From ancient times, there were those, whether mystics, mad monarchs or zealous rebels, who sought refuge from Jerusalem’s throng’s, theological arguments, and fractious political struggles in the purity of the desert. And what a desert! Israel’s wilderness of Judea descends sharply from the Judaean Hills in the heart of Israel to the lowest place on earth – the Dead Sea, part of the geological fault line known as the Syrian-African Rift. For us too, the fresh air of the desert is a major enticement, but the relics of the past and the tourist attractions of the present offer much to supplement the experience. We will start off with an early morning visit to Masada, the Herodian fortress which the Edomite King Herod built as a potential bolt hole, from his disgruntled Jewish subjects. It was there that the Jewish Zealots, two generations later, made their last, doomed, stand against the might of the Roman Empire. Their tragic end became a canonical, though controversial component of modern Israel’s historical legacy. Those who want to experience with their own feet and muscles the steep ascent which challenged the Roman Legionnaires besieging the zealots will climb up the “snake path” to the fortress, where they well be joined by those of us preferring a more sedate bird’s eye view of the panoramic view from the comfort of a cable car. There, on the ramparts of the fortress we will discuss the cautionary tale of Masada before we move on to one of Israel’s most beautiful nature spots – Ein Gedi, an oasis of verdant palm trees and waterfalls in the parched desert. Ein Gedi is renowned for the ibex herds, also the symbol of Israel nature conservation, which come there to quench their thirst and graze on its foliage. Once we satiate our own hunger and wash the sweat off our brows we will conclude our tour in Israel’s most incredible natural wonder – the Dead Sea, a body of water 400 meters beneath sea level, that is so hyper saline you can float on its surface effortlessly. It’s mud is reputed to hold many curative properties, and you will have the chance to try it out for yourself – or just smear each other black for fun!