Yehelim - The Negev Experience

"I decided to go for the fish du jour which was filled with herbs & garlic and roasted to perfection … who said that you can’t pair wine with healthy food." Yonatan Sternberg finds food, wine and a boutique hotel in Israel's Negev desert.

After writing about my culinary expeditions to the northern part of Israel, I couldn’t help but wonder what the southern region of the Negev has to offer for a food and wine lover like myself.

A popular area for growing vines in ancient times, this semi-arid area has been planted with several vineyards. It is a particularly dry area situated some 600 meters above sea level, and is typified by vast disparity between day and night temperatures.

Wine production in the area is nothing new; the Yatir Forest (home to the distinctive Yatir Winery) has a long history of wine making. Ancient wine presses can be found in the forest, all bearing witness to the existence of an advanced wine industry over 2500 years ago.

Of course every culinary expedition requires a comfortable, and at this time of year, preferably air-conditioned base. After hearing several recommendations we decided to stay at the Yehelim boutique hotel situated in Arad. Quaint yet indulgent, this family run hotel is set in the splendor of the Judean desert. Yehelim offers 10 rooms, most of which provide breath-taking views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding mountains.

Owners Doron and Dalia are people of action, helping to fulfill the dream of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, of making the desert bloom.

After arriving at Yehelim and settling down in our room, we were getting hungry. The hotel restaurant offers a healthy vegetarian menu which includes a selection of home-made soups, salads and fish all prepared using natural and organic ingredients.

We started off with a rich and tasty “green” soup accompanied by an assortment of delicious homemade rolls. The main courses included Dalia’s version of a mangold quiche which was crispy and filled with cheese and pine nuts. I decided to go for the fish du jour which was filled with herbs & garlic and roasted to perfection. Another healthy and generous dish was the quinoa and vegetable salad.

And who said that you can’t pair wine with healthy food. Yehelim offers an impressive selection of some of the finest wines produced by the Carmel and Yatir wineries.

When asked what he enjoys most about Yehelim, Doron answered: “it is so relaxing and serene; it is like being in Sinai just without the beach”. Sitting on the balcony, sipping on a chilled glass of wine and staring off into the horizon, I just had to agree.

And now back to the wine, the good food, serenity and the amazing desert views from the Yehelim balcony, which provided a perfect setting for our next bottle.

Yatir, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007
Light straw with slight green reflections on the nose and palate, this refreshing white is showing classic citrus characteristics followed by a touch of grassiness and a hint of green apple.

Tip of the week: “chilling wine”

Try filling an ice bucket with a mixture of half ice and half water; this will chill the wine faster than a bucket with ice alone.

72 Moav St., Arad
Phone: 077-2028126