Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Israel

Cory Lee Spot Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock behind Cory Lee © Cory Lee

Cory Lee, travel blogger at Curb Free with Cory Lee and Lonely Planet Pathfinder, recently returned from an epic trip to Israel.

In a nutshell… Israel is considered the Holy Land to Jews, Christians and Muslims. So unsurprisingly, it is a land steeped in history. But despite being extremely historical, I was still able to enjoy the country as a wheelchair user. In recent years, Israel has improved accessibility and thankfully, whether I wanted to visit the Old City in Jerusalem or the ultra modern city of Tel Aviv, almost anything was possible with a little determination.

Good grub? All of the food I had in Israel was exceptional, but you simply have to eat hummus and falafel as much as humanly possible while in the country. Some of the best hummus and falafel I had was at Casa Nova in Nazareth, a small open-air restaurant near the Basilica of the Annunciation. Don't let the restaurant's unimpressive exterior fool you – the food is delicious.

Cory Lee 5 When in Israel eat as much hummus as possible! © Cory Lee

You’d be a muppet to miss… the beaches of Tel Aviv. The city is located on the Mediterranean Sea and has plenty of beaches to choose from, each with their own special flair. My favourite was Hilton Beach. You don’t have to be a guest of the adjoining hotel to soak up the sun or splurge at the tiki bar. But what I really loved about Hilton Beach was the fact that it is wheelchair friendly. There are beach wheelchairs, a long ramp to the water and accessible cabanas available.

Fridge magnet or better? Olive trees are native to Israel and they have become a symbol of the Holy Land, so you can find souvenirs made of olive wood in almost any shop. I bought some Christmas ornaments for family and friends back home and a camel figurine for my own collection as well.

Another item I couldn't resist purchasing was mud from the Dead Sea. It's great for your skin because of all the salts and minerals it contains and is widely available all over the country. Whenever you are buying souvenirs, try to haggle for a better price – I was able to save quite a lot of money by practicing my bargaining skills!

Cory Lee 3 Flying high over Israel's golden landscapes © Cory Lee

Fav activity? Hot-air ballooning over the Negev Desert was an unforgettable experience. The morning started before sunrise, but it was well worth the early wake-up call. During the one-hour ride with Over Israel (overisrael.co.il) we had stunning views of the desert and I could even see the Gaza Strip way off in the distance. It was an experience that I didn't want to end, but the champagne toast afterwards made the conclusion a little easier to bear.

Cory Lee 2 It is hard not to be moved by spiritual sites like the Western Wall © Cory Lee

Quintessential experience? When I was at the Western Wall, Judaism's most sacred site, I became overwhelmed with emotion... and I'm not even Jewish. There was just something spiritually moving about seeing everyone around me praying, sobbing and even cheering because they had finally made it to this spot. It was here that I proclaimed that Israel is my favourite country ever.

If you do one thing go to… the Nalaga'at Centre. This cultural and performing arts centre is located at Jaffa Port in Tel Aviv, and it was a life-changing experience for me. The centre focuses on showing the world what deaf, blind and deaf-blind individuals can accomplish. At Nalaga'at I dined in the dark (and was served by blind waiters) and saw a play that was performed by deaf-blind actors. I laughed, I cried and my eyes were opened to a new world that I have never really thought about before.

Cory Lee travelled to Israel with support from the Israel Ministry of Tourism (goisrael.com) and Israel4All (israel4all.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.