An Elevator to the Beach? Only in Netanya

Take the Elevator to Netanya and its Beaches
Copyright: Elle Druskin 2012

If you’re thinking about summer vacation, or even just dreaming of somewhere warm for the time being, it’s time to head to Netanya, a lovely little city on the Mediterranean coast in Israel, north of Tel Aviv. I remember Netanya when it was fairly small and it was a nice town. It’s still a nice place but much bigger and there’s been an influx of a lot of French people so in some ways, it feels like the Riviera minus the glitz and gambling. If you’re traveling with kids, that might be better anyway. You’re in luck with plenty of beaches to choose from in Netanya—it has about 8 or 9, so no lack of variety and they are all public beaches. Like most beaches in Israel, there are lifeguards and medics on duty, public shower and bathroom facilities and easy to find food. This is Israel, and people are always eating!

Netanya is on the train line from Tel Aviv and on an express train, just 15 minutes from the big city, but a world away with quite a long coastline so the beaches tend to be the type that attract particular activities. For example, Blue Bay Beach which also has a hotel, has areas set aside for fishing, water sports and just plain swimming.

Stroll the Promenade and Take The Elevator To The Beach—Yes, Really!
There’s a lovely promenade that runs along the beach for about 4 or 5 kilometers and it’s a nice walk. I know lots of people who walk it every morning, really early, before they go to work. Alternatively, it’s just as nice in the evening as you watch the sun set into the Mediterranean and I recommend that if you’ve never seen that sunset which is spectacular. At the height of summer, it will be light until around 8:30 so you get lots of beach time, even if you are tourist and been out all day, or working or anything else. The promenade is on the top of cliffs overlooking the beach so the view really is incredible. And, you can take a picnic and sit at tables or on the lawn if you don’t feel like going down to the beach. Speaking of which, it’s quite a number of steps down the stairs to the beach, BUT, don’t worry. If you are traveling with someone with disabilities, there is an elevator. Yes, an elevator, down to the beach which you can find in the south central part of the beach strip. I kid you not! I think it’s fantastic that the beach has been made so accessible and I’ve never seen that before anywhere.

Which Beach to choose?
If you’re looking for the younger crowd, head over to Haonot Beach where they tend to congregate. Being a beach that attracts younger people, there’s usually beach volleyball going on and, of course, a pub on the beach. This beach does tend to get crowded so if that bothers you, keep going.

Herzl beach has multiple sports including basketball, soccer and more beach volleyball so if you are the type that doesn’t like to sit around and laze on the beach but feel that you must do something, well, this is for you. Sironit Beach which is right next to Herzl also has sports, but it’s a lot louder; mostly because there’s a DJ and music always seems to be blasting. Of course, if you love dancing, and I do, then this is a great beach with a lot of salsa dancing, so head over and join everyone else trying to get that “Cuban motion”—Middle East style, that is.

BTW If it’s Israeli folkdancing you want, and it’s very popular, you can often find free public dancing in the summer in Israel. I definitely remember doing that in the city center during Netanya summers. It’s fun, the music is nice and a little less energetic than salsa, depending on which dances they play.

If it’s sailing and surfing you’re looking for, then head over to Amphi Beach. It’s called Amphi because it’s near the amphitheatre. More about that later. This beach is pretty close to the city center so it does tend to get crowded but personally I like this one and I love people watching on this beach because just about anything and anyone could turn up. It’s a given that you will also hear a lot of languages—Hebrew, of course, but lots of French, Russian, English and some Arabic so it feels like an international meeting going on along the Netanya beaches.

If you read this blog, I am guessing you don’t need a religious beach. That is, a beach that has separate areas for men and women for religious modesty reasons. Nevertheless, there is one in Netanya that caters to the observant crowd. Nothing stops you from using Tzanz beach, other than being sure you are the appropriate gender for that day and time. Unless they have changed the schedule, it should be as follows:

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the morning from 08:30 till 13:00
Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 13:30.
Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 08:30 till 13:00
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 13:30 on.

Obviously, on Saturday, they are all in synagogue or home, celebrating the Sabbath, so no beach that day. I’ve heard but not seen, they have super-kosher food stands on this beach if that makes any difference to you.

I’m beached out, now what do I do?
Like I said, Netanya is a nice place and one of the things I like about the city is the amphitheatre which is right in the center of the beach promenade and close to Independence Square. During the summer, there are lots of concerts and things like that because it never rains in Israel in the summer. Sometimes, you wish it would to cool things off, but it doesn’t, so you can count on outdoor activities.

If you want to venture further, Israel is a small country and pretty easy to get around. You can easily head south to Tel Aviv, but I would recommend heading north to a few places in particular. My first choice is Akko or Acre. If you read history of the Crusades, the name will be familiar. Akko is full of mosques, markets and of course, Crusader ruins. You’re walking in history in Akko and you can’t fail to enjoy walking through the cobbled alleys down to the port and then sit back and enjoy the view. You can also visit Akko prison, site of the famous Akko prison break by the Irgun who broke out the prisoners held during the British Mandate. If you love history, head to Akko.

If you’re interested in another culture, head to the Druze villages of Isfiya and Daliyat el Karmel. The Druze live in Israel, Syria and Lebanon and are loyal to whatever country they are in; many serve in the IDF—the Israel Defense Forces. You’ll see houses built on the mountain on pillars with several generations of the same family residing together. If you get lucky, you’ll get to hear a bit about the Druze and even get invited to eat something at someone’s home—the Druze are famous for hospitality. It might not be interesting for kids but it will for adults for sure.

I could make other suggestions but you’ll find them if you are there and you can always drop into the local Ministry of Tourism spots and ask. Whatever you are looking for, you will find. Trust me.

You Gotta Eat
Israel was never known as a culinary hotspot but it’s changed a lot. It’s still true there is nothing to beat the fresh local fruit and vegetables. Even if the best goes for export, you would never know it. The local produce is fabulous. Nothing tops the cold local watermelon in season but the rest of the seasonal fruit—apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines and grapes are all marvelous. (Years ago, I picked all that stuff!) Cherry season is pretty short, usually just during June but good while it lasts.

Personally, I really enjoy a fresh salad while sitting at a beach café. The additions vary from tuna, eggs, and cheeses. Try the Bulgarian cheese with your salad, a kind of Brinza cheese. Depending on the background, ethnic, that is, people add mint, chilli, roasted eggplant, and all sorts of things to salads. Of course, there is the humus and techina along with felafel for a snack—all to be eaten with fresh pita bread. Really delicious as long as it is fresh.

If you want meat, try some grilled beef or lamb kebabs—they are really good. All of these things are meant for a light lunch or snack. You will find heaps of variety in Israel due to the wide variety of immigrants who left the Old Country, whatever, it was but their stomachs wanted the food they left behind so you can find French, Russian, Georgian, Yemenite, Moroccan food and anything else in restaurants and I do recommend trying some of these great dishes.

Your kids will find the French fries they all seem to want and they will love the Israeli snacks. My kids were addicted to Bamba which we had to hunt down in London and yes, we found it. Bamba, Bisli and lots of other snacky things in bags are sold everywhere. Bamba is made from puffed corn and peanut butter. I have neve seen a kid who didn’t love it, and a lot of adults too.

Finally, make sure to have some fresh squeezed juice of whatever is in season—absolutely fantastic and sold on streets and beaches. If you need to shop for food, the supermarkets are really good and so are the “hole in the wall” grocery stores. I used to go to one regularly down the street from my place where the owner kindly minded my dog while I did the shopping. Can’t top that!

All in all, I know you will have a fabulous time in Netanya so see you there!