1. VISIT RACHAYA’S 17TH CENTURY SOUK
Rachaya’s traditional souk is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Walk along the cobbled street and admire the red-tiled roof houses. Colorful flowers line the walls of the street and overhanging balconies. You’ll find jewelry vendors selling handmade silver and gold pieces– a traditional craft the town is known for. Watch master jeweler Nadim Halabi work on his unique gold and diamond pieces inside Halabi Jewellery (08 590564) and stop by silver craftsman Issam El Makt (70 928694) and Assaad El Laham Gold Souk (08 590640). Pick up local spices and products from Al Ghilal (70 737476) and afterwards, take a break on one of the sofas inside Maalouli (03 973233) with a glass of Hajj Victor Maalouli’s frozen lemonade.
2. EXPLORE OLD CHURCHES
Rachaya has four churches, all over 100 years old and worth a visit. Some of the souk owners hold keys and will happily take you for a tour. Greek-Catholic church, Notre Dame de la Deliverance, built in 1883, is full of rustic charm. Its arched ceiling is painted a peeling blue and vintage lanterns hang among its columns. A road off the souk street leads to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, which features a simple stone interior punctuated with opulent chandeliers. On the road leading to Independence Citadel, visit the oldest Syriac Catholic church, Mar Moussa al Habachi, which dates back to the 17th century and includes a rare icon of its Patron Saint Moses the Ethiopian, itself 500 years old. Continue past the 18th century Independence Citadel, a palace now occupied by the army and pause for panoramic views over the village before visiting the final church of the town, Saint Nicolas Greek Orthodox Church.
3. TASTE LOCAL FOOD
A little out of the village, but worth the scenic journey is Rachaya Gardens (03 891518, rachayagardens.com), run by Linda and Fares Fayek. Here a group of women make delicious mouneh (preservatives) in a pristine factory. You can taste products such as labneh balls, a variety of jams and apple vinegar or pre-arrange a traditional lunch made by the women (book two days in advance). Also pass by Wadi el Taym (71 349410), another women’s coop making local mouneh. Sweet grape molasses are a specialty of the region. During grape harvesting season (from mid-Sept), visit one of the remaining grape presses (Sheikh Souheil El Qadamani 03 856908). The mountainous land around Mount Hermon with its diverse wild plants and flowers also produces a variety of honey – knowledge of local bee-keepers makes it one of Lebanon’s most well-regarded. Arrange a visit and taste and buy honey directly from one of Rachaya’s many beekeepers (Beekeepers of Wadi el Taym, Rachrache Naji, 03 650303).
4. MEET LOCAL ARTISTS
See the region’s rich artistic traditions with a visit to the workshops of some of Rachaya District’s artists and craftsmen. Seventy-eight-year-old painter and sculptor Aref Abou Latif (08 595505) creates clay sculptures that show the traditional characters of rural life, from a shepherd clutching his staff to a woman baking bread. Visit the workshop of Druze sheikh Louay Kasseb (03 004192) who makes art that is delicately crafted from eggshells. He’s jokingly known as the village dentist because of the tools needed to accurately cut the shells, after he’s emptied the egg and drawn his design. In the souk, visit one of the workshops of the few craftsmen still continuing the tradition of handmade wood and oil burning stoves or take a tour of the factory (Raydan Mahmoud, 70 567755).
5. EXPLORE THE REGION
The rugged landscape of Rachaya District is defined by limestone rocks, forests of pine and oak and deep-red fertile lands where orchards of apple and cherry trees can be found, along with pistachio and sumac trees. The western slopes of the Mount Hermon range can be seen to the south of Rachaya District. Mentioned in the Gospels as the sacred Mountain of Transfiguration, Mount Hermon, also known as Jabal el Sheikh, peaks at 2814m.
The beautiful nature and ruins in Rachaya provide the perfect backdrop for a hike. Groups can arrange hikes with Mehdi Fayek (03 963378), certified from the Ministry of Tourism and an official guide of the Lebanon Mountain Trail; Promax (03 955642, promaxsports.com) and Footprints Nature Club (03 876112, footprintsclub.com).
Where to sleep
Sleep at Al Kanz (71 447033, alkanzrestaurant.com), which offers suites overlooking Haramoun Mountain; apartments Bellavista (08 595676, 03 504905) in the souk or Kamal el Sahili Guesthouse (03 615702), part of the DHIAFEE Program, with accommodation for only LL30,000 per person.
Where to eat
For a quick snack, grab a manouche at Furn el Sayde (70 851717) or an old-style homemade burger at Amine Naji snack (03 531397), both in the souk. For a typical Lebanese spread visit Machhour (03 639852) or Layali Wadi Altaym (03 665317).
Go with a guide
Local guides can add a lot to your trip to Rashaya. Take a tour of the area, specialized to your tastes, with Mehdi Fayek (03 963378).
For more info or to plan your trip contact: Liliane Walid Maalouli
Development of Rashaya Caza, 03 650303, rashaya.org