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Israel's Negev desert

Negev-Petra Itinerary
On the Spice Trail Israel is such a small country that it's possible to see Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and the spice trail of the Negev all on the same trip. You can follow the ancient Nabataean caravan route across the Negev desert, starting at the Dead Sea near Qumran or Ein Gedi, visitingBen-Gurion's tomb in the central Negev Mountains, and winding up in Petra, Jordan. Along the way, visit some of the archaeological sites; you can even participate in digs for a modest fee. (Check out the current listings in Biblical Archaeology Review at www.bib-arch.org, or call 800/678-5555 to subscribe.)

Chief Sites
In the Negev, the most interesting archaeological points are Avdat, the remains of a Nabataean city; Tel Arad, the ruins of a Canaanite city;and Masada, on a cliff 1,000 feet above the Dead Sea. Masada is one of the most visited spots in the Middle East, but despite the crowds it's still worth seeing. It was here that a group of Jews fled after the sack of Jerusalem, and where they killed themselves several years later rather than surrender to the Roman army.

Desert Retreat
Ben-Gurion and his wife, Paula, are buried in a simple tomb overlooking the Wilderness of Zin, near the kibbutz of Sde Boker, where the former prime minister spent the last years of his life; you can also visit his modest house-- a hut, really. Ben-Gurion's extensive library has been preserved just as he left it. His bedroom has only one picture--Mahatma Gandhi's.

Where to Stay
Beersheba makes a good base for excursions into the ancient cities of the Negev, though the best hotel in town is as new as most of the city's other high rises. Paradise Negev is centrally located, and has a health club and a pool (972-7/640-5444, fax 972-7/640-5455; doubles from $135). Or, if you decide to make day trips from Jerusalem, the King David Hotel (800/223-6800 or 972-2/620-8888, fax 972-2/620-8880; doubles from $380), built in 1930, offers elegance, history, and views of the Old City walls. Across the city, in the Arab quarter, the American Colony Hotel (972-2/627-9777, fax 972-2/ 627-9779; doubles $253) is as romantic asthe pasha's palace it was in the 19th century, with a shady courtyardand antiques in the rooms.

Across the Border
Petra has been building hotels at top speed since it was made famous by Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.The newest luxury base for visiting Petra is Taybet Zaman--a hotel in the Jordanian hilltop villageof the same name, with 105 rooms and suites,a spa, a swimming pool, and craftsshops--six miles from the archaeological site (962-3/215-0111, fax 962-3/215-0101; doubles $211). In Wadi Musa, the valley around Petra (where Moses is supposed to have struck the rock that provided water for the Israelites), there are numerous hotels and restaurants, and a visitors' center.

Dead Sea
This famous body of water, surrounded by tacky spa hotels and shops pushing Dead Sea-enriched cosmetics, is all too discovered, butstop for a meal at the enchanting oasis of Ein Gedi, with its date palms, flowers, andtropical trees.The kibbutz here, like many, has a hotel (Ein Gedi Resort Hotel, Kibbutz Ein Gedi; 972-7/659-4222, fax 972-7/658-4328; doubles from $74)and restaurant, but this one also has magnificent gardens and vistas of the Dead Sea.*

On the Web
There are two good general sites about Israel, with numerous links to tourist and archaeological resources: www.israel-mfa.gov.il is the home.)

For information on joining archaeological digs in Israel, see our Web site at www.travelandleisure.com.

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