At this point we have already ridden the Western Galilee, the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights and the Lower Galilee. I will leave the Tel Aviv and Central area to the end, since they are not really riding, but rather commuting - in most cases you will be riding in cities or main roads.
So today we will ride the Jerusalem heights and Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is 66 Km from Tel Aviv if you take the main highway to get there. However, if you do that, you miss beautiful places and sceneries that you wouldn't want to miss as a riding tourist. So, we will extend our trip to a ride of 98 Km with stops on our way through interesting places, which are worth the visit, travelling through beautiful and twisty roads.
Latrun will be our first stop, where we will find a series of places and attractions to see. Just to list them before we begin looking at each one in particular:
1. Armored corps museum
3. Latrun Monastery
4. Latrun Fortress Ruins
The Armored Corps Museum in Latrun (Yad LaShiryon)
This is Israel’s official memorial for soldiers from the Armored Corps who fell in combat, also happens to be one of the largest and most diverse tank museums in the world. Latrun was selected for the memorial because it was the site of a bloody battle during the 1948 War of Independence, one of the first to introduce Israel’s newly established Armored Corps.
Built in a British Mandate-era fortress, the museum holds the archive of the fallen soldiers, a library and a synagogue. Around there, a display of many tanks, including an M4 Sherman American tank placed on a tower, tanks captured by Israel in the historical wars, and others from all around the world.
Just in case you have decided to stay in Nazareth at the end of the previous Lower Galilee tour, I am including below the maps to Yad LaShiryon from Tel Aviv and from Nazareth.
2.2 Kilometers from Yad LaShiryon we will find the Mini-Israel Park. The park is much of a family attraction and shows miniatures of most representative sites in Israel. At the time of this writing, the ticket to enter the park has a cost of 86 NIS, which is nearly 24 USD.
Here are two pictures of the place taken from its website, and the map from Yad LaShirion.
In December 1890, a monastery was established at Latrun by French, German and Flemish monks of the Trappist order, from Sept-Fons Abbey in France, at the request of Monseigneur Poyet of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The monastery(fr) is dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. The liturgy is in French. The monks bought the 'Maccabee Hotel', formerly called 'The Howard' from the Batato brothers together with two-hundred hectares of land and started the community in a building which still stands in the monastic domain. The old monastery complex was built between 1891 and 1897. In 1909 it was given the status of a priory and that of an abbey in 1937. The community was expelled by the Ottoman Turks between 1914–1918 and the buildings pillaged, a new monastery being built during the next three decades.
The monks established a vineyard using knowledge gained in France and advice from an expert in the employ of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild from the Carmel-Mizrahi Winery. Today they produce a wide variety of wines that are sold in the Abbey shop and elsewhere.
There you will be able to find big vines where they grow grapes for their wine manufacturing, and a shop in which you can buy distinct types of wine for consuming later in Jerusalem or taking home.
Opening hours are:
Monday: 08:00 - 11:00,
Tuesday: 08:00 - 11:00,
Wednesday: 08:00 - 11:00,
Thursday: 08:00 - 11:00,
Friday: 10:00 - 14:00,
Saturday: 10:00 - 16:00
To tell you the truth, the last time I visited the place was in the 80's, probably around 1985. At that time, there wasn't such a beautiful shop as in the picture below, there was a window where a monk would receive the buyers and sell them wine. It seems that much has happened since then, but I am sure that the view from there is definitely as beautiful as it has always been.
Less than 200m outside from the entrance of the Latrun Monastery, we will find the entrance to a little walking trail that will take us to the Latrun Crusader Castle.
The Latrun Crusader Castle was built around 1130, by a Castilian nobleman Rodrigo González de Lara who later gave it to the Templars. Not much is left of the building, but it is a nice walk and interesting visit. The walk in the trail should be around one kilometer in each direction.
Well, from here the riding fun begins. If until here we have travelled mainly through main roads, this will begin to change now, and we will begin riding on side roads of an area called Nes-Arim, one of the culprits of motorcyclists in Israel.
Just one warning before we start: in this region, beware of Kamikaze motorcyclists that ride in this area, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. For many years, motorsports were forbidden in Israel, so there were no tracks to practice with motorcycles. For this reason, bikers chose some curvy roads where they could go and practice speed and curves. Two examples of those are the Nes-Arim roads and the road from Arad to the Dead Sea. Nowadays, despite the fact that racing tracks are already allowed, some kept the custom of going to these roads. For this reason, please take precautionary steps riding there, ride at a secure speed, avoid doing close blind curves near the division line, and so on. We all want to get out of these beautiful roads in one piece.
From the Crusader Castle, we will continue to the Beit Shemesh Stalactite Cave.
We will exit the access road to the Latrun Monastery turning left on Road 3. Then we will travel around 4 Km until the junction with Road 44, where we will turn left in the direction of Har'el, Ta'oz or Eshtaol. Again, continue with the road until the junction with Road 38, where we will turn right. After approximately 2 Km, there will be a junction with road 3866, possibly with signs to Beit Shemesh. Turn left there and continue with the road for approximately six kilometers until you see a small exit to the left pointing to the Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve. The road will end at the parking lot before the cave reserve.
This is a visit that is worth making. The cave is not too large, I have seen bigger ones in Slovenia and in Brazil. But it is definitely one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Entrance ticket costs, at the time of this writing, 28 NIS, or USD 7.7. The cave is open Mon-Thu and Saturday from 8:00-16:00 and Friday 8:00 to 15:00 during summertime. In wintertime, it closes 1 hour earlier.
After the visit to the cave, we will continue to ride up to Jerusalem, via the Nes-Arim Road. This is a twisty and beautiful road in the middle of a forest. It is a feast to the eyes.
We will do a stop in this road at Bar Bahar (Hebrew for "The Bar Upon The Mountain"), the culprit of motorcyclists in the area, the place where they all stop. If you are hungry, this is a wonderful place for lunch, with tasty food and refreshments, besides a stunning view. If you have time, it would also be a good option to take a hike in the forest around the bar, there is a trail there.
That's our final stop for today. And we will get there not by the highway, but with the continuation of the beautiful road we have been on until here. The road will pass through the Jerusalem Heights Forest. Consider that this forest has been almost completely destroyed by the fire in 2021 and is recovering fantastically well. In the continuation, we will pass through the entrance of the Hadassa Ein Kerem hospital campus (the hospital has another campus which will be mentioned later), and then arrive to Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem is a large city, it would be a great idea if you feed your GPS endpoint with the address of your hotel in Jerusalem.
I won't pretend to be an expert in Jerusalem and give you a tour plan for the city. Any website in the internet can give you a better plan than anything I could write here. However, these are some points of interest that I recommend visiting:
1. Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives
These are two mounts beside the city that give an excellent overall view of the whole city. Some examples of the views from there:
The Zion Gate is one of the 7 historic gates of Jerusalem. The current gate was built in July 1540, west of the location of the medieval gate, which was a direct continuation of the Street of the Jews (also known as the Cardo). Near the Zion gate you can find a building with two sites: in the first floor there is the place where the three religions believe to be the tomb of King David, even though the bible states King David was buried at the City of David. On the second floor, there is the Upper Room, which is nowadays called "The Room of the Last Supper", believed to be the place where Jesus and the disciples had the last supper before he was arrested and crucified.
The Garden of Gethsemane is a place where Jesus and the disciples were used to visiting. According to the Christian tradition, the custom of visiting the garden is believed to be the factor that made it possible to Judas to find Jesus in the night he was arrested. The place has actually 4 sites in one:
- The garden at the Catholic Church of All Nations, built over the "Rock of the Agony".
- The location near the Tomb of the Virgin Mary to the north.
- The Greek Orthodox location to the east.
- The Russian Orthodox orchard, next to the Church of Mary Magdalene.
There is also the Grotto of Gethsemane, a small chapel where Jesus was believed to be praying when he was arrested. The grotto of 190m is supposed not to have been changed since those times.
The first three pictures are from Zion Gate's area, the other two from Gethsemane.
This one would be better done with a tour guide. It is a pedestrian tour which goes through all the history of the city. There you will see:
- Via Dolorosa,
- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre,
- Temple Mount,
- Western (Wailling) wall,
- arab market,
- the Jewish quarter (Cardo),
- City of David
10. David's Tower Light Show - a media experience at the walls of the complex of David's Tower. Usually held only in the summer.
With this we finish this article and hope you have enjoyed it. In our next article we will be continuing from Jerusalem to the east and South, to visit the Dead Sea. See you then.