I headed to Nazareth with the intention of doing a day tour out to the Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights, which was unfortunately cancelled after I arrived in Nazareth. Determined to make the most of it, I started off by joining in a free walking tour of the city run by the hostel. This tour started with a history of the building.
The Fauzi Azar Inn is an Ottoman style family home built the 1830s. It is a beautiful home with stunning features of Turkish Marble and Cedar. One of the treasures of the home are it’s painted ceilings. Between 1860 to 1870 three rooms had their ceilings painted in floral decorative patterns, which remain today.
In 1948 the living conditions in Nazareth become very difficult and the majority of the Azar family fled, except Fauzi Azar, the grandfather of the current manager, Suraida.
In 1980, in the cold winter a fire began accidentally in the living space. It was caused by a spillage of kerosene on refilling the heater. A carpet began to burn and in an attempt to save the home, Fauzi grabbed the carpet and ran outside with it. The house was saved but in the process Fauzi was badly burned, and after some time in hospital the burns cost him his life.
The home, and the vast majority of Nazareth was abandoned, left to ruin. The drug dealers moved into the area and it was for some time, an undesirable region to venture into.
In 2005 the Azar family entered into an agreement to restore the home and convert it into a guesthouse. While Nazareth is still a quiet place for tourism, the Fauzi Azar Inn is going really well and has won awards in Best Accommodation for Local Communities, and numerous TripAdvisor awards. It has a fantastic reputation and in my opinion it is an absolute pleasure to be welcomed into this home and have the family share the history with you.
After Suraida’s introduction to the property, we began a tour of the town with Luma. Most walking tours go to each of the main sites in the city, while Luma pointed them out, the tour was more about getting to know the locals and the history of the city.
It was fabulous to visit buildings which were hundreds of years old, and meet locals whose families had run businesses in these buildings for a hundred years or more.
A famous 300 year old restaurant in Dewan Al Saraya. All the food is cooked fresh daily by Abu Ashraf, he is famous for the Katayef that he makes. One is a savoury type pancake stuffed with goat’s cheese, the other is sweet, stuffed with a blend of nuts and cinnamon.
Another such place is the Abu Salem Coffeeshop. The building is 300 years old and the family business has been operating for 100 years. Amongst the standard drinks on offer, they make a delicious cinnamon hot drink with a sprinkling of crushed walnuts on top.
Another of the sites we stopped by was an ancient Arab cemetary, here we learned a little bit about the Arab culture around death. When someone dies they need to be buried as soon as possible. The coffin for the body is only used for transporting the body from the home to the cemetery. The body is buried in a cotton sheet wrapping. All of the graves have two stones, one at either end of the grave, one has the details of the person and the other has a prayer.
We also visited places to learn about the traditional clothing, traditional marriage rituals, and also local spices from the area.
Beyond the local stories and visits, the city has some sights to visit. These include the White Mosque, Mary’s Well, The Church of Annunciation and the Basilica of the Annunciation.
I thought both Mary’s Well and the White Mosque were a little disappointing. However, I really enjoyed visiting the church and basilica. They were both stunning in completely different ways.
The Basilica of the Annunciation is where the Christians believe that the Angel appeared to Mary to tell her she would have child. Personally I am a bit confused as to why there is a Church of the Annunciation and a Basilica of the Annunciation. Are they claiming to be the place of this biblical event, at opposite ends of the city?
The old city is nice to wander through and is like an Arabic souq, many narrow alleys with market stalls. In one of these is the Synagogue Church, where Jesus went to pray and teach. I Visited from teh outside, but didn’t make it back there to visit inside.
Two other sites I would have liked to visit but didn’t, were the: Orthodox Caves which were closed; and the Cactus Ancient Bath House which cost 60NIS to visit, I found this too expensive.
Unfortunately Nazareth is a very small, quiet town. It was nice to visit, but a full day was plenty. While I wouldn’t recommend visiting for a long time, I would still recommend visiting. Despite how it may be presented in the media, it is a safe place to visit and the people are so friendly. It would be great to see tourists return to Nazareth to support the local people.
The Nitty Gritty
I stayed at the Fauzi Azar Inn, which got numerous glowing reviews both online and from locals. A bed in the 6-bed female dorm costs 105NIS per night. The cost includes linen, a towel, breakfast and all day tea/coffee. The location is good and it is only a short walk to everything.
To get from Jerusalem to Nazareth you can take a bus via Haifa or there is one bus that travels direct. The trip takes approximately 3 hours.
I took the 955 from Jerusalem Central Bus Station to Nazareth. The bus stops at several spots along the main street of Nazareth and I had no idea where to get off. After asking about the stops and advising which hotel I was going to, the bus driver stopped at the closest stop to my hotel and told me when to get off.
To get from Nazareth to Tel Aviv there are limited bus options and they are slow, taking between 2-3 hours. It’s also quite walk to the bus station from the hostel.
I was advised to take a Sherut Taxi, which cost 32NIS, rather than the 37NIS bus trip. The Sherut Taxi is a shared taxi, they leave when they are full and often make several stops along the way.
I arrived at the Taxi stop 10 minutes before the first Sherut was due to leave. I waited 30 minutes in total until we had enough people to go. Thankfully pretty much all passengers were headed to Tel Aviv and despite a few stops along the way, we arrived within 1.5 hours.
As transit to and from Nazareth is reasonably limited, the Fauzi Azar Inn and Abraham Hostels are planning to implement a shuttle service between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Nazareth starting mid-March 2016.