Nature is still perfectly unspoilt in Lazaab, an eco-lodge overlooking the lush Bekaa Valley, so far removed from civilization that it would be impossible not to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Sabina Llewellyn-Davies spends a day there.
A few years back, Bou Madiane Al Fahili, a passionate hiker from the region, set up an eco-friendly lodging area in Al-Bweib, 1,900 meters above sea level, in the shadow of Qornet al-Sawda (Lebanon’s highest peak). He called it Lazaab, meaning juniper in Arabic, after the many juniper trees scattered all over the surrounding hills. From this isolated lodge you can see right across to the northern part of the Bekaa Valley. It is a place of total calm and serenity with no other building for miles and miles. Bou Madiane used only ecological materials such as stone and wood for the construction of the lodge. Built in the old rural style, it looks like it has been there forever. And just like its surroundings, it is all quite simple. The four bedrooms have just mattresses on the floor. So, for an overnight stay bring your sleeping bag. There are bathrooms with hot running water, powered by the eco-friendly solar panels, but make sure to bring a towel and soap.
Bou Madiane is a charismatic proprietor as well, adding character to this rustic experience. A civil engineer and nearly 50 years old, he left the city eight years ago after getting fed up with life and moved to El Hermel, his native land. It was a personal choice, and a good one at that. He is happy, in a place where it’s silent and clean, where people are simple and kind.
When I first went to the lodge a few years ago, I was surprised when he took us on a long hike through some rough terrain, wearing open toe sandals! It was November and raining. His knowledge of the area is vast. While walking, Bou Madiane points out the plants and shrubs which of course he knows by name, and tells us to look out for a very special juniper tree, presumed to be 4,000 years old. The oldest one in the country, he says! The hikes can be as long as one hour to 12 hours – yes, 12 hours. This particular hike starts from el Hermel to the Cedars, passing by Qornet Al Saouda.
The nearby Assi River is famous for its trout and if you overnight at Lazaab, Bou Madiane grills the locally caught fish to perfection on an outdoor fire. He serves it up with a delicious array of regional specialties in the dining area of the lodge, on rustic wooden tables next to the chimney.
It gets quite chilly up at this altitude, even in summer, and the Fall is colder. And then there is breakfast, another feast that includes fried eggs, local cheeses and a sampling of kishik, a local specialty made from yoghurt and grain.
“Well, I put on all that weight which I lost after the long hike yesterday,” said my friend Kris during breakfast. “Never mind,” said her husband Tom, “you need to eat to have energy. We are going on a five hour hike after breakfast.”
There can’t be many parts of the country where you walk for hours without seeing a single soul, but this region is certainly one of them and Lazzab is a unique spot to overnight and escape the maddening crowds of Beirut.
Tel +961 3 797 569 or +961 71 146 915
What to bring
• Towel and soap
• Comfortable clothing
• Walking shoes
• A sweater for cold nights
• Sleeping bag
• Walking stick if needed
• Small backpack
• Sun block