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  • Writer's pictureIsrael Gulf Report

Travel Israel: A trip to Tel es-Safi and the 'Tuscany of Israel'

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

The summit of Tel es-Safi, aka biblical Gath, can be seen beyond an ancient fortification. (Matt Churchill)

As flights begin from the Gulf to Israel a plethora of things to do awaits travelers going in both directions and those coming to the region to explore this hub of trade and tourism. As part of a series on travel destinations from local experts, we present the following; a trip to the Elah valley in Israel should be on your list.


Tel es-Safi (known as Gath in the Bible) means the "pure" or "shining" mound in Arabic because it's an ancient site in a part of Israel known for it's soft, white chalk. From the time of the early bronze age, inhabitants carved the white stone to build their houses, dovecotes and olive oil installations.

In fact, this part of Israel has been famous for it's olive oil industry in all ages, producing millions of liters per year. It is positioned on the great international highway of the ancient world, known as the Via Maris, which ran from Egypt up the eastern basin of the Mediterranean and on to all parts of the Fertile Crescent.

In the biblical record, around the 12th century BCE, the Egyptian power base had receded and two groups were left to fight over this region in the Elah Valley - the Israelites who had settled in the hill country to the east and the Philistines who dominated the coastal plain.

Actually, the golden age of biblical writing has famous battles taking place throughout this region, first when the Philistines carry off the Ark of the Covenant and a century later when a young David defeats the Philistine giant Goliath who happened to be from this city called Gath. Indeed it is one of the largest archaeological sites discovered in the country!

The region is known as the 'Tuscany' of Israel. (Matt Churchill)

5 things to do in the area:

1. Visit a local kibbutz during the olive harvest in October through December to see some of the high-tech ways that the oil is made while learning about the old world methods as well.

2. Saddle up in the springtime for any of the following: horseback riding, 4x4 jeep tour or cycling to your heart's content in rolling hills studded with wildflowers.

3. This area is known as the Tuscany of Israel probably because there are at least 2 dozens boutique wineries where you can pair your wine tasting with fresh cheeses and fruits from the local farms.

4. Dig for a day - there is another nearby tel (an Arabic term denoting an ancient mound or archeology site) at Beit Guvrin/Tel Maresha. Here you can actually get this ancient history under your fingernails by participating in a live archaeology dig.

5. Book a helicopter tour whereby you can ride with the eagles and survey the entire region from the sky! If you get there by bus you can always bring your drone instead.

Matt Churchill is a licensed tour guide who will show you the best that Israel has to offer and can be reached at his website

On the left side can be seen the gleaming white chalk of the Judean lowlands. (Matt Churchill)

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