Located in the Bekaa Valley, Zahle is Lebanon’s third largest city. Traditionally known for producing a large share of Lebanon’s wine, arak and poetry, it is an idyllic mountain retreat just an hour from Beirut.
By car: Just follow the Beirut-Damascus highway east out of the capital, through Hazmieh and above the mountains until you reach Zahle.
By bus: Buses to Zahle, or small vans, depart from the Jisr el Cola in Beirut every half hour or so. They go directly to Zahle, stopping only in Chtura on the way. The full trip takes around an hour, with lovely mountain views along the way.
WHAT TO DO
Our Lady of Zahle
Watching over Zahle on a 54-meter high tower is the Our Lady of Zahle, a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary made by an Italian sculptor in 1958. Even if you aren’t religious, a visit to the statue is well worth the panoramic views of the city and mountains from the top.
Monastery of Our Lady of Najat
This 18th century monastery is located in Zahle’s old town, where buildings from the Ottoman era sprinkle the area. The monastery itself is a great example of this old architecture, complete with flower gardens and the largest bell in Lebanon. Take a few minutes to stroll around and appreciate this old structure and the area surrounding it.
Wineries and Arak
Thanks to its crisp, cool air and mountainous slopes, Zahle is home to some of Lebanon’s best wineries. The area surrounding this city is home to over ten wineries that vary in size from large estates to several small family-run wineries. Whether it is Chateau Ksara (08 801662, chateauksara.com) with its impressive 2 km long cellars, Chateau Massaya (09 322778, massaya.com) with its Sunday brunches and yoga classes, Domaine Wardy (08 930141/ 08 930777, domainewardy.com) across the Bekaa Valley, Chateau Khoury (08 807143, chateaukhoury.com) with its exceptional view over the valley or Al Karram Arak (03 960998) with its 100 years of family tradition, each represents the wealth of Zahle. You can enjoy a guided visit, all year long, where the representatives of each winery will take you through their vineyards and cellars.
The Berdaouni River
The Berdaouni River begins in the snowy mountains of the Bekaa Valley and courses right through the middle of Zahle. Along the river on the eastern side of town are restaurants with beautiful terraces that are perfect for enjoying a meal next to the water.
WHERE TO EAT
Casino Arabi is one of the most popular restaurants situated on the banks of the Berdaouni River. It specializes in mezze and also serves alcohol and shisha. Arabi is on the more-expensive side but the food is phenomenal and the river-side deck is a beautiful place to enjoy a meal in nature.
Contact: 08 800144
Boozah Khalaf and Abou Sleiman
Along the Berdaouni River is the famous Boozah Khalaf and Abou Sleiman. The families got together to start producing ice cream three generations back, when they mixed miskeh, sahlab and milk curd otherwise known as ashta. Today, they still serve this authentic, hand-made ice cream in their shop.
Contact: 03 408880/ 08 823733
WHERE TO STAY
Like many of the buildings in the old town, the Akl Hotel dates back more than 100 years. The small, family owned establishment has 10 bedrooms of which six have private bathrooms, one dining room and two lounges. Hosts, Nada Akl and her mother, make visitors feel at home right away and the décor is reminiscent of a bygone era.
Contact: 08 820701
Located at the heart of the Bekaa Valley in the small town of Taanayel near Zahle, the Taanayel Ecolodge is made of several old-fashioned adobe houses where you can spend a night immersed in the traditions of old Bekaa. The Ecolodge offers accommodation that mirrors the traditional way of sleeping, in one large room with mattresses on the floor. Travel back in time at this eco-friendly hotel, and enjoy the locally sourced and homemade food in their restaurant.
Contact: 08 544881