Founder of NEOS Tourism consultancy and author of Eco Lebanon: Nature and Rural Tourism, Nour Farra-Haddad gives her eco-friendly tourism tips for the perfect local getaways of the season.
1. FAMILY SKI ESCAPES IN ZAAROUR
Zaarour is the closest ski resort to Beirut (38km) and a newly developed road connects you with the slopes in just 50 minutes from the capital. Although it is one of the country’s smallest ski resorts, it offers a wide range of outdoor activities including many for children, and has a strong reputation for its cross-country skiing. (04 310010; zaarourclub.com
Stay at Le Grand Chalet
(04 310300; legrandchalet.com.lb
), a luxurious boutique hotel in the heart of the mountains, or rent a chalet. Alternatively sleep in a traditional house in the village of Hayda Lebanon
(78 887222; haydalebanon.com
On the way up to Zaarour a number of restaurants offer typical mezze style meals, including Sobhi
(04 296960) and Al Bouhayra
(04 296200). Alternatively, try the international menu at Zaarour’s Le Grand Chalet
or an authentic local meal at Koukh El Sabaya
The village of Hayda Lebanon, located on Zaarour main road, is a project that embraces Lebanese heritage through its food, entertainment or ambiance. It’s the place to soak up a traditional atmosphere and ideal for Lebanese expatriates wanting to rediscover their cultural roots.
2. WINTER WONDERLAND IN JOUN
A few kilometers past the village of Joun lies a Greek Catholic monastery known as Deir el Moukhalles (Monastery of the Holy Savior), which overlooks fragrant orchards and forested hills. Its church, dedicated to the transfiguration, is a masterpiece in itself and is home to a wooden iconostasis, a chandelier gifted by Napoleon III, and the tomb and sanctuary of the Venerable Father Abou Mrad. (07 975064/5)
You can sleep in the Deir El Moukhalles
monastery or its school dormitories, or head on to Deir El Saydeh
convent. (07 975070)
Enjoy a stop by the Bisri River to sample traditional Lebanese mezze.
In Joun, you can also visit the site of the former residence of Lady Stanhope. Now in ruins, the remains of this legendary heroine’s home are located on a hill to the north east side of Joun. A few kilometers from Joun, Bisri village is home to a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady of Bisri.
3. SNOWSCAPES IN FAQRA-KFARDEBIAN
Located at 54km from Beirut, Faqra is part of Kfardebian village set at an elevation of between 1,735 and 1,975m above sea level. Two Faqra landmarks – the Roman temples and natural bridge - take on a new look during the winter season when they are resplendent in the pure whiteness of the snow. In winter the Roman temples can only be observed from the main road, but the view is definitely worth the stop. In the upper part of the site visitors can stroll around the ruins and the two Roman altars covered with snow. Faqra’s natural limestone bridge, shaped over the centuries by wind and water, lies just a few kilometers from the Roman site and beneath it gushes the Nahr El Laban stream.
Choices range from high-end hotels, such as L’Auberge de Faqra
(09 300600; faqraclub.com
) or Terre Brune
(09 030301; terrebrunehotel.com
), to the cozy and friendly Troy Hotel
overlooking Faqra’s Roman site (03 058476; troyfaqra.webs.com
), or the budget friendly Auberge Beity
in Kfardebian village (03 214871; beity.org
Enjoy a Lebanese meal at Troy Hotel’s restaurant, at the famous Chez Michel
(09 300614), Al Kanater
(09 300818), Chez Chaker
(09 341800) or at Massaya
(70 122414; massaya.com
4. NATURAL EXHILARATION IN THE SHOUF
The largest of Lebanon’s nature reserves, Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve stretches from Dahr Al Baidar in the north to Niha Mountain in the south. Blanketed with oak forests on its northeastern slopes and juniper and oak forests on its southeastern slopes, the reserve’s most famous attractions are its three magnificent cedar forests: Maasser el Shouf, Barouk and Ain Zhalta - Bmohray. Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve is a popular destination for hiking and trekking, with trails matching all levels of fitness. In winter the landscape can be particularly stunning. Guides are available at the reserve, where you can also rent equipment for snowshoeing (05 350250, 05 350150; shoufcedar.org
A number of guest houses are available, including Beit Salim Al Achkar
in El Khreibe (03 354558), Nazih Baz Guesthouse in Baadaran
(03 702944), Houssam El Eid Guesthouse
in Ain Zhalta (03 217299), while other options include Hotel Calmera
(03 382940) and the Tourist Guesthouse
(03 630056), both in Barouk.
Lebanese restaurants in the area offer a warm mountain ambiance with cozy fireplaces: Baytna
(05 240540), Shallalat Al Barouk
(03 387228), Al Mamlaka
(03 865143; 05 241666), and the Tourist in Barouk
Assaf Museum recently opened its doors in the village of Bossail close to Ain Zhalta. The museum is dedicated to the art of construction and sculpture, and is set amid beautiful gardens. (Contact Mansour Assaf at 03 737528)
DATE 16 JAN 2017