This month marks a minor anniversary in Israel — the “Lonely Planet” travel guide publisher a year ago placed Israel’s Negev desert second on its list of the world’s top 10 regional travel destinations for 2013.
“For decades the Negev was regarded as nothing but a desolate desert,” the guide stated. “But today, this region is a giant greenhouse of development. Think eco-villages, spa resorts and even wineries. In the next few years a new international airport at Timna is scheduled to open, followed by a high-speed railway to Eilat and more hotels.”
All this attention on the Negev, which comprises more than half of Israel’s territory, would delight David Ben-Gurion, the country’s legendary first prime minister. A proponent of the Negev as the center of Israel’s future, he retired there when his leadership days ended, living on kibbutz Sde Boker.
Some 630,000 people, less than 10 percent of Israel’s population, live in the Negev.
The area is also home to a wide variety of flora and fauna — including some ibex, above — as well as wineries and university campuses.
The Negev, 4,700 square miles of rusty, rolling dunes interrupted by rocky mountains and dry wadi river beds, has become the focus of Israeli development efforts in recent years, including the Jewish National Fund’s $600 million Blueprint Negev, whose goal is to bring 500,000 more residents there, and a recent housing project approved by the government.
One prospective project, an elephant park on kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza border, has stalled; it would be impossible to populate the park with Asian elephants, regional planners said, because international treaties prevent international sales and traffic of endangered Asian elephants.
But there is more good news for the Negev — Conde Nast Traveler recently named the Beresheet resort in the desert’s Mitzpeh Ramon as one of the world’s best new hotels.