1. Fauzi Azar Inn
That’s seriously a reason itself to stay overnight in Nazareth! This beautiful 200 year old Arab mansion that serves as a guesthouse now was the most amazing place I’ve ever stayed in. It is not only charming but also hides a great history behind! Nazareth, the biggest Arab town in Israel, used to be a forgotten, neglected place that was healing after all the conflicts it’s been a part of. The mansion owned by the Azar family, located in the heart of Nazareth’s Old Town, was no exception. Eventually, 8 year ago, a young Jewish entrepreneur arrived with a vision to turn this amazing place into a guest house and to bring tourism to Nazareth. It seemed like a crazy idea yet after lots of discussions the Azar family decided to trust Maoz, the said entrepreneur, and together they opened the Fauzi Azar Inn.
It’s incredible how this guest house changed the whole local community. With more people staying in Nazareth for longer than only few hours the city started to grow, the stagnation was long gone and the new businesses were blooming all over the place. A lot of them are there thanks to Fauzi Azar Inn, from carpenters to key makers, from fruit sellers to restaurants. These days there’re more options to stay overnight in Nazareth yet Fauzi Azar Inn was the very first one and it’s safe to say that this place changed the city.
It’s not easy to find Fauzi Azar Inn in the labyrinth of Old Town lanes but every single person in the city knows where it is and will gladly show the way. To enter the property you need to cross the small green door, so tiny that you need to bow (this comes from the old times and is a way to show the respect to the owners). Coming inside is like stepping back in the time and entering the magical world. The large welcoming courtyard with chill out zone is surrounded by amazing limestone arches. The spacious rooms are topped with beautiful hand-painted ceiling (seeing it every day just after waking up with was a really good start of the day). The breakfast was so delicious it made me fall in love with local food over and over again It truly is a house with a soul, I felt extremely good there and I wish I could have stay longer… Oh, and did I mention there’s a free cake all day long?
2. Biblical sights
Nazareth is the best known for its Biblical sights, after all that’s the place where Jesus grew up. The most famous landmark, seen clearly from far away, is the Basilica of Annunciation, built on the site where Archangel Gabriel announced the future birth of Jesus. From the place of such religious value I expected something better, to be honest. The church is made in the modern style and even if the dome is pretty impressive I didn’t like it all that much. The best thing were the paintings of Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, as they’re seen in different countries – they had the faces of local people so slanted eyes, darker skin etc! I was truly fascinated when looking at various images of these two!
Other important churches stand on the places where Jesus preached, where Saint Joseph’s workshop was located or where Jesus dined with Apostles after his Resurrection. Nazareth is an important stop on the pilgrimage route in Israel and there’re numerous groups strolling down the streets of the city. But these tours focusing only on the Biblical sights miss so much from the Nazareth experience!
3. Old Town
Thanks to the presence of Fauzi Azar Inn the Old Town of Nazareth is now a bustling place, full of local businesses. Narrow, winding streets, old houses, kids running around, smell of the spices – all of these make you want to get to know Old Nazareth better as it surely is a fascinating place The big part of it occupies a souq – a traditional Arab market that comes to live early in the morning each day when local sellers put neatly on the display all they have to offer. You can buy just about everything and getting lost in the narrow lanes full of small shops might be the highlights of your stay in Nazareth. Many streets still haunt with the closed iron doors but looking at the recent development of the city I’m sure the business will come there eventually. Only in the recent 4 years 80 new small, local businesses opened up in the Old Town of Nazareth, thanks to Fauzi Azar Inn and tourists who decide to give a chance to the city and stay there longer.
Since most of the people visiting the city stay only for few hours and focus just on the Biblical sights the rest of the town feels like an off the beaten path town, perfect for getting to know the local people, a place that you can peacefully explore and discover – and there are surprises waiting for you on every corner! The White Mosque, hidden in the streets of souq is one of such gems and a place not to be missed in Nazareth!
4. Free walking tour
Each day at 9:15 Fauzi Azar Inn offers a free walking tour around the Old Town. Usually it starts with the granddaughter of Fauzi Azar – Suraida – telling the fascinating history of the Azar family, the mansion and the collaboration with Maoz that led to such a big success. Later on the group is taken over by Linda – an American expat who found her home in Nazareth and surely loves the place, you can easily say so by the way she talks about it. It’s not your typical walking tour that focuses on the main attraction, it’s something more. We skipped the main touristic (pilgrimage) sights as everyone can go there easily on their own. Instead Linda took us around the Old Town, introduced to local people, talked about the everyday life of the community, showed the places we’d never have found by ourselves. We visited the backrooms of the spice shop, we could observe the carpenter at work in his tiny workshop, the dressmaker whose family has been in the business for generations explained the dress code of Arab culture, we could try the local drink specialty (so delicious!) while observing the bunch of older male residents playing the backgammon in the room full of heavy air. We stopped by in the coffee shop where I bought water on the previous day only to see the old fashioned way of making coffee – everything was located in the back room and during my first visit there I never could have expected the place hides such a treasure! We could see beautiful old Arab manors that are in ruins now but that soon will be renovated, creating even more opportunities for Old Town Nazareth. This tour with Linda made me understand the city so much better and see its true charm and merit.
5. Jesus Trail
Nazareth is a starting point of Jesus Trail – a 65kms hike through the Galilee region on the route that Jesus might have walked, connecting places from his life. One of the founders of the trail, back in 2007, was Maoz Inon, the very same one who created Fauzi Azar Inn! The hike is divided into four days, each section between 13 to 19 kms long (Nazareth – Cana, Cana – Kibbutz Lavi, Kibbuth Lavi – Moshav Arbel, Moshav Arbel – Capernaum), you can arrange to have your luggage transported between the accommodations and just focus on hiking in the beautiful landscape.
Sadly I had very limited time in Northern Israel and had to skip the Jesus Trail but it’s only for now! This hike is very high on my bucket list and I’m sure I’ll return to Nazareth soon to do it, especially that it doesn’t seem like a very demanding one. I know most of the people walking the Jesus Trail do it for the spiritual reasons but even if I’m not very religious I still would love to do it! It might be a perfect opportunity to meet some local people, get off the beaten path and enjoy the beautiful nature!
6. Perfect base to explore Northern Israel
Thanks to the location in the heart of Galilee region Nazareth is a perfect base to explore Northern Israel. I had only one extra day to do so and went to Akko, a beautiful crusader town on the Mediterranean coast (more about it on Sunday!) and it was such a great and easy day trip! Other nearby interesting places include Haifa, Tiberias, Sea of Galilee, Jordan Valley, Golan Heights – there are so many options to fill your days in Nazareth!
I arrived to Nazareth knowing nothing and expecting nothing, I left sad that I can’t spend more time there and promising myself I will be back soon. I know that the main reasons why I enjoyed it so much were wonderful Fauzi Azar Inn with its incredible history resulting in a big impact the guest house has on the town and a free walking tour that let me get to know the local community and see how special it is. I could see more of the city this way, beyond the main touristic sights. I could dig in deeper and see how much potential it has. I could feel a part of the change that is happening there and see that responsible tourism really makes a difference.
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I was standing on the balcony of Fauzi Azar Inn, looking at fireworks welcoming 2014 and realizing that places like Nazareth are the ones I want to travel to and explore, the ones I enjoy the most. They don’t need to be the prettiest or have lots of tourism attractions. As long as they have a soul and an intriguing history they’re my kind of places…
More pictures from Nazareth can be found on the FB page!
Would you like to visit Nazareth?
I stayed in amazing Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth – a place with the incredible history that really is making a huge difference to the local community. You can book your stay there here!
If you think of visiting Israel or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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