Want to taste some of the world’s best olive oils, sample the best new wines from the Golan or watch the final episode of Israel’s version of “American Idol” live? Those are some of the highlights of this summer’s tourist season in Israel.

In addition, travel agents and hotel concierges will undoubtedly steer tourists towards the country’s “Top 10” attractions.

According to a Dun & Bradstreet Israel survey, the country’s most popular tourist destinations in 2009 were: Jerusalem Biblical Zoo; Ramat Gan Safari; Masada (historical battle shrine); Ceasarea (seaside antiquities site); Hamat Gader (Galilee spa and crocodile farm); Ein Gedi (oasis and spa); Yamit Water Park (Holon); Underwater Observatory (Eilat); Banias (historical site adjacent to Mt. Hermon); and Luna Park (Tel Aviv amusement park).

Jerusalem Mix

A series of daytime and evening events that blend ancient traditions with modern culinary and cultural endeavors will anchor the Holy City’s summer attractions. From July 23-29, Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel (www.inbalhotel.com) will play host to the “TerraOlivo2010” Mediterranean International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. This is the first competition of its kind to ever be held in the city, since the days when olive oil was used for both religious ceremonies and culinary offerings during the Temple era. While a panel of Israeli and international food industry judges will sample hundreds of olive oils made in Israel and around the globe, tourists will also have an opportunity to partake in the festivities. There will be a gala evening dinner in the hotel, as well as an outdoor festival where olive oils and olive oil-based products such as cosmetics and foods will be available for sampling and purchase.

Noted chefs, including the Inbal Hotel’s executive chef, Itzik Barak, will also be creating a variety of culinary delights utilizing various types of olive oils. “This will be one of the most fascinating and challenging events ever held at the hotel,” Barak said. “As olive oil is considered one of the key ingredients to the healthy Mediterranean diet, which has become popular all over the world, it will be a unique opportunity for both food industry executives and tourists to sample a variety of culinary innovations, with olive oil as the base ingredient.”

Throughout July and August tourists will also be treated to a series of free Thursday evening activities, dubbed “Summer Nights,” along the trendy Alrov Mamilla Avenue, which is located at the entrance to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. From 6 to 1l p.m. the avenue will be transformed into a piazza where street artists will perform for both adults and children. Jewelry and fashion designers will also put their unique works on display for purchase. Alrov Mamilla Avenue is also known as a trendy destination with its variety of upscale coffee bistros and restaurants that line the promenade, which includes a New York-style kosher pastrami restaurant and Japanese sushi bar.

In late August, Sultan’s Pool, a popular cultural venue located in the Valley of Hinnom, will become the focal point for a live showdown between the finalists of “Kochav Nolad” (A Star is Born), the Israeli version of “American Idol.” Thousands of teenagers and young adults are expected to descend upon Sultan’s Pool to throw their support behind their favorite singer. This will be the first time since the show’s debut in 2003 that the finals will be televised in Jerusalem via Israel’s Channel 2 and www.mako.co.il website.

Port of Tel Aviv

During the past five years, the city of Tel Aviv has invested millions of dollars in transforming the once neglected north Tel Aviv boat port into a beachfront version of Soho. During the daytime hours, tens of thousands of smartly dressed young Tel Avivians can be found milling about the various fashion outlets or bistros that anchor the ports simple single level buildings. During the evening hours, the port’s various clubs and bars attract a who’s who of Israeli society, including business moguls, TV and movie celebrities, as well as tourists from all over the globe. During the summer months, the boardwalk promenade is also home to street theatre and the glass-enclosed studio of Music24, Israel’s answer to MTV. The Port of Tel Aviv is easily accessible by bus or taxi (5-10 minutes) from all central Tel Aviv hotels.

Central Park in Modiin

Located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the city of Modiin, recently inaugurated the first phase of its expansive Wadi Anba Park project. Spread out over 650 dunams (160 acres), Wadi Anba Park features wide grassy knolls that are perfect for picnics, a large children’s playground and a lake, where you can rent a canoe or pedal boat. Wadi Anba also features a biking and hiking path that leads to nearby ancient ruins from both the Maccabean and Bar Kochva eras. Modiin is home to the fastest growing, English-speaking community outside of Ra’anana. In recent years, a growing number of North American olim, including many from the metro New York region have decided to put down roots in Modiin, due to its close proximity to the airport, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which can be reached via the city’s bus and train systems.

Fruits of the Vine

During the summer months many foreign tourists make it a habit of seeking out the growing number of quality wineries that have been sprouting all over the country. One of the most popular is the Golan Heights Winery (www.golanwines.co.il), located in the Katzrin Industrial Zone, the Golan’s commercial mecca. The Golan Heights Visitors Center offers both adults and children an eye-opening tour of the facility, as well as a short film about the history of winemaking in the Golan region, which dates back to the Second Temple era. When the grape-harvesting season begins in August, tourists can actually see the trucks bringing the grapes from the vineyards to the factory where they are crushed and prepared for the winemaking process. The tour also includes wine tasting, where one can purchase a variety of the winery’s award-winning dry and sweet vintages.

Tourism Briefs:

n Last month, in connection with Earth Day, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism launched a two-year campaign underscoring the country’s role in the worldwide environmental movement. The campaign is dubbed: Israel: One Hundred Years of Green, and the ministry will press the environmental message to potential travelers to Israel. The website for the campaign is travelgreenisrael.com.

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