Founded by King Herod around 25 BC to 13 BC to honor Caesar Augustus, the ancient town of Caesarea, Israel, served as the capital of the Roman province for nearly 600 years. Caesarea, located 55 mi/85 km northwest of Jerusalem on the Mediterranean Sea, is also where Peter baptized the first Gentile convert and where Paul was imprisoned for two years while awaiting trial in Rome. Today, the site offers the remarkably well-preserved remnants of an amphitheater, aqueduct, chariot racetrack and bathhouses.
Modern Caesarea was built on sand dunes in the late 1950s and has become one of Israel's most beautiful and exclusive resort towns. On weekends, the town is crowded with visitors. It's fun to drive through the tidy streets and take a peek at the splendid villas with their beautiful lawns and flower gardens.
Divers and snorkelers can swim over and through the ruins of the now submerged Roman port. There are ongoing excavation digs organized by the Combined Caesarea Expeditions, whose goal is to bring to light the underwater ruins of the harbor and the remnants of the ancient city. Restaurants and shops built overlooking these ruins have become local hot spots.
Plan to visit the Crusader city fortifications and the Roman aqueduct and amphitheater (the theater hosts musical, ballet and opera performances in the spring and summer). The city also boasts Israel's only 18-hole golf course, next to the luxurious Dan Caesarea Hotel.
Caesarea is an excellent place for children. The high-tech educational materials available on-site bring to life the long history of both the ancient port and, ultimately, Israel, which, because of its position as the gateway between east and west, has been conquered and captured more times than anyone seems to know.
The arid hills near Caesarea are well suited to wine production and are home to many of the country's vineyards and kosher wine producers. Several wineries offer tours of their cellars, and guides explain what exactly makes a wine kosher or not. Interestingly, those accounts often differ.
At the Tishbi Estate and Winery and Visitors Center, Golan Tishbi, son of the estate's founder, Jonathon Tishbi, makes a wine known for being ecofriendly in production and dissemination: Locals take empty wine bottles and olive oil jugs and fill them directly from Tishbi barrels. http://www.tishbi.com.
Fifteen minutes north of Caesarea lies the growing and prosperous community of Zichron Ya'acov. Founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Zichron Ya'acov is perched on hills overlooking the Mediterranean coast. The pedestrian-only main street is paved with cobblestones, adding to the country-style atmosphere. Art galleries, arts-and-crafts shops and good restaurants fill the town and draw a lot of visitors on Saturday.
The town's Carmel Wineries offers tastings and a guided tour. The Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens on the road from Zichron Ya'acov to Binyamina house Baron Rothschild's tomb. The 20 beautifully landscaped gardens include a unique fragrance garden, designed with the visually impaired in mind.
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