Cathedrals in the Negev desert

Eating (and drinking) well is possible even in the fascinating and arid area of South Israel. Some recommendations

21-07-2017

Vineyards at Carmey Avdat Farm, one of the most inhospitable areas in the desert of Negev, but only seemingly so (translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso)

There’s only a place, aside from Tel Aviv, where I could really live, in Israel: it’s the desert. If I cannot not have the best in terms of movida, the only option is the opposite dimension. To be really honest, I must say that Negev is a lively and stimulating place: the hospitality offer has character and you can have fun with wine and food.

Beer Sheva is the capital of Negev, famous for the Ben Gurion University, the excellent Soroka Medical Centre and for being an important tech hub. And how about restaurants? There’s at least one place that deserves a culinary stop before beginning the descent into the desert: The Authentic, a corner of homely cuisine where you can taste pita filled with slow-cooked meat delicacies. The best: meatballs and stew.

The real adventure, however, begins after you leave Beer Sheva. The best knafeh (a Middle Eastern cake widespread across the Mediterranean area) I’ve ever had was at Kornmehl Farm, perched on a hill in the middle of the desert, overlooking the ruins of an old farm from the Bronze Age (3000-4000 B.C.). Anat and Daniel Kornmehl graduated in Agricultural Sciences from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and founded this farm named after them ten years ago. Daniel learnt to love and understand cheese in Israel and France and today he adapts them to the local environment to create personal interpretations of the French varieties.

The delicious knafeh at Kornmehl Farm

The delicious knafeh at Kornmehl Farm

The couple believes the health of their goats and the quality of their milk derives from constant attention, high quality life and the food they offer in their farm. They milk goats twice daily. The milk is processed in the dairy factory that Anat and Daniel built themselves. Kornmehl Farm is the first in a series of buildings offering hospitality in the area of Sde Boker, where the founder of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion, spent the final years of his life.

Sde Boker is also the crossroads of various paths in the Israel National Trail and the Bike Trail, for hiking and mountain bike lovers. Who would have thought there’d be an interesting wine route in the desert? There are more than a few wine pioneers in the Negev, all with very limited production and boutique winery numbers. A winery not to be missed is Carmey Avdat Farm, where you can always have a guided tasting of the wines. The entrance by car is unique: after leaving the main road in the middle of nowhere, a dirt road cuts the suddenly-appearing vineyards into halves.

Moving further to the south you reach Mitzpe Ramon, a place of unmatched beauty, a unique carsick formation in Israel and in all the region which spreads over 360 square kilometres. What with Israel Hostels, low budget structures for bikers and backpackers and luxury hotels, the stay is accessible to all sorts of travellers. In town, the culinary offer won’t reach the highest standards but a cocktail at sunset from the Lobby Bar at the Beresheet Hotel offers an unforgettable memory.

Close to the Red Sea, in Neot Smadar, there’s even a vegetarian restaurant. It’s called Pundak

Close to the Red Sea, in Neot Smadar, there’s even a vegetarian restaurant. It’s called Pundak

The last culinary stop you can’t miss before reaching the Red Sea is close to Neot Smadar and it’s called Pundak. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, cafe and shop selling local organic produce from the nearby kibbutz. The staff will tell you the "must try" is the sugar-free organic yogurt with fresh goat milk and agave syrup, topped with date syrup and granola. And they’re absolutely right!

I’d also suggest to have a portion of goat labaneh (halfway between yogurt and cheese spread) seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and zaatar (a mix of spices): the best I’ve tasted. Now the Timna archaeological and geological park is 30 km away and you have to visit it. Only 30 more km separate Timna Park from Eilat, a city with a symbolic charm thanks to its position, squeezed between Egypt and Jordan, overlooking the Red Sea.