Founder of NEOS Tourism consultancy and author of Eco Lebanon: Nature and Rural Tourism, Nour Farra-Haddad gives her eco-friendly tourism tips for getaways around Lebanon
1. HALF DAY Niha and Fourzol
At Wadi Al Habis (The Valley of the Hermit) funerary caves, rock chapels and an ancient quarry can still be observed and visited here and the view overlooks the valley where cherry trees and vineyards grow side by side. Then, continue to Niha, which lies around 8km northeast of Zahle, to visit the Roman temples; they are worth the detour. At the far end of the village you’ll find two well-preserved temples dedicated to the god Hadaranis. The two other imposing temples, known as Hosn Niha (Fortress of Niha) are located high above the village, a ten-minute car drive away in the rugged hills, which surround Mount Sannine.
Eat Enjoy a Lebanese mezze at Fourzol restaurant or plan for a picnic under the beautiful cypress trees in front of Niha’s temples.
See Take in the Roman temples of Niha and Wadi Al Habis (The Valley of the Hermit) with a number of tombs, and shrines cut into the rock from the Roman and Byzantine period.
2. FULL DAY Kaftoun and Nahr El Joz
Enjoy a hike by Nahr El Joz river discovering old watermills and bridges, with guide Mitri Sarkis (03 695181). Also, don’t miss the exceptional Orthodox monastery, Our Lady of Kaftoun, carved into rocks amidst olive and orange trees. The Theotokos Monastery houses a miraculous Byzantine icon from the 11th Century. A church in front of the monastery features 13th Century mural paintings, discovered during a 2003 renovation.
Eat Enjoy Lebanese mezze by the river at either Nahr el Joz Restaurant (03 840376), Spring Hills (01 681242, 03 388140) or Mountazah Nahr el Joz (03 675064). If you’d prefer to pack a picnic there is also a picnic area situated close to an old water mill where you can rent chairs and tables and even order a few mezze dishes and drinks.
See Hike in the natural reserve of Farid and Daad Karam (Guide Ali Maarouf, 70 239561), which extends over almost 60,000m².
3. OVERNIGHT STOP Jisr el Qadi and Bsous
Jisr el Qadi, a village on the Damour river between Beiteddine and Souk el-Gharb, is definitely worth a visit. Here, local craftsmen have made pottery for hundreds of years. Walk along the Damour river to discover beautiful canyons, before driving to the convent of the Saint Coeurs Congregation of Sisters (SSCC) Ainab in the midst of pine trees. The next day take the road to Aley and stop for lunch before continuing to Bsous to visit the silk museum (05 940767, thesilkmuseum.com).
Sleep Stay overnight in the convent of the Saint Coeur Ainab (05 410746).
Eat Enjoy a picnic by the river in Jisr el Qadi. In the evening don’t miss a delicious meal cooked by the nuns of the convent of Ainab or stop at an Aley restaurant.
See Visit the pottery workshops in Jisr el Qadi and the historic bridge from which the village takes its name, built during the Mamluk period over the Damour River by Emir Zayn ad-Dine at-Tannoukhi. In Aley see the open-air international art exhibition and visit the small zoo at Animal Encounter to discover different native animals and plants (05 558724, animalencounter.org).
4. LONG WEEKEND Zahlé and its surroundings
Zahlé is notable for its traditional red-roofed houses, old souk and decorated facades typical of local 19th Century architecture. It has 38 churches and 7 mosques. On the first day, take a walk in the old city and extend the promenade to the Berdawni river where you can enjoy a Lebanese Zahlawi mezze. Later visit the Maqâm of Karak Nouh shrine and at the end of the day watch the sun setting over the Bekaa Valley from the shrine of Our Lady of Zahlé. On the second day visit Wadi El Habis in Fourzol, the temples of Niha and finish the day with the Maqâm of Nabi Ayla in Nabi Ayla. The following day, take a long stop at Ksara winery for a morning wine tasting, followed by lunch, before heading home.
Sleep Make the lodge Rassemblement des Jeunes (08 545200) your base for the weekend.
Eat Enjoy a mezze with old school Lebanese charm by the Berdaouni River in Zahle, a delicious sandwich at Massaad Barbecue (08 807677), or have a picnic under the trees in front of Niha temples. Stop on the way home for cheese and wine at Ksara winery (08 813495).