Set within Bkassine’s pine forest, the communal eco-touristic site La Maison de la Forêt (lamaisondelaforet.net) has acted as a kind of springboard for tourism in the region. With wooden bungalows and tents in the midst of the forest, the site has become a center for eco-tourism and contributed to reviving the local economy. It offers visitors a peaceful escape in the heart of nature, though with the luxury of a restaurant run by popular Mar Mikhael institution Tawlet and a range of outdoor activities.
“People used to come to eat, drink and leave,” says Khalil Harfouche, President of the Union of Jezzine Municipalities. “Now people have realized they can stay for the weekend. La Maison de la Forêt has given us a big boost in the region and is attracting new clientele that didn’t used to come to Jezzine.” The project represents the first public-private partnership in the area, the results of a sustainable development tourism plan put together by the Union of Jezzine Municipalities and the EU with input from local residents, and it’s proved successful.
Marwan Ammoun set up Pinea Campus (pineacampus.com) – a camp ground surrounded by Haitoura’s pine forest – three years ago and reports the same influx of tourists to the area. After working outside Lebanon for years he wanted to encourage outsiders to get to know the area. “When we started it was still unvisited, nobody considered the area a destination,” he says. “Now we see the growth potential and the real numbers growing year on year. People have become accustomed to the idea that they can visit South Lebanon,” he says. And Pinea Campus is certainly a celebration of the area; with tents set up on location, a comfortable camping experience within a stunning landscape awaits. Onsite activities are available from cricket to clay disc shooting and ATVs and mountain bikes allow for further exploration.
The nearby Dr. Serhal Palace is also due to open soon as a museum. It’s the vision of Lebanese surgeon, Farid Serhal, who demolished his house in the ‘60s to create an impressively intricate palace. Though he passed away in the ‘70s, his impressive dedication to the region and extensive collection of antiques lives on.
Jezzine is still growing as a destination, with the increasing number of tourists encouraging further development in the area. As the region continues to establish itself and build upon its success for a solid sustainable future, it’s becoming a leading example for regeneration of the rural south.