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10 things to do in winter

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Oh baby it’s cold outside! But don’t let that stop you. Lebanon is brimming with life in the winter months from snow-topped mountains and forest walks to music festivals and home-cooked dinners


1. Tripoli’s architectural gem

Beirut-based Tripolitan Mira Minkara offers monthly Tripoli tours around her home city; a rich experience discovering the urban fabric of a diverse city, through the eyes of a local. For architecture lover’s one tour offers an exploration around the impressive International Fair of Tripoli, designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Built in 1964, but never completed because of Lebanon’s civil war, the avant-garde space is full of dominating modernist architecture pieces that stand in a vast empty space. Afterwards Minkara guides her visitors around Mina’s old neighborhoods by the coast. Another guided walk passes through Tripoli’s old souks, rich in ancient architecture from Mamluk and Ottoman mosques to 19th Century Orthodox churches, hammams, khans and madrasses (Quaranic Schools).
Facebook: Mira’s guided tours

70 126764 - mminkara@gmail.com



2. Winter forest

The Shouf region has a magical charm during the winter months and makes the perfect destination for a winter walk through the Shouf Cedar Reserve followed by an overnight stay in a cozy local guesthouse. “Guesthouses in the Shouf make special meals during winter such as roasted chestnuts and baked potato in the stove,” says Nizar Hani, manager of the Shouf Cedar Reserve. “Now people are enjoying the Shouf Reserve in all seasons; they like the ambiance of walking in winter and then returning to the guesthouses.”   shoufcedar.org



3. Lebanon by night

Outside of Beirut, beyond the city lights, star-filled skies set an impressive backdrop to Lebanon’s rural landscapes. The Night Collective are a group of amateur and professional photographers who make weekly trips to mountainous landscapes to document the beauty of Lebanon’s nightscapes and share via their Facebook page. “In 2009 we formed with a group of foreigners in Lebanon who wanted to explore the country, but most people had day jobs so we had to take photos at night,” says Gaby Nehme, a Lebanese photographer and one of the admins of the Night Collective Facebook group. “Technically it’s harder to capture images at night than day so there is this artistic pressure to try to create something out of very dark situations. We venture far, explore new places at night and shoot rainstorms, celestial events, the moon and stars, and different landscapes. It’s a very nice social environment, we share the same hobbies, discuss technical issues and breathe fresh air.” Take inspiration from the Night Collective and take your camera under the night sky and explore!

Monthly events are open to Night Collective group members with an interest in photography and their own equipment. Facebook: The Night Collective



4. Urban walks

Beirut has a wealth of interesting neighborhoods and communities and an urban walk on an early Sunday morning is the perfect way to rediscover the city. It’s become a weekly habit for Tourism Consultant Myriam Shuman. “On Sunday mornings Beirut is very calm. The city is ours,” she says. “There are so many different moods. Lots of Beirutis know one neighborhood and stay within it. In only a couple of hours you can explore many new neighborhoods, go down small streets, look up at the varied architecture, discover people and places and have a coffee and conversation with local residents.” Ras Beirut is one of her favorite neighborhoods to walk around, to be “close to the sea and the city at the same time.” There the feel of old Beirut still exists with heritage houses hidden between high rises and authentic cafes with a long history.

 

5. A warming soundtrack

Since it was established in 1994, the Al Bustan Festival (albustanfestival.com, 17 Feb-22 Mar) has built a tradition of music culture in the winter season. Held in the stunning Al Bustan Hotel in Beit Mery, the festival delivers a rich program of predominantly classical music from renowned international artists. This year the festival has a welcome jazz tangent including the brilliant Lebanese/Armenian organist Arthur Satyan and his Acoustic Ensemble (12 March, Crystal Garden), a tribute to the legendary swing star, Sinatra (13 March, Emile Bustani Auditorium, Al Bustan Hotel) and the Marly Marques Quintet (14 March, Crystal Garden.) Oliver Poole, the British musician dubbed a “master of the piano” by the BBC, will make several appearances at the festival (17, 19, 21 February, Al Bustan Hotel) and one unique concert will bring music to Beirut’s National Museum with cellist Alexander Buzlov and pianist Veronika Ilinskaya playing Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms.

 

6. The return of Zaarour

First established in 1975, but unused since the civil war, Zaarour Club is a ski and sports resort with a heritage, that’s just had a USD 40 million facelift. At only 35km from Beirut, it’s the closest ski resort to the capital city. Spread over an area of 2.5km every detail of the resort has been transformed, from a new sport and ski station, to four new ski lifts, special magic carpets to help kids learn to ski and a vast artificial lake. You’ll most likely know Zaarour Club’s GM, Serge Zarka, who has spent two decades presenting on MTV Lebanon. An avid skier, he’s passionate about the ski and summer resort. “I remember Zaarour from when I was very little. I used to ski there on the old slopes,” he says. “It looks very different now, believe me it’s transformed. We’ve even re-worked the mountains.” With a hostel and restaurant due to open next summer and chalets planned for the future, Zaarour looks set to also become a popular summer destination with a whole line of events and activities planned.

Facebook: Zaarour Club



7. Lebanon’s winter tradition

Kfardebian is the biggest village in Lebanon at high altitude, reaching up to 2820m. The area has four months of snow coverage over the winter and the biggest slope in the Middle East region, Mzaar Ski Resort (skimzaar.com) along with skiing at Faqra Club (faqraclub.com). This year Kfardebian launches a new cross-country ski trail, offering something different for those looking for an experience beyond the usual ski session. “Kfardebian ski trail is the first secure private trail for cross country skiing in Lebanon,” says president of nearby Auberge Beity, Jospehine Zgheib. She’s noticed an evolution in the tastes of Lebanese skiers, hunting for new different experiences; “The youth in Lebanon are adventures and nature-lovers. Alternative activities in winter such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing allow them to discover the beauty of Kfardebian nature.” Only 10 minutes from the slopes is the homely Auberge Beity (03 214871, beity.org), which makes the perfect cozy overnight retreat after a day of skiing. 

 

8. Exploring Marjayoun

The Lebanese town of Marjayoun is one of the hidden beauties of the south, perfect to explore during the cooler winter months. Its location at the top of a hill means it has the perfect vantage point on never-ending landscapes, including Mount Hermon and the 1,000-year-old Crusader Castle, Beaufort in the East, and Mount Amel in the West, Mount Rihan and Niha in the North. Its fertile lands continue southwards towards the Golan Heights. The town, characterized by Lebanese heritage homes with the traditional red-roof and arched windows and a diversity of trees, has various religious sites of interest such as the Cathedral of Saint Peter. Famed Lebanese-American journalist Anthony Shahid, wrote the brilliant memoir “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East,” published shortly after his death in 2012. Covering the year he spent restoring his family’s home in Marjayoun, it makes the perfect accompaniment for a trip to the region. For the insight of a local explore with guide Wael Shmeis (78 884176, 03 909596).

 

9. Dine outside Beirut

One of the pleasures of winter is enjoying warming food in a cozy setting, while the temperature drops outside. There are numerous restaurants to discover. Roalla El Hoss has been hosting visitors to her home in Tannourine for the last two years offering the intimate dining experience, Roalla’s Table (03 637276, Facebook page: Roalla’s Table.) She provides an adaptable menu according to visitors’ tastes, from warming Lebanese-style soups to lamp chops, Lebanese mezze and Mediterranean cuisine, all made from local produce. Make a weekend of it and stay overnight in El Hoss’ guesthouse (LL225,000 single person; LL300,000 couple accommodation, full board; lunch/dinner LL60,000 per person). Dining at Broumana’s Le Gargotier (04 960562) is like stepping into the past, with the legendary French restaurant remaining virtually unchanged since the ‘60s. In Naas, close to Bikfaya, Fadel (04 980979) has a well-deserved reputation for its excellent Lebanese mezze menu and Lola (04 983440) serves authentic food, surrounded by the Metn pines. After a day skiing the mountains of Kfardebian, the cheese and wine of French restaurant Chez Michel (09 300060, terrebrunehotel.com, Faqra, Kfardebian) around a center-placed chimney is a welcome indulgence. Also Rikky'z (09 341422, rikkyz.com, Faqra, Kfardebian) is a popular spot for hungry skiers.

 

10. Wine by the fireside

Located in Bhamdoun, the renowned restaurant and winery Le Télégraphe de Belle-Vue (05 260073, 70 628383, letelegraphedebelle-vue.com, Bhamdoun, Mount Lebanon) and Chateau Belle-Vue Winery, have opened a new boutique hotel located in the atmospheric setting of the historic former residence of the French ambassador to Iraq and Jordan. “From the very first, our goal has been to preserve Bhamdoun’s heritage, support the community and craft extraordinary wines,” says co-owner Jill Boutros. “Our goal is to deliver an intimate, warm and relaxed atmosphere where our guests feel at home from the moment they cross the threshold.” Start the day with a vineyard tour and wine tasting, explore the nearby village, enjoy a dinner of homemade specialties using locally-produced seasonal products, accompanied of course by a bottle of one of the award-winning Chateau Belle-Vue wines. Then recline by the fireside with a mulled wine (available over the holiday period) before retiring to the comfort of one of their seven suites. 

DATE 21 JAN 2015

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