking the many towns and agricultural settlements developed under Rothschild sponsorship. The Rothschilds were reinterred here, according to their wishes, after the establishment of the State of Israel.
Opposite Zichron Yaacov, on the coast, is Kibbutz Maagan Michael, whose beautiful carp ponds at the edge of the sea also serve as a bird sanctuary. Depending on the season, bird-watchers can find herons, cranes, storks, and exotic birds, including (at rare times) flamingos.
The Hof Ha-Carmel Field School at Maagan Michael (tel. 04/639-9655; fax 04/639-1618) is an important bird-watching center. November through February, during migrations between Europe and Africa, is an especially rich time for sightings at this station. You can arrange a private guided tour of the sanctuary through the Field School; the rate is approximately NIS 585 ($146/£73) for the day. If you want to visit on your own, the Field School can supply you with advice and printed material in English. Kibbutz Maagan Michael produces plastic products and also has a livestock center featuring in-residence Israeli cowboys and herds of Brahman-type cows.
The lovely artists' village of Ein Hod is located inland from Hwy. 2. Road signs point the way for drivers, and from 10am to 5:30pm there is intermittent Egged bus service from Haifa all the way up the mountainside to this famous colony. You can also take bus no. 921 to the Ein Hod roadway that intersects with Hwy. 4, and hitchhike up the mountainside from there. (True hikers will find the half-hour uphill trek a simple one, but for others, it can be hard, especially in the heat of summer.)
Ein Hod (Well of Beauty) was built over an abandoned Arab village in 1953 by Israeli sculptors, painters, and potters, under the guidance of Marcel Janco.
The village now includes a museum of surrealist art, several workshops, and an outdoor theater. It's a picturesque place, tranquil and rugged looking, with a view of sloping olive groves and the distant Mediterranean that can inspire even the nonartistic. Crumbling archways and Moorish vaults are relics of the past that have been incorporated into the homes of the village. Most of Ein Hod's full-time residents are artists or craftspeople who sell their work in a large, cooperative gallery. But many also sell things from their own houses and workshops, so it's worthwhile to take time and stroll through the lanes of the village (some of the best artisans' houses are in outlying areas) and enjoy the gardens and eccentric homes of this charming enclave.
Cooperation is emphasized: The village members have their own council of elders. The gallery takes a much smaller percentage on sales than do other galleries. Many workshops are shared, and the proceeds from the Ein Hod Amphitheater's shows and concerts, which range from folk and classical to hard rock (summer weekends only), are used for the welfare of the village. Call tel. 04/984-3152 or 984-2029 for information. There's a snack bar and a more pricey Argentine meat restaurant in Ein Hod if you want to stay for a meal.
The Janco-Dada Museum of Surreal Art (tel. 04/984-2350) is open Saturday through Thursday 9:30am to 5pm and Friday 9:30am to 2pm. Admission is NIS 20 ($5/£2.50). The village has a modest but pleasant snack bar/cafe and a good Argentine restaurant for visitors.
The Ein Hod Gallery (tel. 04/984-2548) carries a good selection of the village's work -- silver jewelry, lots of ceramics, lithographs, etchings, oil paintings, watercolors, tapestries and shawls, sculpture, and woodwork. The gallery staff will box your purchases and mail them to you wherever you live. The main gallery, displaying work by 95 different artists and craftspeople, is open Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday 10am to 5pm, Friday 10am to 2pm, and Saturday 11am to 4pm; closed Monday. All major credit cards are accepted. Among Ein Hod's many artisans' shops, check out the Silver Print Gallery [ST] (tel. 04/984-1067), near the Ein Hod Square and entrance to the village. It's one of the best places in the country for photographs of pre-1948 Israel, as well as photographs from the early years of Israel's existence and works by Israel's foremost photographers. Artisans' homes and personal workshops exhibit a wide range of artwork and quality, including custom-designed furniture, clothing, ceramics, silk-screenings, clothing, and jewelry. Admission to the galleries and workshops is often by a small donation for adults. Many individual artists workshops can be visited throughout the year except for Yom Kippur.