A Guide to Vancouver & Whistler

If you’ve never been to the West coast of Canada, if you have and are looking for new things to do or even if you live there, here are my personal favorites, from one of the best meals of my life to the most surreal views my eyes have ever seen.

If you don’t want to read this entire blog post here’s the highlights. Eat at Cuchillo, you must! Rent a pontoon boat in Deep Cove and go to Rainbow Park in Whistler.

We stayed in English Bay, it’s a vibrant area full of restaurants and minutes from the beach. If hotels are looking pricey, check out Air B and B’s in the area, my family found a great one just off Davie Street. One of my favorite places to visit daily is A-maze-ing Laughter, a circle of giant laughing statues just off the beach by Cactus Club. It’s impossible to be near the statues without a smile on your face! Just past the statues is the sprawling sea wall perfect for long walks, runs or bike rides. Each curve of the wall opens your eyes to an unparalleled landscape, where even the shipping boats add to the beauty of the view.

Another wonderful place to explore is Stanley Park. You can get lost in the 27km forest and enormous trees, see wild raspberries everywhere, spot all sorts of animals and stumble upon surprises such as the Totem Poles or Monument Trees, the oldest in the park. If you want to explore lots of the park, rent a bike and keep an eye out for the maps posted all over the park showing you where you are. It’s easy to get lost in there but every wrong turn is another intoxicating view.

If I could only recommend one single restaurant while in Vancouver, go to Cuchillo (www.cuchillo.ca). The layers of flavour in each bite of each dish were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We started with the Peruvian Diver Caught Scallop Ceviche. It was served atop Mexican corn on the cob that was covered in buttered, had just enough spice and was topped with a small but perfect personal portion of fresh scallops, dried apricot yam jam and so many other wonderful flavours. I was too busy savouring every bite to focus on each flavour I was tasting. Two out of 5 of our group does not like traditional ceviche and they would have happily had seconds! Be adventurous and give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed!

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We also shared the guacamole and chips which was simple and fresh. We finished appetizers with the corn bread. This corn bread was like no other, my mouth waters as I remember it. It’s served with Guajillo chili butter on top and you’re instructed to let it melt down into the bread and get all gooey before you eat it. This is unlike any corn bread you’ve ever eaten or ever will eat again. It was sweet, salty, smoky, gooey and a sensation for my taste buds. I got a new taste with every bite. We moved on to Baja Style Battered Rockfish tacos with jicama slaw, chipotle aioli, and kale on a hemp corn tortilla, that was the best fish taco I’ve ever eaten. The Morita Chili BBQ Pulled Pork taco was the perfect combination of sweet and savoury but was a bit heavy after all the food we’d already eaten. We finished the meal, albeit I could not have more than one bite at this point, with the Pan Roasted BC Sablefish with a coconut cream corn, black garlic remoulade and browned pana fritas.

You can’t go wrong ordering any of these items but if you’re not too hungry, order the ceviche, corn bread and a fish taco and let me know if it’s not one of the best meals of your life. The vibe in this place is cool, laid back yet upscale and funky. It’s perfect for date night, a birthday or even to start a bachelor/ette party. Good music, unique venue, great cocktails (I had the margarita) and incredible food!

One other hidden away place that you may not find without being told about it by a local is Adesso. It’s a quaint little Italian restaurant with a perfect outdoor courtyard. Definitely request a seat outside. They start the meal with sea salt focaccia and oil and vinegar. We ordered the Fritto Misto which was lightly dusted calamari and the Springtime Green Hazelnut and Pear salad that came with a light mustardy dressing. Both were delicious! For my main I had the Cauliflower Risotto which was as good as any I ordered while in Italy. Everyone enjoyed their meals, the wine was delicious and as it was my mom’s birthday, they even comped her meal! http://adessobistro.ca/ 

There’s a pretty spectacular suspension bridge in Vancouver called Capilano but if you want a similar experience for free head to Lynn Canyon Park in North Van. Opening in 1912, it encompasses 617 acres and is full of hiking trails that lead through beautiful woods to waterfalls. The suspension bridge is the highlight and despite being no cost, the bridge was not too busy and I was able to run back and forth freely.

Another fun place to spend an evening in Vancouver is the Lonsdale Night Market. There’s live music, art, all sorts of different vendors, a beer garden and about 100 food trucks. Head to I Love Chickpea’s truck and try the falafel and chickpea fries, it’s as good as the falafel in Israel and that’s a bold statement!

There’s tons of free yoga in parks across Vancouver, look them up and check one out while you are there. The setting is so beautiful everywhere on this coast of Canada that you will surely find some peace during the class. I attended class in Dude Chilling Park, it was a great class and they accept small donations afterwards.

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If you’re driving from Vancouver to Whistler make sure to stop at Fergie’s for breakfast. It can be a long wait for food but is it ever worth it! The setting is like a campground with overhanging trees and picnic benches and the food is delicious! I had the Dubliner Benny and it was fantastic! http://www.sunwolf.net/fergies/

Once you reach Whistler, head to Rainbow Park. This is my favorite activity each summer when I visit out West. It’s a grass beach on a serene lake with a backdrop of snow-peaked mountains. Your eyes won’t believe what they’re seeing and the view never becomes “normal”. To be floating in a lake and staring up at snow is truly spectacular! There’s also volleyball nets here if you feel like being active. The area is equipped with change rooms and bathrooms and a food truck but you can certainly bring your own food and drinks.

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My final recommendation is renting a boat in Deep Cove. While it may run you a few hundred dollars, it will be a day to remember! We rented a pontoon boat and went out to the Indian Arm where the water was warm enough to jump in off the boat and otters swam past us. It was another opportunity to be in the water and be staring up at snow-peaked mountains. Being from the concrete jungle of Toronto, to say I’m envious that this is my brother’s normal view is an understatement!

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There are so many mouth-watering restaurants, breathtaking views and fun outdoors activities in Vancouver and Whistler. I love exploring new things each time I’m there! Enjoy the beauty and let me know what your favorite part was when you go!

 

 

A Quick Guide to Greece

 Santorini – Ride a donkey up to the top or jump into a cable car. Once at the top, take a bus to Oia, one of two towns that sits on a cliff above an underwater crater.  Wander around by foot and head to Red Beach to see the red sand that touches the rugged landscape, shaped by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century. Leave yourself a good amount of time to eat at the Athenian House, let them suggest a wine. Sit outside overlooking the coast eating the most delicious feta and olives you’ve ever tasted and sipping remarkable wine. Take this time to simply enjoy the moment and the beauty that surrounds you. You can head back down by donkey, cable car or walking but if you walk, beware as the walking trail is steep and winding and is the same trail that the donkeys take so you may step in some surprises as you make your way down.

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Rhodes – This Island is extremely easy to explore by foot. There’s a ton of shops and vendors and great cafes on every corner. Get lost in castle walls as you explore the area.

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Mykonos – Rent ATV’s and drive across the hilly terrain of the island. It’s the best and most fun way to explore! There aren’t too many street signs and it’s easy to get lost so pay attention to what you’re passing! Head to Super Paradise Beach Club and dance the night away! Rent jetskis while at the beach to check out more of the island. If you want to spoil yourself stay at the Cavo Tagoo Mykonos, they have a Santorini location too. It’s every amazing Instagram photo you’ve ever seen of Greece in real life!

Athens – Give yourself some time in Athens, there’s a lot to see. Unlike the islands which you can see in a day each (if that’s your desired pace), Athens culture can take longer to fully see. The line to buy tickets at the Acropolis and Parthenon is long no matter when you go. If you’re in a rush or don’t like to wait, though not technically allowed, most often you can find someone near the front who will buy your tickets with theirs for 20 extra euro. There’s often another line to get inside after the ticket line so get ready to wait. Once inside, it truly is remarkable and a wonder that you must see with your own eyes! How they built this monument in 447 BC is mind blowing!  From the Theater of Dionysus to the Panathenaic Stadium there is so much history to see in this ancient city, explore as many as you can depending on time! Ermou street is most famous for shopping and though it has some of the same stores that we have in North America, the fashion within the stores was different and in my opinion, was much better! It’s worth having a McGreek at Mcdonald’s just for the experience, and avoid restaurants on main shopping streets like Ermou. They’re typically gimmicky with bad food and high prices. They’ll try and lure you in with free wine, avoid them and trust me when I say, McDonald’s tastes way better then these places! If you’re on a cruise, give yourself hours to get back to the ship. Traffic in Athens is bad and it will take time to get back to your port. There is also more than one port and lots of docks so make sure you know where your ship is before you leave it!

Every island was full of romance, culture and delicious food and wine. I’d recommend Greece with a partner or friends but would not recommend it for solo travel, there are much better destinations for that. The islands can be difficult to get between and the lack of taxis on islands makes things somewhat difficult to get around. In Athens we could not find a taxi driver who spoke any English (this could have just been our experience) but it made it extremely hard to get where we were going.

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Living the Vegas Dream

I got back from living in Mexico and was over Toronto pretty fast. I called my best friend and asked her to move to Vegas with me. Nothing seemed as appealing as the bright lights and good times that can only be found in Vegas. I was EDM’s biggest fan and Vegas was my mecca.

Walking down the strip you can transport into Venice on a gondola ride, into Paris and the Eiffel Tower, into New York City and The Statue of Liberty or a Pirate’s Den at Treasure Island.

We moved in with someone I’d met on a previous trip to Vegas. He said we could live rent free so we thought it’d be a great starting point. That was probably not the wisest decision in hindsight but it did give us time to find somewhere else to live.

We met a lot of people who lived behind the strip on Paradise, but it wasn’t the nicest of areas and didn’t feel too safe. We temporarily moved into the only thing we could afford that had some living space and a kitchen. Crestwood Suites was a run-down hotel just off the strip on Las Vegas Blvd, it was $400 a week. We bought a scooter to get around, it was actually so much fun! We only lasted at this “hotel” for a month or so before we decided we needed to find somewhere else to live and fast or book our flight home. It was full of hookers and addicts, get us out of there!!!

I searched endlessly to find us a new home and our prayers were answered when I found a condo in a gated community on a golf course right behind the Wynn hotel. It had flat screens in every room, was furnished, had huge walk-in closets and did I mention the community had 8 pools!? Heaven!

We met people who worked for tour companies that hooked us up with tours to the Grand Canyon both by bus and helicopter. Go by bus if you want to sit on the ledge of the canyon and go by helicopter at sunrise if you want the views. The bus tour is better if you have to choose. We made tons of friends and partied, hard!

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I learned the hard way not to Jaywalk in Vegas, seriously, don’t do it even though it takes forever to cross the street using the escalators.

So having lived there for 6 months, moved home and gone back for several more months, here are my tips both on and off the strip.

Hotels

Pay a bit more and stay at the Wynn or Encore. A close second is the Cosmopolitan or Aria but you can’t beat the Wynn/Encore. It’s luxury all around and the rooms are the perfect retreat after long days walking the strip or at pool parties and after long nights.

Food

If you want cheap eats on the strip, go to the food court beside MGM. La Salsa Cantina has a cheap and good breakfast or go to one of the buffets and then have a small snack later, it’s all you’ll need. My favorite buffets are the Aria which has the best crab legs and the Wicked Spoon at Cosmo. Wicked Spoon has individually packaged food like personal sized pad thai in a small box and macaroni and cheese in its own small ramekin. The dessert is unbelievable at this buffet so save some room! Maggiano’s in fashion show mall is also cheap, delicious and gives you huge portions! STK and Tao are always good for dinner as well. SW Steakhouse and Lakeside at the Wynn give you views of the Lake of Dreams show while you eat, which is definitely worth seeing once.

If you want to go off the strip you’ve got to go to Kabuki in Town Square for sushi. Get the crab salad and Alaskan roll, the Alaskan roll is like no other you will ever have! My other favorite is Café Rio, the carne asada salad is amazing! While you’re off the strip pick up alcohol if you need it from any grocery or convenience store as it will be way cheaper than on the strip. If you need to buy it on the strip, the ABC store may be your cheapest bet.

Party

My favorite day parties are Encore Beach Club and Marquee but you really can’t go wrong at any of them. I also really like the day party at the Palms, but it’s a bit far off the strip. For me, the day parties are better than the night parties every time but if you’ve got enough energy to do both, even better! For nightclubs, I’ve always loved XS. The DJs are always fire, the crowds are hot and the vibe is amazing. Get there early unless you have a table booked so you can hop into a booth (if you’re a girl). Otherwise, prepare to spend your night being body checked as the crowds push through and spill drinks all over the place.

It’s worth going to Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay for a drink and for the view. It’s a view of the strip like no other! If you want to see a few venues in one day or night you can check out one of the many club crawls that Vegas has to offer. Las Vegas Club Crawl is one of my favorites.

For after-hours Artisan is the way to go! It’s a hotel converted into an after-hours. You will see DJs here after their main sets on the strip from time to time and a lot of locals head here after work. It’s always a good time and better then on-the-strip Drais!

Fremont street is always fun for something different. The Golden Nugget hotel is actually really nice if you don’t want to stay on the strip. The nightlife on Fremont is different, but so much fun. I wouldn’t suggest a single place to go but rather I’d tell you to walk the streets around 11-12, listen for music that you like and head that direction. Last time I was there I heard dubstep blasting, I followed it and ended up at a rooftop bar with some of the best dub I’ve ever heard. I still regret not finding out the DJs name. The drinks were way cheaper than the strip at $4 a pop and the party went on until the morning! Fremont is definitely worth one night of partying while in Vegas!

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Encore Beach Club

Shopping/Casinos/Shows

The outlet malls in Vegas are nothing to write home about. If you want to go shopping I’d stick to the Fashion Show Mall across from the Wynn.

I can’t recommend a casino because I lost in all of them, but good luck to you if you go!

I saw every Cirque show and many other shows while in Vegas. My top 2 are David Copperfield, it was magical and Zumanity Cirque Du Soleil.

Contacts

If you’re ever thinking about moving or going to Vegas feel free to e-mail me for contacts and recommendations!

My old roommate started one of the best VIP companies in town! AJ VIP is a 24/7 VIP concierge company that caters to your every want and need while in Las Vegas. They can get you hooked up with hotels, fights, tours and shows. They offer guest list for day and night parties, bottle service and VIP services. Anything you need in Vegas, AJ VIP can sort out. Call them at (248) 875-8321 or (810)-423-2672 or check them out on facebook AJvipVegas. I’ve sent everyone to them and they’ve received the royal treatment every time. Start your Las Vegas trip planning by calling them!

Weekend Getaway to Montreal

A quick 45 minute flight and we had landed in Montreal, the perfect weekend getaway from Toronto. In the airport, the line for a taxi was outrageously long. Pro tip – there’s a booth in the airport for an app you can download which is essentially like Uber for a taxi company. When you download it you get $10 off your first ride and don’t have to wait in the massive taxi line. We opted for public transit as there was no line at all at the ticket machine. We took a bus to the subway and the subway 3 stops to our hotel. Their subway is fast! I never take public transit in Toronto and it was actually a painless experience in Montreal. After 4pm on Fridays you can get a 3 day bus and subway pass for $13.00, worth it even if you only end up using it the single time to get to your hotel.

We stayed at the Best Western Ville-Marie downtown https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-details.67012.html?iata=00171880&ssob=BLBWI0004G&cid=BLBWI0004G:google:gmb:67012. The Best Western’s I’ve stayed in in the past left much to be desired but this one was actually beautiful. A large marble entrance, extremely friendly concierge and very spacious room. We paid $147/night which isn’t bad for a weekend and a centrally located downtown location.

There’s quite a lot of construction on the roads downtown right now so it was faster and easier to walk everywhere then try and get an Uber and nothing was far from our hotel.

We had the most amazing brunch at Café Napoleon on sunny Saturday morning in the Plateau http://www.cafenapoleon.com/en/. It was about a 30 minute walk through Montreal to get there and every turn got more beautiful than the last. Each building has its own character and charm. I had the special which was egg whites, bacon, crispy breakfast potatoes, toast, a pile of fresh fruit, a crepe filled with Nutella and bananas and bottomless coffee for $11.95! Every bite was delicious and it was more food than I could ever eat. They’ve got a great patio out front where we sat.

After brunch we strolled around the Plateau and went into some churches along the way. We ended up on Ste. Catherine Street where we shopped for a few hours. The deals were great and the busking musicians were better! Buskers in Montreal have to audition for prime locations like on Ste. Catherine and they are phenomenal!

We had dinner later that night at Atma back in the Plateau https://www.restaurantatma.ca/.  You must make a reservation here and you also must go! It’s an Indian restaurant with a unique and authentic atmosphere. Seating on the top floor is on the ground on cushions and then the main and 2nd floor are regular seating. We were served by the owner who regaled us with stories about growing up in London, England and how he grew to love cooking his native Indian food. We asked what he would recommend and he told us he would make us a special lamb dish, his favorite that is not on the menu. I love when servers or chefs offer this, it gives the service that extra level of greatness and makes you feel valued as a customer.  We started with Chicken 13, a slightly spicy breaded chicken, onion bahji’s, samosas and naan bread. I would skip the samosas, they are almost deconstructed and weren’t the best thing we tasted, leave room for the other dishes! The onion bhaji’s were so good, I probably had one too many! For the main we had rice, butter chicken, shrimp madras and the special off-menu lamb dish. Every dish was unbelievable! Some spicier then others, but the yogurt dip evened out the heat for those who couldn’t handle the spice. We enjoyed an Indian beer with the meal and left stuffed! We walked back to the hotel to let our food go down and were immersed in the vibrant beat of Montreal’s nightlife scene. If we weren’t so full, would have stopped for a drink along the way!

From culture to sightseeing, shopping and fabulous food Montreal offered the perfect weekend getaway!

* To anyone traveling in or out of Toronto Pearson airport right now, expect to wait! Our flight home was delayed 7 times over the course of 2 hours and went from a 6pm to almost 10pm flight. When we landed in Pearson there were loads of people still waiting for delayed flights, sleeping on the floor and seats.

* The airport is currently undergoing runway and taxiway construction that has been ongoing since March 28th and is set to be finished May 16th.

Israel – Bedouins & Camels at Kfar Hanokdim

View from the car window
View from the car window

There are quite a few Bedouin camps in Israel but ask anyone and they’ll agree, Kfar Hanokdim in Arad is the best!

If you’re going to ride a camel anywhere in the world, let it be across the Israeli desert. The drive to Arad looks like a movie scene at every turn. There are wild camels roaming the sand dunes, shepherds chasing sheep over them and views that will literally take your breath away.

 

You’ll start the day with Bedouin hospitality where a traditional Bedouin (with a translator) invites you into his tent and tells you about their culture. He makes fresh coffee and only fills your cup up 1/3. We learned that they will keep giving you a third of a cup until you shake your cup in the air, indicating you’ve had enough. He roasts and grinds the coffee beans to a musical rhythm by hand in front of you and makes a fresh, hot pot. kfar-hanokdim-israel-arad-8The coffee is sweet, unlike coffee I’m used to and the aroma mixed with the sound of the Bedouin strumming away on an instrument he made out of a chair takes you away to a magical land. If a Bedouin ever gives you a full cup of coffee, it means you are not welcome and you must leave. What a culture, you won’t catch me giving those not welcome in my home a full cup of coffee before they go!

From here, you go out to the camels, where only female camels are the ones you can ride. They spit at you if you get to close and make hilarious faces that you can’t capture on your camera fast enough! You take a 30 minute stroll through the desert and if you’re lucky enough to catch sunset, you’ll see the camel’s reflections against the sand dunes.

After the camel trek, they welcome you inside where there is a feast awaiting you. There were only 4 of us and there was easily enough food for 10. Salads, dips, breads, meats, vegetables, the food never stopped coming! After lunch, trays of sweets and coffee were brought out to top us off! It was a delicious meal and we felt welcomed and spoiled throughout our entire experience. The Bedouin’s are a truly hospitable people.

Cost: Approx $100 CAD/person includes, Bedouin hospitality, lunch and camel trek

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Israel – Golan Heights

Driving in an open air Jeep over more than 800,00 active landmines to the front lines of the Israeli defense line along the Syrian border. Stop in an Israeli bunker right near the border to see inside and understand about the civil/religious conflict going on in Syria. Look out to the near city of Quneitra the pre ’67 capital city of the Syrian Golan, today a ghost town. Get to the border crossing, Israeli soldiers on one side and Syrian rebels on the other. Cross the crater of Mount Avital to head back. Be careful where you step and stick to the guide! Sound interesting? Read on!

I’d been to the Golan Heights before and was blown away by Mount Bental, and the Golan Winery, overlooking Syria and learning about all of the history and conflict past and present. Going back to Israel, I sought out something less touristy and more authentic to really understand the history and present day situation and I found “No Other Land” jeep tours. This tour may sound scary but believe me when I tell you, it’s a must!

The drive from Jaffa/Tel Aviv to the Golan is 2.5-3 hours each way, we did the drive both ways and tour in a day and didn’t feel too tired for it. You could also opt to stay overnight in the region.

We met our tour guide on the kibbutz, Merom Golan where he has lived his entire life. We got in his jeep and began to drive through Orchards that as a Canadian, felt reminiscent of Niagara Falls. Our guide explained that the region is the only one to figure out how to grow summer fruits and vegetables in the winter and are the only supplier during these months, which brings profit to the kibbutz. We drove past apple and cherry orchards and into an area that said “military access only.” Luckily, our guide is in the military on reserve and we got access by proxy. We drove through some very hilly terrain up hills to lookouts with abandoned tanks from the 6-day war. We passed numerous signs that said beware of land mines as our guide told us there were 800,000 active landmines just from Syria still to be deactivated from the 6-day war! Of course, what goes up, must come down and instead of turning and going back the way we came, we drove almost vertically down one hill back to normal road, which was a thrill! As we drove, we learned. Our guide was a source of knowledge that you will never get from any news source and while we were only being given an Israeli perspective on the conflict, we all clung to every word. His knowledge and the stories he told us were remarkable! We reached our final destination before heading back, an abandoned bunker not far from the Syrian border. The border is a fence that you can see right in front of you from this vantage point… not much between you and them. Our guide said you can usually hear shelling’s from here, but luckily we avoided hearing that on this particular day. It was wild to walk through the bunker and see where real, terrible conflict took place currently abandoned and strangely full of porcupines. It was even more surreal to look out over Syria and see what looked to us like a normal town, Quneitra, which is the mostly destroyed and abandoned capital. Our guide told us only rebel fighters remain there and all of the windows have been blown out. He pulled out a map and showed us where Aleppo was from where we were as well as pointed out regions where terrorist organizations have taken control. It’s something of a mental disconnect to look at plush green-land that doesn’t appear war torn to our untrained eyes and to know what’s really going on there. Sad and surreal. This was a tour that was right off the beaten path, literally and is a real life experience!

I’ve been to Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany on a European bus tour and hated the experience and I barely got through the movie Inglorious Basterds, it made my stomach churn. I know what my family lived through and seeing any dramatized or worse yet, real representations of that is something that I will never again seek out. The same feelings were evoked at Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Israel. The reality of the history almost makes me wish to continue being ignorant to it, as I can’t understand how the world could have let this happen.

Ironically, as I accompanied our guide, a former paratrooper to the front lines of the Syrian border, we looked out into the vastness of Syria and I thought, “How could the world let this happen?” Speaking to the civil war and multiple terrorist organizations that feed on the poor circumstances of 50% of the population being under the age of 19, 30% unemployed and 4,000,000 farmers who were displaced due to drought. All the perfect breeding grounds for one to seek purpose, in the name of joining an extremist group. The newest and arguably scariest form of terror to date, where they are not afraid to die. Don’t go on a tour such as this if you are not prepared to hear and learn about the things we are not seeing on the news in our safe first-world countries.

We drove up to Mount Bental after the tour, it’s only a 10 minute drive from Merom Golan and worth the pit stop for the spectacular views.

http://www.no-other-land.com/

Tour cost: $200USD for up to 8 people

Mount Bental: free entry

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