Soigneur Travel: Israel
At once ancient and hypermodern, arid and lush, beautiful and heartbreakingly complex, Israel is a country you should see for yourself. Just 424 kilometres from north to south and 114 kilometres in breadth at its widest point, the tiny Mediterranean county is less than half the size of the Netherlands, but every square metre of it is imbued with cultural, political, and historical significance. Home to many of the holiest sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, it is one of the world’s great cradles of civilisation and tragic conflict.
For all of the old stories that have been written about Israel though, new ones are being written every day. The country is one of the world’s most innovative technology hubs. Its food culture incorporates tastes from myriads of cuisines. From the Dead Sea, 400 metres below sea level, to the heights of Mount Hermon, its natural beauty is unsurpassed.
One of the most exciting stories to emerge out of Israel in recent years is its booming cycling culture. The country’s roads and streets have long been clogged with traffic, but cycling in Israel goes back a long way. Bicycles were first popularised in the region during the British Mandate period. During the early years of the kibbutz movement, every child received a bicycle when they reached bar or bat mitzvah age. Races soon followed. The first Maccabiah Games, which were held in Tel Aviv in 1932, included a cycling competition.
The sport continued to grow at a steady pace. Today, the Israeli Cycling Federation has over 10,000 members registered with 60 clubs. The Israel Cycling Academy will join the UCI’s World Tour in 2020, giving local riders the chance to compete with the world’s best. A beautiful new velodrome just opened in Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, cycling for fun and transportation floundered. As Israel developed, its roads were filled with ever more cars. Cycling was seen as dangerous and backward.
That’s all changed. Today, in the centre of a city such as Tel Aviv close to a fifth of all inhabitants cycle to work or school. An ever better network of cycling routes is being built to connect neighbourhoods.
Bikes are becoming more and more of a common sight in the countryside too. On road and off-road, locals and visitors have realised that the best way to discover the Holy Land for themselves is on two wheels.
TIPS AND HOTSPOTS
Ride | Tel Aviv Port
Cycle alongside Tel Aviv’s port and enjoy views out over the Mediterranean Sea as you pass shoreside cafés and restaurants. The city has several routes to explore, including HaYarkon Park, the Yarkon River Trail, and a route from the fishing harbours of Jaffa Port to Tel Aviv Airport.
Ride | Tel-O-Fun
Hundreds of Tel-O-Fun bike rental stations can be found all over Tel Aviv. Daily, weekly, and annual subscriptions are available.
Shop | Cyco Bicycles and Coffee
A nice coffee shop with a workshop for bikes, Cyco Bicycles and Coffee is a favourite meeting spot in Tel Aviv for local cyclists. Pop by to listen to live music, read cycling books, drink good coffee, and watch cycling races.
History | Grande Partenza
The Grande Partenza of the 2018 Giro d´Italia in Israel made a huge impact on the country’s cycling scene. Israel hosted the first three stages, starting in Jerusalem with an individual time trial, moving north to Haifa and Tel Aviv for the second stage, and heading south to Eilat via the Negev Desert for the third.
Local Hero | Sylvan Adams
In November 2019, the first velodrome in the Middle East will open near Yarkon Park. The philanthropist behind this project, Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams, who also brought the Giro to Israel, has also committed to improving Tel Aviv’s network of cycle lanes.
Eat | Shakshuka
Shakshuka is one of Israel’s most typical dishes. Tomato and pepper sauce spiced with cumin and chilli flakes with poached eggs and a sprinkling of parsley on top, it can be served for breakfast or lunch. The restaurant Shakshukia (Ben Yehuda St 94, Tel Aviv-Yafo) offers the traditional version of this Israeli dish, plus a wonderful selection of vegetarian and meat-based versions. It is not far from Gordon Beach.
Culture | Florentin Street Art
Tel Aviv’s bohemian Florentin neighbourhood is known for its vibrant art scene with cafés, vintage boutiques, artisanal workshops, and pubs. Local creators have turned the neighbourhood’s walls into huge canvases for their works. Cruise the streets by bike to the see the art, before stopping at the Levinsky Market for a bite to eat.
Drink | Israeli Wine
Israel’s viticultural history dates back to biblical times. For thousands of years, wine has played an important role in Jewish festive meals such as the Passover Seder and during Shabbat. Today, Israel is home to one of the world’s most innovative and distinctive wine cultures. Its modern winemaking industry got its start towards the end of the 19th century, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who owned Bordeaux’s Château Lafite, donated vines. For decades, the country mostly produced sweet kosher wine for export. More recently, ambitious makers began to work with the land to produce interesting wine. Head to one of Tel Aviv’s bustling bars, such as The Tasting Room to sample a few of the best.
Ride | Groopy
With over 40,000 members, Groopy is Israel’s largest online cycling community. Local riders post their planned rides on the site with distance and difficulty data so others can join. Groopy also hosts a thriving forum and page for buying and selling gear. Get in touch with them when you’re visiting. They would be glad to help you find someone who is keen to show you around Israel on two wheels.
Event | GFNY Jerusalem
Race through the world’s most historic city. The GFNY Jerusalem will take you past some of the world’s most revered sights and into the hills and mountains surrounding Jerusalem. Roads will be fully closed for both the 130-km and 70-km versions.
Israel is a small country, but it offers a huge range of terrain for cycling.
Easy | Jerusalem Giro TT
Follow the route of the 2018 Giro’s Grande Partenza to see Jerusalem’s Old City.
Medium | Giro Stage Three
Ride Stage Three of the 2018 Giro, which took the peloton from Be’er Sheva to Eilat through the rolling Negev desert.
Hard | Holyland Challenge
From the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee down to the Mediterranean through Tel Aviv and on to Jerusalem, before dropping down to the Dead Sea and Negev Desert, this 1,400-km gravel route will take you from Israel’s north to its south.