Gush Etzion is a group of Israeli settlements between Bethlehem and Hebron, about 950 meters above the sea level. It has a rich history dating back from the 1920s and 30s to recent times. An area full of natural springs, green hills, desert views, amazing landscapes and unforgettable sunsets, besides a small population and an even smaller number of tourists.
Some attempts were made between 1927-1947 to settle in the area, but during the Israeli independence war all the settlements were abandoned or destroyed. The renaissance began after the Six Day War in 1967, when the Israelis gained control over the area.
Nowadays, the area has 4 major areas: The main block, where lies the settlements of Bat Ayin, Alon Shevut, Kfar Etzion, Rosh Zurim, Elazar, Migdal Oz and Neve Daniel. Besides it lies the regional council of Efrat, an American suburb-style settlement full of both immigrant and native born Israelis.
Hitchhiking is the fastest, cheapest and easiest option for locals and visitors in the area. The main hitchiking hub is in the southern exit from Jerusalem, a place called "Tzomet HaMinharot". Any time between 6am and 1am, you're likely to be picked up by a Kippa-wearing, smiling nice guy which will take you for this 12-20 minutes ride. Good points to go to are Tzomet HaGush (Gush Etzion Junction) or Efrat Darom (southern entrance to Efrat).
Another option is to take the bullet-proof Egged buses. Leaving from central station in Jerusalem, lines 160, 161 and 164 leave every 30-60 minutes for Kiryat Arba (get down in Tzomet HaGush), Efrat and other settlements in the area. They are also stopping in the far side of Tzomet HaMinharot- don't forget to wave the driver!
- Biyar acqueduct in the valley between Efrat and Elazar, lies the Biyar acqueduct, which offers the visitors a chance to walk in an ancient underground tunnel for dozens of meters, partly in water.
- View above Bat Ayin on the road to Bat Ayin, just before the road starts its downhill, stop in the sunset and enjoy the views on any day. In provides on of the most amazing views in Israel, and on a clear day you can even see all the way to the Mediterranean sea!
- Natural Springs All around the area, many people enjoy the natural springs Gush Etzion has to offer. Most popular sports are Ein Sajma (near Bat Ayin) and En Chaniya (on the road from Gush Etzion to Jerusalem via Wallajeh road). For more information- ask the locals!
- Gavna Restaurant In the forest near Bat Ayin, a dusty road (follow the signs) leads you to a nice wooden construction, built by two brothers from the nearby settlement. With an amazing panoramic view by day and a great atmosphere and music by night, this is a fantastic place (though quite expensive) to enjoy a good dinner.
- Gush Etzion Winery Situated right in Gush Etzion Junction ("Tzomet HaGush"), the winery in now well-known for its good products, and the restaurant besides has an ever-growing number of returning customers.
- Never go down from a ride in the middle of the road. The only possible option for you is to get down inside a settlement, after you've passed the security checkpoint. The only exception is Tzomet Gush Etzion, where it's easy to take a ride to Kfar Etzion, Efrat, Alon Shevut or the southern side of the area.
- Don't enter a car while a person sits on the back seat, but you're being offered the front seat. Otherwise you may end up kidnapped by a militant group.
- Get to know the locals. They will tell you about the safest places to go, and will sometimes even take you to the tourist spots by themselves. This will prevent you from strolling around and getting by mistake into a military camp.