Just 30 minutes south of Tel Aviv two beautiful nature parks offer respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Whether you want a romantic hike along the tranquil Sorek River estuary or to spend a day with the entire family at one of Israel's most pristine beaches, these two unique destinations, just minutes apart, will offer you a full day of bliss in nature. Just be sure to bring a hat and plenty of water with you, as you can’t count on shade and the burning Israeli summer sun will quickly bring you to your knees.
SOREK STREAM NATURE RESERVE
Not unlike many Israeli rivers before it, the Sorek is a river of once ill-repute. The 70 km long (43.5-mile) stream, which originates in the Jerusalem Mountains and winds its way to the Mediterranean Sea, was once notorious for carrying the wastewaters of Jerusalem and other cities along its path. But an upstream waste-water purification plant means that clean water flows through the riverbed today. You enter the reserve through the Tzanchanim Grove (Paratrooper's Grove), a pastoral eucalyptus grove planted in the 1950s and named for the paratroopers who regularly train in the nearby dunes—don't be alarmed when you spot Israeli soldiers popping up in the woods. Past the gravel parking lot and picnic tables, a paved path splits at the eastern end of the grove. The path to your right will lead you upstream to Nabi Rubin, the shrine of the Prophet Reuben, before circling back to the parking lot. Be aware that the route along Nabi Rubin will add around 2.5km (1[bf]1/2 miles) to your trek. Alternatively, you can turn to the left and follow the more popular path passing under a small overpass to head directly towards the estuary.
The wheelchair-accessible path, which snakes alongside the Sorek River, will take you through the rich fauna and wildlife of the reserve and toward the so-called Eeh HaTzavim (Tortoise Island). Stop along the way to cross the stone dam to the other side of the river or gaze at the fish splashing about around the stones. Continue down the path until you reach a small clearing with numerous picnic tables giving you a chance to rest and enjoy a small snack you hopefully brought. Stand on the northern edge of the clearing, and you might be able to catch a glimpse of the Caspian turtles sunbathing on the banks of Tortoise Island. This small artificial island was built by the Nature and Parks Authority in 2002 in an effort to restore the population of Caspian turtles that was once abundant in all of Israel's coastal rivers.
From Tortoise Island, a path marked with short white poles continues into the dunes and toward Tatzpit HaCormoranim (Cormorant Lookout) before descending to a stunning natural beach. The clear-cut path and thick vegetation give way to dunes, small bushes, and grapevines growing from the sand. Make your way toward the big dune to the west and keep your eyes open for the wild boars that roam the area. Once you are at the top of the dunes, you have reached the Cormorant Lookout. From here, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the natural beach below and the Sorek Stream with its eucalyptus trees to your right. Carefully make your way down the footpath which will lead you past a small cave, nicknamed The Dwarves' Cave, and onto the stunning natural beach. Reminder, there are no lifeguards watching over this stretch of coast and riptides can always lurk, so be extra careful.
Make sure to climb the calcareous sandstone ridge at the southern tip of the beach to get a stunning view from the Sorek Estuary all the way to Palmachim Beach to the south. When you are ready to return, simply retrace your steps up the dune to the Cormorant Lookout and follow the path.
Just a few minutes past the Tzanchanim Grove lies Palmachim Beach itself. The pristine beach was declared a national park in 2014 after years of lobbying by various groups who wanted to prevent the beach from being turned into a holiday resort. Thanks to their relentless efforts, Palmachim Beach remains one of the last untouched beaches on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. Palmachim is not a large beach, and doesn’t offer many facilities beyond a lifeguard (in season), a few sun shelters and public toilets. However, the lack of development is exactly what makes it one of the most beautiful beaches in Israel. As opposed to the hustle and bustle of the beaches of Tel Aviv, Palmachim truly offers a chance to relax and simply enjoy a quiet day in the sun. The only noise breaking the tranquility will be infrequent flyovers of helicopters en route to the nearby Palmachim airbase, which always makes for a spectacle for the children. The beach is bounded by some low cliffs to the south and boasts some great views of Tel Aviv to the north. Be sure to bring food and drink with you as there won’t be any opportunities to purchase these here. Palmachim is reachable by bus, but we recommend renting a car for the day or simply taking a taxi to the entrance of the beach. Entrance to the park is NIS 10 in the winter, NIS 30 in the summer.
Getting there: To get to Nahal Sorek from Tel Aviv, drive south on Rte. 20 until you reach Rte. 431 to Rishon LeZion/Jerusalem. Follow Rte. 44 until take a right on 3, then follow signs to the Nahal. Be aware that the road is fairly narrow and windy through the countryside. Palmachim Beach is another half hour drive on Rte. 4311, where, at the end, you will see a sign to the left to the Tzanchanim Grove. Keep driving straight to reach the car park of Palmachim Beach.
You come to Rehovot, primarily, to pay homage to Israel’s very first president Chaim Weizmann. First stop should be the Weizmann Institute, Israel’s foremost scientific establishment and think tank, named in honor of the great man (himself a world-renowned chemist). Dedicated in 1949, the Institute conducts both fundamental and applied research and has a graduate school where about 700 students work for their master’s degrees and doctorates. You enter through a gateway on Rehovot’s main street, and find yourself in a beautiful compound of futuristic buildings, green lawns, lily ponds, and colorful gardens—all for the spiritual satisfaction of scientists from all over the world at work here.
The visitor center offers a 17-minute film about the institute and provides visitors with a self-guided walking tours to help them understand the mission and on-going work of this dynamic, world-famous institution. For a small additional fee and with advance reservation, you can also tour Weizmann House, the home of Dr. and Mrs. Weizmann, on the grounds of the institute.
The Weizmann House was built by Dr. and Mrs. Weizmann as their residence in the 1930s. It’s a wonderful example of International Style architecture with a dazzling, streamlined interpretation of a Roman/Mediterranean atrium house, the masterpiece of the German refugee architect Erich Mendelssohn, who also designed the original Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. The interior of the house is marked by an airy, sinuous staircase set in a tower lit with narrow vertical windows; private living and reception wings with French doors lead to a central pool patio. Another 1930s element, round porthole windows, brings light into the house from exterior walls. The furnishings were carefully designed by Mendelssohn, who involved Dr. and Mrs. Weizmann personally in the project. The house itself (like Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello) reveals much about the personality of Dr. Weizmann, the world in which he lived, and the international visitors he entertained. A film about Dr. Weizmann’s amazing life is shown in the house. T
The Clore Science Gardens also on the campus of the institute, is an awe-inspiring, interactive park and science exhibit that examines natural phenomena with the spirit of verve, humor, and inventiveness that marked Dr. Weizmann’s approach to scientific inquiry. The additional entrance fee to the science gardens is a worthwhile investment, especially for students and children.Rehovot (22km/14 miles southeast of Tel Aviv; pop. 90,000) is easily reached by train or bus from Tel Aviv. The town is a rather ordinary small city, but its star attraction, the Weizmann Institute of Science (tel. 08/934-4500 ) makes an excursion very worthwhile.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.