Head to the Lowlands, locally known as the Shefela, which are the foothills between Israel’s mountains and the coastal plain. It has the look and feel of rolling farmland, with sloping hills, green valleys and clusters of villages, surrounded by neatly planted orchards and the straight lines of planted crops. Crisscrossed by the Ayalon, Soreq and Ella rivers, it’s clearly a fertile region, both historically and agriculturally. This is where Bar Kochba, the famed Jewish military leader, dug in with his troops during the rebellion against the Romans in 132 CE. It is also a significant olive growing region, with many ancient oil presses and now the site of a wine route with dozens of boutique wineries. For all those reasons, it’s becoming a key destination for both the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv crowds, with its conveniently central location between the two cities.
Karmei Yosef, or Joseph’s Vineyards, is one of the communal neighborhoods in the area, founded in 1984 by residents from Ness Tziona and Rechovot and named for Yosef Sapir, an Israeli politician. It’s a small place, with less than 2,000 residents and at least one winery, called Karmei Yosef but often known as Bravdo for one of its series of wines, and founded by two oenology professors from Hebrew University.
For our touring purposes, it’s a lovely little community, sandwiched between the pines of the Defenders’ Forest on one end, and the rocks of Tel Gezer on the other. Gezer was a town in ancient Israel and was considered a strategic location, with a view of the entire Coastal Plain, making it a strategic military center. The view, of course, is still there, just down the main drag and onto the rocky but drivable road. Explore the town, its historical environs and the nearby forest, and be sure to make some of our suggested stops in Karmei Yosef, Tel Shachar and the Defenders’ Forest. It’s worth the trip.