Much venerated shrines of the world's great monotheistic religions, stunning nature, vibrant nightlife and excellent opportunities for a relaxing vacation – plus millennia-old history and food and wines to die for: Israel is five times smaller in size than Bulgaria, but it is packed with places to see and experiences to immerse into.
It is impossible to cover all the wonders that you will discover once you set foot in Israel, but here are five of the most astonishing ones.
US vibe meets the Middle East in a city that blends the modern and the traditional in an organic and charming way. In Tel Aviv, skyscrapers rise by balm Mediterranean beaches along elegant Bauhaus architecture and the old fortifications of Jaffa town and port. The chaos, colours, smells and tastes of Carmel open air market coexist with the luxury shops at Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, and the local bars and restaurants cater to all types of public, from the religiously devout to the LGBTQ community.
There is no such place anywhere in the world as Jerusalem.
The Wailing Wall
The city is the location of the most sacred sites of Judaism and Christianity and for Muslims it is second in importance only to Mecca and Medina. Throughout the millennia, this has resulted in conflicts, but also in interreligious and intercultural contacts and cohabitation. The city's oldest core, still protected by a fortification wall built by the Ottomans, is a maze of lanes and high walls that lead to covered markets and sites such as the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome on the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Each corner, stone and garden in Jerusalem is, or is claimed to be, the witness of a major historical or religious event, from the Crusades to King Solomon's temple, the Passions of Christ, the creation of Adam, the sacrifice of Abraham and Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey. Jerusalem's millennia-old fame as a sacred spot attracts modern pilgrims from all corners of the world, which bring additional intensity to its already fervent atmosphere.
The Dome on the Rock
This incredibly photogenic geographical curiosity was born by the combination of three physical factors.
Lying amid the desert at an altitude of minus 430.5 metres, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on land and is so salty (342 g/kg) that it is one of the saltiest and densest water basins on Earth. Life in the Dead Sea is impossible. So is swimming. The latter has inspired countless photographs of tourists floating in its still, blue waters, comfortably reading a book. The sea's salinity is why its colour is so vibrant and why its mud has healing and beautifying properties.
Jewish history abounds with moments of national triumph and tragedy. One of the most memorable ones took place in the Judaean Desert, near the Dead Sea.
Built on a steep rock by King Herod the Great in 37-31 BCE, Masada was an impregnable fortress that protected a luxury palace furnished with amenities such as running water, baths and even gardens. In 73-74 CE, life in this pleasure spot turned nasty. Jewish rebels against the Romans took Masada and barricaded themselves in it. For several months they withstood the Roman efforts to take the fortress back. When the Romans eventually prevailed, the 960 Jews still surviving in Masada chose freedom over slavery and committed mass suicide. Today, Masada is one of Israel's most visited tourist sites, both for its impressive history and incredible location in the Judaean Desert.
Travelling around Israel can be extremely exciting. Eilat is the place to come if you crave some relaxation.
The only Israeli town on the Red Sea is a popular resort of excellent hotels, vibrant restaurants and bars, and pristine nature. Swimming in the Red Sea among colourful corals and fish is a must, and so is the visit of the Underwater Observatory. Other activities in and around Eilat include birdwatching, yachting and hiking in the surreal Red Canyon.