Soothing the sight and the heart, biodiversity conservationist Elsa Sattout unveils the hidden treasures of five of the country’s most impressive lakes.
On the eastern foothills of Qornet El Sawda, the highest peak in Lebanon, lie the lakes of Ouyoun Orgosh. Feeding water to the arid surroundings populated by old Grecian juniper trees, the lakes are an important resting area for migratory birds during mid spring and late fall.
The most scenic route to Ouyoun Orghosh is from Bcharre in North Lebanon. The road crosses the Anti-Lebanon Mountains where, at 2,000m above sea level, you can enjoy the stunning views of the Kadisha Valley and the Cedars of God. As you traverse the rugged hills towards the east of the Bekaa Valley, make sure you stop at the Qornet El Sawda to take in the 360-degree panorama of the coast and the valley’s eastern plain.
There are a number of Lebanese restaurants in the area which are perfect for a traditional lunch, including Hala (70 138296), Restaurant el Samak (70 982761), Zein (06 672553/03 699919), Golden House (03 947542/70 964858), Al Rabih (03 382385) and Al Bouhayra (03 544967).
Photo: Joe Sokhn
OUYOUN EL SAMAK
The magnificent lakes of Ouyoun el Samak are located 30km northeast of Tripoli (95km from Beirut). Bordering the districts of Denniyeh and Akkar, the interconnected, emerald-green lakes are surrounded by striking mountains. There is also a spectacular waterfall that can be observed at close range on a suspended foot bridge.
Given the natural splendor of the area, it is not surprising that the site inspires artists, photographers and attracts a vast number of hikers.
The Ouyoun el Samak Restaurant (70 121844) is a popular lunch destination thanks to its incredible position overlooking the waterfall. Feast on delicious Lebanese mezze items while you enjoy the sound of cascading water. Alternatively, have a picnic by the side of the lake and soak up the beauty of the nature that surrounds you.
Photo: Khaled Taleb
The beautiful Yammouneh Lake lies in the basin of Yammouneh village, 110km northeast of Beirut (27km northwest of Baalbeck). The lake is home to the only endemic fish in Lebanon, known as the Levantine minnow.
For a fantastic adventure, hike the six-hour trail to the lake from Akoura, where you will cross the peak of Mount Makmel and continue downhill towards the Yammouneh nature reserve. Once you reach the reserve, you will see juniper, wild apple and kermes oak trees.
The selection of Lebanese restaurants surrounding the lake is plentiful so just wander around to find your perfect spot.
Photo: Nidal Majdalani
Qaraoun is an artificial lake located in West Bekaa. The lake is fed by the Litani River, the longest river in Lebanon. It is recognized as a resting site for around 20,000 migratory birds crossing the Bekaa Valley in early summer and late fall.
The lake is a popular destination for families during the summer months thanks to the delightful boats that provide trips for visitors.
A hike around the lake will take you into agricultural lands on the eastern side where you can wander around olive orchards.
Photo: Ragheb Ismail
The lake is set within the charming village of Taanayel, in the heart of the Bekaa Valley. Offering visitors a peaceful oasis to truly get away from it all, the lake can be accessed from Taanayel Convent (at a small fee), which is located near the entrance of the village.
Apart from the convent, there is a beautiful, small chapel near the lake. Visitors can rent bikes or enjoy a horseback ride to explore the pristine grounds.
For a typical Lebanese breakfast, head to the convent (08 540066), known for its artisanal goods and healthy dairy products. For lunch, book a table at Khan el Maksoud (08 544881/03 124279) where you will be served delicious dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients.
Photo: Ragheb Ismail