The Upper Galilee’s Mizpe Hayamim is a beautiful place. (photo by Karen Ginsberg)
Unless you are one of the lucky Canadians who lives in the Okanagan Valley or the Niagara Peninsula, chances are that most of the “fresh food” that you buy – particularly fruits and vegetables – travels some distance before it reaches your table. On a recent trip to Israel, my husband and I experienced how very splendid it would be to live adjacent to a 35-acre organic farm that produces everything from its own olive oil and soaps to bountiful dairy products, as well as every fruit, vegetable, grain and herb one could imagine. We enjoyed all of this at Mizpe Hayamim Spa Hotel, located on Mount Canaan, near the town of Rosh Pina, in Israel’s Upper Galilee.
The history of the 96-room hotel dates back to 1921, when a German internist, Dr. Erich Yaroslovsky (later shortened to Yaros), bought the acreage now known as Mizpe Hayamim. Yaros’ vision was to build a convalescent home based on a vegetarian diet and natural treatment methods, which he felt would best serve the rehabilitation needs of his patients. The doctor was particularly drawn to the quality of the air and the tranquility of the setting. The land was originally owned by Baron de Rothschild, who had also been captivated by the beauty and tranquility of the area.
Before realizing his dream, Yaros encountered a series of setbacks, including receiving only a modest water allotment from the town of Rosh Pina, which was developing rapidly; the need to return to Germany for several years to support aging parents; the failure of promised positions as a physician in nearby communities to materialize; and a stint in Tel Aviv serving as its only homeopathic doctor. There was also a construction prohibition order from the British army, which was then planning fortifications in the area to protect against possible Nazi invasion through Lebanon.
Notwithstanding the long series of delays, by 1968, Yaros had the building authorities, financing and his personal determination to develop Mizpe Hayamim, albeit on a more limited scale. He built his first home at the location where the current Mizpe Hayamim now stands. It included a dining room, kitchen, bedrooms for his family and 12 guest rooms for the first of his patients. In later years, he was able to expand.
In English, mizpe hayamim means a view between two bodies of water, in this case, the Sea of Galilee and the lakes of the Hula Valley. The view from the highest and most expansive terrace at the hotel includes the town of Rosh Pina just below and to the left, an Israeli military base in the middle and the tip of the Sea of Galilee to the right. Small Jordanian villages dot the horizon and were barely visible in the mist of an October morning. At the time of our visit, the “mizpe” was only partially green. We were told that, with each teef, toof (bit of winter rain), the surrounding lands would become greener and that, before long, the whole of the Upper Galilee would be lush and vibrant.
A year before he died, in 1984, Yaros sold Mizpe Hayamim to Sammy Chazzan, an Israeli who shared Yaros’s commitment to the healing powers of organic food and tranquil surroundings. For more than 35 years, Chazzan led every dimension of the development of Mizpe Hayamim – hotel and farm – until 2016, when he sold the hotel portion to the Israeli chain Isrotel. He retained stewardship of the farm.
The organic farm was the first-of-its-kind in Israel and employs nine workers. From the time he was 14, Chazzan has had an interest in organic farming – a rather unusual passion for a young man but a passion he has sustained. Until the recent sale to Isrotel, Chazzan’s daily schedule started at 4 a.m., when he would draft the day’s orders for the hotel staff and then walk over to the adjacent farm to work at whatever needed to be done there. At 8 a.m., he would return to manage the hotel and then finish the day with a few more hours spent on the farm.
The achievements of his 35 years of agricultural experimentation are truly remarkable. The farm now includes nine large vegetable, herb and flower gardens, a herd of dairy cows and goats whose milk helps create about 40 individual dairy products – milk, yogurts, ice cream and cheeses. The animals are cared for in the most pristine of settings, feeding on grasses and able to roam about freely. Should they fall ill, they are cared for by a holistic veterinarian practitioner.
Manure is recycled to fertilize the gardens, and the fruit and nut trees and flowers grow in abundance. Years of trial and error have helped establish which flowers or herbs planted alongside which vegetables reduce insect infestations, eliminating the need for pesticides of any kind. Several times a day, ripened produce is brought to the Mizpe Hayamim kitchen and finds its way to the dinner or breakfast buffets with the sort of haste that most Canadians can hardly fathom. Natural soaps are made on the farm for sale and for use in the hotel. In addition, there is a bakery and small retail outlet that sells some of the produce to guests and members of the public.
At the hotel, there is a full range of spa services for guests. Our casual conversations with other guests suggest that many Israelis come here, seeking a reprieve – nourishment and rest – from the tensions and high activity levels of city life. Guests can enjoy a coffee and tea bar all day long, with many of the farm’s fresh herbs – lemongrass, hyssop, chamomile, spearmint – available to enrich their beverages. Daily exercise classes, an art studio and evening entertainment are optional for guests and help sustain the goal of total relaxation and rejuvenation.
Isrotel plans to refurbish and update some of the hotel rooms but the essential philosophy underpinning this unique endeavour will remain the same. And Chazzan intends to continue his life’s work of building a knowledge base about organic farming and its impacts, through small-scale experimentation.
Long after their visit, guests fortunate enough to enjoy some time at Mizpe Hayamim will continue to benefit from the tranquility and beauty of the area, the organic vegetarian diet, as well as the various spa treatments on offer. For more information, contact Liad Nudelman, reception manager at Mizpe Hayamim, at [email protected], or visit isrotel.com.
Karen Ginsberg is an Ottawa based travel writer.