Places to Visit Around the Sea of Galilee

On my week-long tour around Israel with G Adventures, the budget conscious National Geographic subsidiary, we spent a day site seeing around the Sea of Galilee.

Kibbutz Kinneret

There are many places to see in the area, and we began with Kibbutz Kinneret.  I didn’t know much about a kibbutz before visiting, but Aliza, our tour guide who was a member of the kibbutz, did an excellent job explaining the history of Kibbutz Kinneret.

Kibbutz Kinneret was founded in 1913 and is located southwest of the Sea of Galilee.  It began with three people in a very harsh environment which was difficult to cultivate.  As a result, the individuals worked together and shared their chores and food.  They earned income by bee keeping and selling the honey.

As they expanded over time, men and women worked equally at the agriculture settlement, and they were not allowed to marry.  In 1930, they smuggled date palms in from Iraq which offered another source of income.

They established a communal laundry system, bakery, living quarters and dining hall at which some workers were paid a small fee, but over the years the community has individualized.  Now the living quarters serve as a museum while residents own their own home on land leased by the kibbutz from the government.

The bakery is now a pub for younger individuals who have been enticed back to the kibbutz with being offered free land on which to build a house.  They have also returned as they, along with all the residents and members of Kibbutz Kinneret, may work outside of the community.

pub at the kibbutz kinneret
the pub

The Kibbutz still cultivates farmland and grows dates, lechee, and mangoes.  Though secular, it has its own synagogue as the population of 600 is Jewish.  In addition, the kibbutz has a post office, convenience and gift store, library, school, and doctor’s office with a full-time nurse as well as a doctor and nurse that visit from the outside a few times a week.

the store at the kibbutz kinneret

The services which are organized by a 12-person council voted for by members only, are paid for by taxes.  The Kibbutz Kinneret gave me the impression it was like a small town with a homeowner’s association rather than an a commune I expected.

Golan Heights Winery

After visiting the kibbutz, we stopped for wine tasting at the Golan Heights Winery.  The winery, located northeast of the Sea of Galilee, makes Kosher wine.  Ella, the guide at the winery, invited us into our private tasting room where we learned about the company while tasting five different wines. 

Golan Heights makes 50 kinds of wines with 20 varieties of grapes.  The grapes are grown from 400 meters below sea level to 1,200 meters above sea level by cooperative farmers.  Uniquely, those picking the grapes don’t have to be Jewish for the wine to be Kosher, but the person who taps the barrel to pour it does.

The Kosher wine, which remains local and is no longer exported, is high in alcohol content, 13-15%.  We tasted a sparkling wine, two whites, and two reds coupled with a nice cheese, bread, and olive plate.  While I usually prefer blends, I liked the cabernet the best. 

Golan Heights Winery near the Sea of Galilee

Capernaum

From the wine tasting, we visited Capernaum, the Town of Jesus. Located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum was on an important trading route during the Roman times.  It is also where Jesus did much of his teachings as it was home to many of his Disciples, including St. Peter.

St Peter's home in Capernaum
St. Peter’s home

In fact. the ruins of St. Peter’s house may still be seen. They are underneath a church.  There are also ruins of an old synagogue where Jesus used to preach.  Some church groups come to pray here.  Watch this 15 second video of an African church group chanting their prayers.

synagogue in capernaum near the sea of galilee
synagogue

Mount of Beatitudes

After our short visit to Capernaum, we visited the Mount of Beatitudes.  Jesus’s sermon, Matthew 5:7, is believed to be given here.  This sermon is the source of the Lord’s Prayer and the eight Beatitudes. 

Beatitudes are the “Blessed” statements like “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

After walking up the pathway to visit the church, we returned to the gardens next to the parking area with a nice view of the Sea of Galilee.

church on the mount of beatitudes near the sea of galilee

Nazareth

The Mount of Beatitudes was our last stop for the day, but we visited Nazareth the following morning to see two additional churches. Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel and a popular pilgrimage site among Christians.

Basilica of the Annunciation

The churches, St. Joseph’s Church and the Basilica of the Annunciation are located next to one another.  The Basilica of the Annunciation is an extremely modern church which is built over what is believed to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary. 

In addition, Catholics believe this is where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced she would conceive the son of God. Some other Christian religions believe differently.

the Virgin Mary's childhood home

The Basilica, completed in 1969, replaces several previous churches.  It is the largest Christian church in the Middle East.  The enormous chapel is decorated with Madonnas from different countries.  Next to it a domed building enshrines Mary’s childhood home.  The dome is designed to look like an upside down white, flower representing Mary’s virginity.

basilica of the annunciation in Nazareth

The Basilica is very modern.  Its flat floor of patterned marble pieces creates an optical illusion of steps and the feeling of movement.  The giant and marked concrete beams give the appearance of wood.  And the eclectic mix of old and new make the basilica and interesting place to visit for more than its religious importance.

the floor in the basilica of the annunciation near in Nazareth

Outside a Madonna Gallery, located under a covered walkway which wraps around the complex, is decorated with images of the Virgin Mary.  The mosaic images come from countries all over the world, and it is interesting to see the creative and very different depictions.

St. Joseph’s Church

St Joseph’s Church, not as grand as the Basilica covers the carpentry shop of Joseph, Mary’s husband. We only spent a few minutes here as a very religious Spanish group was keen on worshiping.

After our time in Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, we carried on to the Mediterranean Coast to visit Haifa and Caesarea.  To be continued…ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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