In pursuit of the perfect adventure, we head north to the coastal town of Batroun.
1. Take in the history
Photo: Rana Tanissa
Batroun is a treasure trove of Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine history. Its existence can be traced all the way back to pre-historic times, with early tools retrieved within caves along the Nahr el Jaouz river. Nearby, is the fairy-tale castle of Mseilha, a medieval fort built by Emir Fakhreddine II in the 17th century to guard the route from Tripoli to Beirut. Perched high above a narrow limestone rock, the citadel and surrounding landscape was recently renovated to make it more accessible to visitors. The natural sea wall adjacent to the old harbor, reinforced by the Phoenicians, is the current site of the annual Batroun Festival. To the north is the Roman theater with its nine remaining steps and the old souks, a charming cobble-stoned market with vaulted sandstone archways. End your day at the ruins of Makaad el Mir (Prince’s Rock Seat) with a tall glass of Batroun’s famous lemonade.
2. Enjoy the great outdoors
Batroun’s distinct topography allows you to enjoy both sea and mountains all in the span of a few minutes. Heading up 11kms from the city is one of the most beautiful trails along the Nahr el Jaouz river. Lined with walnut trees near the river’s edge, the trek is fairly easy and picturesque. Experienced hikers can begin their journey at the village of Rashkida continuing until Beksmayya Bridge and heading uphill to Kfarhay where the monastery of St. Maroun is located. Don’t miss the Kfar Halda water source, the Daleh, El Ghawawit and El Toufah Springs. You can also tour the prominent sites near the port by bike or skip the car ride to Batroun altogether and bike it from Beirut.
3. Relax on the beach
The crystal clear waters of Batroun can be enjoyed from a number of beach resorts. At Pierre & Friends (03 352930), “laid back” is a way of life. Watch the waves crash on the rocky shore with a bottle of beer, until you’re in the middle of a full-blown beach party. You may also want to try White Beach (06 742404), a chilled-out spot with mind blowing views of the sea.
For more suggestions, check out our article about the top summer beach clubs.
4. Tour the wineries
Follow La Route des Vins du Nord, a wine trail that passes by the northern Lebanese wineries of Batroun Mountains (03 928299), IXSIR (09 210023), Adyar (09 926950), Aurora (03 295458), Coteaux de Botrys (06 721300), Domaine S. Najm (03 524425) and Chateau Sanctus (03 661699). IXSIR’s winery, Seigniorial House, located in the hills of Batroun, won the CNN Green award for its completely sustainable facility.
5. Sail, surf, float and dive
Batroun is popular with Lebanon’s surf community and is also a destination for windsurfers and bodyboarders. For formal instruction, White Beach offers windsurfing lessons with Samer Abi Saab (70 090048) and Batroun Water Sports (03 156402) has the Quicksilver Surf School. Divers can explore the deep blue sea with Pure Tech Diving Facility (03 688666) at the San Stephano resort. Most Batrounis can sail before they can walk and the Lebanese Yacht Club and Sailing School (06 741841) caters to everyone from novice to professional sailors of all ages. If you’re there in mid-July, don’t miss the Laser Sailing Championship.
6. Taste the food
There is nothing quite like the town’s lemonade so sip on a refreshing glass from Hilmi (06 740068) or Tony Daou (06 741564). One of Batroun’s unofficial landmarks is Chez Maguy (03 439147) next to the Makaad el Mir site. You probably need to ask a local for directions since the walkway getting there literally ends up in Maguy’s house. Le Marin’s (06 744016) seafood and views are unbeatable, but the true taste of Batroun can be found at Batrouniyat (06 744510) – an old stone house turned into a restaurant/pantry house with homemade preserves, olive oil and regional specialties.
7. Party till dawn
Batroun by night is giving Beirut a run for its money. Its main street is lined with plenty of pubs and nightclubs to choose from. Landmark clubs include Taiga (03 499408) and the new Taiga Sky on the rooftop of San Stephano as well as Pierre and Friends. Centro (03 431122), Castello (03 694877) and X-Ray (76 466664) are all local favorites, but if you’re lucky enough to visit in July, you’ll get a taste of Batroun’s Open Air Party – an explosion of nightlife where clubs close indoors and party in the street.
8. Stay a while
Why not turn your day trip into a weekend getaway at one of Batroun’s beach resorts. Aqualand (06 642201) and San Stephano Resort (06 642366) are in the old town and have plenty of activities to choose from. For a more luxurious stay, bask in the sun at Batroun Village Club’s (06 642366) infinity pool or stay in a quaint cave room – an old house transformed through modern amenities. Nestled in a little valley overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Beit Al Batroun (03 270049) is a haven of peace.
9. Tour the churches
On the north end of Batroun overlooking the old harbor is the Maronite cathedral of St. Stephan (Mar Stefan). The 13th century Greek Orthodox St. George Church (Mar Gerges) is nearby with its impressive dome and the tiny chapel known as Our Lady of the Sea (Sadiyat al-Bahr), which overlooks Batroun’s sea wall. A short drive to the region of Kfarhay to visit the Monastery of St. Maroun is well worth the trip. Father John Maron, who many believe is the founder of the Maronite community in Lebanon, built the monastery to enshrine the relics of the saint including his actual skull and books dating back to the 15th century.
10. Discover open-air art
Through the winding mountain roads of Rachana, a scenic drive slowly transforms into an unlikely home for art. Deemed the “International Capital of Sculpture in Open Air” by UNESCO, the work on display and the subsequent notoriety is due to the famed Basbous family – brothers Michel, Joseph, Alfred and Michel’s son Anashar. Streets lined with limestone, steel, aluminum, bronze, wood, cement and stone sculptures emerge from the ground, surrounded by wild daffodils. Drive past the villas with creative gates to the open-air museum, where you’ll find 60 years of artwork as well as Michel’s one-story home, constructed entirely without any right angles. His widow Therese explains that the house was created so that he could “live inside a sculpture.” Don’t leave without visiting the Alfred Basbous Museum (06 720903) and the Michel and Youssef Basbous Atelier (06 720310).
For more information, contact Batroun Municipality 06 642170, 06 642032.