Healing in the Holy Land

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It is, perhaps, the ultimate spa getaway. Rejuvenate yourself with the life-enhancing waters of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea, one of the world’s cultural and ecological treasures, has been long recognized for its healing powers. Legend holds that such figures as the Queen of Sheba, Aristotle and Cleopatra sought the Dead Sea’s life-enhancing waters. (In fact, it is said that Cleopatra travelled from Egypt to build the world’s first spa on its shore.)

King David took refuge there and Herod the Great soaked away cares of state in the sea. For 5,000 years people have floated (literally) on the buoyant, salty waters.

Today, tens of thousands of travellers from all over the world visit the Dead Sea to treat maladies from skin diseases to muscle and respiratory ailments. The mineral-rich waters, mud and thermo-mineral springs and oxygen-rich atmosphere are thought to have remarkable health-giving properties.

The salt lake, located along part of the border of Jordon and Israel, is the lowest point on Earth at 1,310 feet (400 meters) below sea level. It was formed when an earthquake caused two ancient continents to separate and form a deep rift. The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordon River and surrounding mineral springs.

Ten times more salty than the ocean and three times more than Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the water is so buoyant that swimming is more like bobbing along in a hot bath. No fish or plant can live there.

A natural health spa

The water contains 21 minerals, including magnesium, calcium, bromine and potassium. Twelve of these are found in no other sea or ocean on earth — and there is more calming bromine in the air around the Dead Sea than anywhere else on the planet.

These minerals help to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis and dermatitis, and the area’s warm dry air is beneficial to arthritis sufferers. With up to 8 per cent more oxygen molecules per cubic meter than ordinary air at sea level and low pollen counts, the oxygen-rich air helps those suffering from certain asthmas and respiratory conditions.

Researchers have found that the region’s low altitude also offers health benefits to people with congestive heart failure who have had a heart attack. Patients reported they felt better and were able to walk longer distances on a treadmill after a short visit to the Dead Sea. They also experienced an increase in blood oxygen and a decrease in resting blood pressure.

To accommodate the many visitors to this natural health spa, a number of large hotels and spas have sprung up along the banks of the sea.

Unique touring opportunities

The Dead Sea region offers a breathtaking landscape — and a long, long history. Here are a few highlights.

Masada. The mountain fortress of Masada, built by Herod the Great, offers awe-inspiring views of the Judean Desert and Dead Sea. It is famous as the spot where nearly 1,000 Jewish zealots in 74 A.D. chose death over capture by Roman soldiers. It is also the site of the ruins of one of King Herod’s palaces.

You can climb Masada along its winding serpentine path or ride to the top via cable car. On summer nights, the story of Masada is told in a 40-minute sound and light show in its outdoor amphitheater.

Qumran. At the northern tip of the Dead Sea you’ll find the caves where 50 years ago, a Bedouin shepherd found the first of many Dead Sea Scrolls. While you can’t climb into the caves, you can explore the ruins thought to be inhabited 2,000 years ago, by the prophetic-messianic sect known as the Essenes.

Note: bird-watchers may also be treated with sightings of the many unusual birds of the Judean Desert, including the brilliantly colored Little Green Bee Eater.

Nearby, Kibbutz Almog houses replicas of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Ein Gedi Oasis. Popular with hikers, this ancient oasis has embracing fresh water pools and waterfalls, lush tropical vegetation and desert ibex and rock badgers (or hyrax), distant relatives of elephants that roamed the region in prehistoric times.

Mount Sodom. Mount Sodom is an 11-mile range of pure salt. Standing on top is a block of salt known as Lot’s wife. The weathered formation resembles a woman turning to see God’s fury against the ancient “dens of sin” — the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Hod Hamidbar Resort & Spa Hotel
Visit the resort’s mineral-rich sulphur pools, a heated Dead Sea water pool, hydrotherapy, treatment rooms, jacuzzi and a Finnish sauna.

Le Meridian Dead Sea
This five-star resort is set among 12 acres of luxuriant gardens. The hotel offers lake-sized pools, mineral baths, and a variety of wellness treatments using mud, seaweed, aloe vera or hot stones.

Moriah Plaza Dead Sea
Stretched alongside a private beach facing the Jordanian hills, this five-star hotel has heated indoor salt water and outdoor pools, as well as a spa offering a wide range of pampering treatments.

Daniel Dead Sea
Visit the newly renovated swimming pool (to the tune of $1 million) and the Shizen Spa.

Ein Gedi
This kibbutz-run spa with 6 thermo-mineral springs overlooks the sea and the Moab Mountains.