Eight kilometres north of Ramallah a village lies nestled between olive, fig and apricot groves. In the 6th century CE, St. George’s Church was built in Jifna, but it fell into disrepair and was not rebuilt until the arrival of the Crusaders in the 10th century. The church fell into disrepair again after the Crusaders were driven out, but the ruins of St. George’s are still there and attract faithful from all over Palestine who revere the saint. In spring, people come from all over the area to join in the Apricot Festival festivities, when the village celebrates the fruit during its short season. If you’re staying in Ramallah, Jifna is a great for a short day trip, especially during early spring when the village is surrounded by blossoming trees. After walking around the village, Tabash restaurant offers delicious barbequed meats and fresh salads in a peaceful garden.
Not far from Nablus you’ll find a hidden gem: Sebastia. Both a contemporary village and an ancient city, it is a place which will leave you in awe of Palestine’s history and beauty. You can visit both the village and the ancient ruins and even stay overnight. In the Palestinian village of Sebastiya, Christians and Muslims alike honour a connection to John the Baptist at a location earlier known for the worship of Phoenician gods and a Roman emperor. The village has beautiful stone houses and the Nabi Yahya Mosque which used to be a church during Byzantine and Crusader eras. The mosque stands on the site which since Byzantine times was said to be the burial place of John the Baptist (Nabi Yahya in Arabic). Between the ruins of the ancient city of Sebastia, a church commemorates the place where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. The ruins of Sebastia go back to the 9th century BCE and excavation have uncovered evidence of six successive cultures: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine. After a day in this special place, you can have dinner in one of the four restaurants surrounding the entrance to the Roman town and amphitheatre. For overnight stays, the Sebastia guesthouse is spacious with beautiful decorated rooms and breakfast with stunning views of the Nablus hills.
Known for its brewery, Taybeh offers many surprises. It has an old centre with stone houses and meandering alleys. In one of the old houses you’ll find Peter’s Place, a restaurant with a terrace view to the Jordan mountains and delicious traditional foods. On the edge of the village is St. George’s Church, a Byzantine and Crusader era church from the 4th century CE which has fallen into disrepair but is still used for some celebrations of mass throughout the year. Next to the church a 4th century mosaic depicting birds and flowers has been found. A chapel has been built over the site to protect the mosaic.
Burqin is a small town located in the north of the West Bank. An ancient site, the town was mentioned under the name Burqana in the 14th century BCE Amarna letters as one of several cities conquered by a Canaanite warlord. Today, Burqin’s residents are a mixture of Muslim and Christian families. The town boasts one of the oldest churches in the world, and, like so many others in Palestine, is dedicated to St. George. It is considered to be the third-oldest church in the world and is still used by the village’s Orthodox Christian community. The town’s picturesque old homes and winding streets are complemented by stunning views across the northern West Bank. Surrounded by olive groves, Burqin is known for its olive oil. Burqin’s women’s centre is located in the beautifully rehabilitated Jarrar Palace and on request they will cook a hearty homemade meal for travellers. Still hungry? Nearby Jenin offers some of the best shawarma in Palestine.
Battir is a UNESCO world heritage site, and rightly so. Its hill landscape is formed by a series of farmed valleys, known as widian, with characteristic stone terraces. Some of the terraces have underground irrigation systems for garden production, while others are kept purposely dry and planted with grapevines and olive trees. Battir is in between Bethlehem and Jerusalem and on a spring day, a walk through the valley from Beit Jala to Battir is a true delight. The Battir Landscape Eco Museum is worth a visit and a delicious meal with view of the ancient terraced hills and pools can be had at Café al Jenan.
Artas is located south of Bethlehem and is not only a beautiful village, it has a very interesting history. There are several springs leading into a Roman era pool and aqueduct system below the village which used to carry water all the way through Bethlehem and to Jerusalem’s Old City. Around the pools is a playground and park area and opposite is an Ottoman castle with a restaurant and museum. Further into the village you’ll find the Hortus Conclusus, a Catholic convent. The village is known for its delectable lettuce and holds a festival celebrating the lettuce harvests each year during spring.