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ISRAEL


hillside. It belonged to French Crusaders until it was besieged by Mamluk slave soldiers in 1271. Starting higher, we clamber down to the ruins; the occasional misplaced boot sending waſts of wild sage up into the air. From here, the valley is a sea of broccoli- bulb treetops. “Nature is mixed with the fate of humanity. Hundreds of years ago, there were no trees leſt on these hillsides,” says Shai, scanning his finger along the slopes furred with perennial oaks. “It had all been used for timber and firewood.” The aſternoon sun warms the mammoth


stones of the old fort, where daisies sprout amid the cracks. One of the stones bears a crudely graffitied Crusader cross, and past and present collide once more. Shai points across the ravine. “Back in 1965, a hunter killed Israel’s last Anatolian leopard on that hill over there. His grandchild still wears the creature’s teeth as a necklace.” I jump as, right on cue, the primal wails of jackals resound from the valley below. By the time we arrive at Hefer Ranch in


the village of Aberim, night has drawn a dark veil and the creeping cold causes us to wrap our coats tighter around us. Ranch owner, Eyal Hefer, feels none of it. His broad back is clothed only in a thin oilskin gilet. With a sun-cracked smile, he pumps my hand as firmly as if it were a water piston. He leads me into the goat shed. Pinned to the barn door are old family photos; among them, one of his now grown-up-daughter when she


88 nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel


was a baby, lying in her hay-lined playpen surrounded by quizzical goats. Eyal hands me a bucket. “You can milk that one,” he instructs, pointing to a feisty white female. She stamps her hooves huffily and I hastily push the pail into Daniel’s hands. Eyal and his wife Edna offer walkers 22


fixed tents beneath shady trees, communal showers and his three horses — Amigo, Luna and Nesh — for riding. But it’s the honesty-box system for wine and their moreish homemade cheeses that keeps guests coming back. Eyal invites me into their house to sample them. Fridge magnets from around the world cover every inch of the kitchen. Dogs and cats fill the floor, fluffy as rugs. With hands wrapped around mugs of herb-infused tea, we talk until late. Morning brings buffeting winds atop


Mount Zvul. Below us, the hillocks and ravines of the Galilee valleys unfurl like a creased green carpet. Waiting for us is Tareq Shanan, director of the Amud Stream Nature Reserve, who gives us the all-clear to walk this section of the waterlogged trail. Tareq lives in Hurfeish, a Druze town that crowns this hilltop through which the Yam le Yam passes. A small Arabic-speaking minority (with communities in Syria and Lebanon too), the Druze fled persecution from mainstream Muslims in Egypt around 1,000 years ago. They believe in a combination of Islamic monotheism, Greek philosophy and elements of Hinduism, including reincarnation.


The afternoon sun warms the mammoth stones of the old fort, where daisies sprout amid the cracks. One of the stones bears a crudely graff itied Crusader cross, and past and present collide once more


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Edna and Eyal Hefer milk their goats at Hefer Ranch, an agricultural farm in the village of Abirim; hikers sit on a bridge above a small waterfall along Amud Stream, which pours into the Sekhvi Pools in Upper Amud Stream Nature Reserve; a newborn horse and its mother at Hefer Ranch


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