Israelis call it their "honeymoon town," yet any similarity between Nahariya and the Poconos is more a matter of nickname than anything else.
There are no heart-shaped beds, sunken Jacuzzis, or plush, pricey nightclubs in this small resort town on the shore of the Mediterranean, 19 miles north of Haifa. Tourists -- honeymooners and otherwise -- hoping for candlelight and champagne, snazzy boutiques and all the comforst of Hilton had better trek elsewhere.
Nahariya's appeal is its natural beauty -- golden beaches, sheltered breakwater, masses of hibiscus and oleander -- its lazy, informal atmosphere and its proximity to ancient ruins and historical sites. It's a simple, friendly, unhurried town where one can while away the hours soaking up the sun and watching the breeze ruffle the eucalyptus trees.
"It's like the Riviera -- but without the hoopla," remarked a Californian who had come to Nahariya from Haifa for a day -- and wound up spending three.
Although Nahariya's gentle prettiness and relaxing, away-from-it-all atmosphere make it an obvious choice for the honeymoon set, the municipal fathers have provided an additional lure: In the spring, newlyweds are given planned tours, picnics and the like.
(Though the tourist bureau had nothing to do with it, the town's reputation as a romantic hideaway was further enhanced in 1947 when archaeologists discovered near the beach the ruins of an ancient Phoenician temple dedicated to Astarte, the goddess of fertility.)
"More and more people -- tourists from Europe and America as well as Israelis -- are discovering Nahariya," said Sassoon Levy, the amiable director of tourism who arranges for visitors to have tea at private homes to get to know the townsfolk.
Levy proudly went on to say that recent statistics found Nahariya had a 39 percent rise in tourism, surpassing nearly all other Israeli resorts. Indeed, "high season," which had formerly been limited to the spring and summer months, has now lengthened to span from late February to mid-November. "We like to say that visitors are vulnerable to the 'Nahariya syndrome,'" Levy said with a smile. "Once they come here they want to return again and again."
The town was founded in 1934 by German Jews whose goal was to establish a farming community. However, Nahariya's natural endowments of land, sea and sun proved a magnet for vacationers, and it wasn't long before the town metamorphosed into a thriving resort whose population today hovers around 30,000.
A narrow stream runs down a canal through the center of Ga'aton Boulevard, the town's main street, and this accounts for the name "Nahariya" ("nahar" is Hebrew for river.) Horse-drawn buggies, many festooned with flowers and bells, wait in the shade of the eucalyptus trees lining the streets. Throughout the day and early evening, they mosey about town transporting sighteers who peek out from the awnings with cameras pressed to their faces. (Carriage fares tend to vary depending on the season, the time and the driver, so it's best to agree on a price before you trot around.)
Nahariya's star attraction is its beaches, postcard-pretty stretches of golden sand, several of which are sheltered by breakwaters that provide calm seas for swimmers. The main beach is Galei-Galil, whose facilities include an Olympic-size outdoor pool, a heated indoor pool, sailboat rentals, a children's playground, gaily colored chairs and benches and an outdoor cafe.
For those who prefer their sports on dry land, there is a riding academy (moonlight rides on the beach are a must with the honeymoon set) and a bicycle rental shop.
Most of the town's activities can be found on Ga'aton Boulevard and the surrounding streets, which are lined with open-air cafes, flower stalls, fruit markets and shops selling everything from sewing machines to souvenirs. There are several banks, a post office, a large supermarket and a Lilliputian-sized department store.
Accommodations are numerous and varied, with most being in the moderately priced, small-and-simple category. The most deluxe is the 100-room Hotel Carlton in the heart of town, which boasts tennis courts, a heated pool and a popular nightclub. A more moderate facility is the Kalman Hotel near the beach, which has 20 neatly maintained rooms and a friendly atmosphere. n(Rates tend to be high in the peak season of July and August, when foreign tourists and Israelis flock to Nahariya's beaches by the thousands.)
What with Israel's ever-increasing inflation rate (now at 131 percent), it is difficult to quote specific accommodation rates; however, the latest rates, for February, are $23 for a double at the Kalman and $46 for double occupancy (breakfast included) at the Carlton. Students get a 15 percent discount year round.
Near Nahariya are several fascinating sites that can be reached by public bus or on specially arranged tours. A few miles south of the town is the ancient walled city of Akko, which contains the Mosque of El Jezzar, a Crusader fortress and a colorful Arab souk (bazaar).
Seven miles north of Nahariya, on the border with Lebanon, lie the white cliffs of Rosh Haniqra, which offer a breathtaking view of Haifa. Beneath the cliffs are grotto-like caves that are reachable by cable car and through which tourists can walk. At the top of the cliff there is a restaurant, souvenir shop and post office.
(Due to its proximity to Lebanon, the town unfortunately has been the target of several Palestinian guerrilla raids, the last in April 1979, but no tourists were involved.)