Destination Travel

The city on a hill

Haifa in northern Israel, the scene of a historic battle fought during the First World War by Indian cavalry regiments, also boasts the charm of the sea and mountains. Ananya Bahl decodes the tiered city one step at a time

Bay side entertainment

Located by the glistening Mediterranean, Haifa is a haven for beach bums. The city is surrounded by the sea on three sides, with each beach having a speciality of its own. Bat Galim beach is known for its gardens and an expansive boardwalk that’s dotted with cafés and diving clubs. Its breakwater section has calm waters that are perfect for swimming. Surfer’s Beach in Bat Galim is blessed with westerly winds that make it one of the best beaches for surfers in not just West Asia but also Europe. Dado beach is famous for its dancing arena and amphitheatre with performances happening every Saturday. Several cruises stop by Haifa port and you can embark on a boat tour around the harbour from its Kishon section that offers sweeping views of Mount Carmel.

Join the hipster-hood

Nestled between the port and the foot of the Baha’i Gardens is the city’s German Colony. Founded by the German Templars in the 1860s, the colony has been restored over the years, and is now the epicentre of Haifa’s cultural offerings and night life. Its main boulevard, Ben Gurion Avenue, is trimmed on either side with restaurants, pubs and boutiques that are housed in distinct German-style cottages with rust-coloured roofs. A meal at Faces restaurant is unmissable — their menu fuses Mediterranean and middle-Eastern cuisines. Make sure to sit outdoors and sample their Arabesque platter, comprising various sambousak, baked olive dumplings and Moroccan cigars served with tahini. The Haifa City Museum exhibits Haifa’s vibrant cinematic history, as a city with the world’s largest concentration of movie theatres in the 1960s.

Heritage gardens

The city on a hill

Haifa deviates from the Abrahamic faiths that Israel is so famous for, in that it’s home to the world headquarters of the Baha’i faith. The religion was started by Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, who called himself the prophet Bab. His son and grandson continued his legacy, establishing Haifa and the ancient Israeli port city of Akko as the two most holy Baha’i sites. Built by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Baha’i Gardens stretch for a kilometre from the German Colony gate at the bottom to the main gate at the top. They comprise 19 flower terraces, fountains, pools, sculptures and the golden-domed Shrine of the Bab. Stock up on energy before the tour as the complex is dotted with 600 steps!

Street art and politics

The city on a hill

A mecca for alternative culture, Masada Street is one of the most eclectic areas in Haifa. With walls that are adorned with street art ranging from the artistic to the eccentric, vegan bars, breweries, sushi take-outs and cafés, this short street is considered the bohemian centre of Haifa. In the past, the area was inhabited by a Russian community and this is reflected even today: several shops bear names in the Cyrillic script. For a strong cup of coffee, head to the iconic Café Masada, where you’re sure to hear patrons engage in — sometimes heated — conversations about politics, art, freedom, love and the environment. Its street art, too, with bursts of colour, reveals the artists’ politically-charged Left-wing leanings. Do make time to browse through its second-hand book stores.

Set in love

The city on a hill

The neighbourhood of Wadi Nisnas forms the setting of Sami Michael’s novel, A Trumpet in the Wadi, which traces the love story of an Arab Israeli girl and a Russian Jewish immigrant. Translated into over six languages and staged in Israel five times, this unique cross-cultural love story best exemplifies the ethos of the neighbourhood that’s home to a diverse community of Christians, Jews and Arabs, all coexisting harmoniously. Testament to this is interesting street art propagating unity, the Jewish-Arab cultural centre of Beir HaGefen and the multi-cultural Wadi Nisnas market, where you can buy fruits, coffee, fish and Arabic sweets. Wadi Nisnas also hosts the annual Holiday of Holidays festival every December. Head to Falafel Hwadi Micheal or Michelle Falafel for an unforgettable meal.

Ride the underground

Not only does Haifa have a unique cityscape but also a special public transport system to help people manoeuvre its tiered layout. The Carmelit Haifa is an underground funicular that connects six important stations in the city, which in turn lead you to the buzzing down town, residential Hadar and touristy Central Carmel areas. It also holds the unique spot of being the first and only underground funicular system in the country. Designed in a slant, its highest station is the Gan Ha’em STA, with the lowest one being the Paris Square STA. The entire journey takes about eight minutes! Apart from being a unique transport system, it’s very convenient for those wishing to tour the important spots of the city sans the bother of taxis and traffic.

Car in the sky

The city on a hill

You can’t visit Haifa and not ride its cable car. These bright-orange flying machines can be seen from all corners of the city, blissfully gliding in the air. Needless to say, they offer some of the best views in town, including those of the various ships and submarines docked at the bay. It’s a good idea to club your ride with a visit to the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum and National Maritime Museum before hopping on to the cable car to reach the top of Mount Carmel which has sites like the Stella Maris Complex. The cable car is open throughout the day, offers a unique viewing point that’s different from the other high spots in the city, and most importantly, is a fun way to get around Haifa!

Star of the sea

The city on a hill

You can reach the Stella Maris complex, a collection of buildings including the Stella Maris Church, the Old Lighthouse and the pyramid memorial for Napoleon’s soldiers, by taking the cable car ride from Bat Galim beach. Stella Maris means the ‘star of the sea’ and is a 19th Century Discalced Carmelite monastery situated on the slopes of Mount Carmel. In the 12th Century, many hermits decided to ape the Prophet Elijah — there is a grotto on Mount Carmel where he is said to have rested and prayed — by occupying caves in the area. They were then organised into the Carmelite order. While you’re here, take in the church’s Italian marble design, visit Elijah’s Cave, appreciate Brother Luigi Poggi’s paintings on the dome and the wood-carved statue of the Virgin Mary.

Atop the mount

The city on a hill

The Mount Carmel range is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and has several cities and towns tucked within its folds, of which Haifa is one. Often considered the pinnacle or highest point of Haifa, it offers unending views of the city’s tiered layout. Due to this, its higher slopes are envied locations housing various luxury hotels, like the Dan Panorama Haifa and Crowne Plaza Hotel. The best place to walk in the city, and one that offers magnificent vistas, is undoubtedly the Louis Promenade that is situated at one of its highest points. On a clear day, you can spot the white grottos of Rosh Haniqra on the Mediterranean, the verdant rolling hills of the Western Galilee, Akko city and even the white peak of Israel’s tallest mountain, Mount Hermon!

The Mount Carmel range is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and has several cities and towns tucked within its folds, of which Haifa is one. Often considered the pinnacle or highest point of Haifa, it offers unending views of the city’s tiered layout. Due to this, its higher slopes are envied locations housing various luxury hotels, like the Dan Panorama Haifa and Crowne Plaza Hotel. The best place to walk in the city, and one that offers magnificent vistas, is undoubtedly the Louis Promenade that is situated at one of its highest points. On a clear day, you can spot the white grottos of Rosh Haniqra on the Mediterranean, the verdant rolling hills of the Western Galilee, Akko city and even the white peak of Israel’s tallest mountain, Mount Hermon!

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Printable version | Jun 29, 2020 9:20:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/haifa-in-northern-israel-the-scene-of-a-historic-battle-fought-during-the-first-world-war-by-indian-cavalry-regiments-also-boasts-the-charm-of-the-sea-and-mountains/article19721140.ece

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