Nora Joumblatt, president of the Beiteddine Festival, is one of the Shouf’s biggest advocates. LT spoke to her to find out about “Authentic Shouf,” a new campaign to boost tourism and promote the traditions, local specialties and natural beauty of the region .
What do you consider to be the authentic face of the Shouf?
The Shouf is one of the best-preserved regions, or districts, in Lebanon. The scenery is breathtaking – picturesque villages dot the mountainside and historical monuments are found at every turn of the road. Rich in history, having been the site of the Emirate of Mount Lebanon, there are a wide choice of heritage sites, from historical palaces to religious sites. The Shouf is also home to the largest nature reserve with three major Cedar tree forests, which enjoy the distinction of being the oldest documented forests in history. The Shouf region is a bastion of nature and culture, unrivaled on a national level.
What are the main aims of the Authentic Shouf campaign?
Our primary aim is to promote the whole region as a destination, encouraging tourism, as well as eco-tourism related industries, supporting initiatives that directly benefit the economic development of the region while conforming to the distinctiveness of the historical and natural heritage. There was a need to set it up, so as to highlight the tremendous assets of the Shouf, helping local producers and smaller businesses to perfect their products and services [and] making them more sustainable.
Who are some of the main collaborators you’re working with?
This initiative is a joint effort between the Lebanese Franchise Association, the Shouf Traders Association, the committee of the Al Shouf Nature Reserve and that of the Beiteddine Festival. We have the support of the Ministries of Tourism, Environment, Economy and Agriculture; the Shouf MPs and municipalities have also endorsed the project.
How will the campaign help promote local producers and farmers?
The Shouf produces a wide variety of local products; for example, the Al Shouf Cedar Reserve has developed a rural program, which supports local communities and provides training and marketing outlets for their produce. Currently there are over 82 products that carry the Shouf Biosphere Reserve label.
Is there a focus on rural and eco-friendly tourism in the project?
A network of rural and eco-friendly tourism is already in place and thriving thanks to the initiative of the Reserve and the Ministry of Tourism.
What is the main focus of the tourism packages?
All our tourism packages are designed to introduce the visitor to a more authentic experience and a better understanding of the natural and cultural heritage, as well as offering a large choice of destinations.
Which treasures of the Shouf will the project highlight?
The Shouf Biosphere Reserve is definitely at the top of the list; it is remarkably rich in biodiversity and cultural heritage plus it has a large expanse of wetlands. The reserve enjoys 1532 acres of cedar forest constituting 30 percent of the remaining cedar forests in the country. With seven guesthouses in 22 municipalities and 250km of hiking trails, the reserve is already a major eco-tourism destination with over 70,000 visitors a year.
Why are projects such as the Beiteddine Art Festival important?
The Festival [has] proven to be an invaluable platform for promoting artistic excellence, cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. It has also contributed to the economic growth of the region, creating jobs, establishing music and dance institutions, and, of course, promoting cultural tourism on national and international levels.
Are there any new projects that are boosting tourism in the area?
Projects continue to mature in the Shouf, such as Bkerzay crafts and pottery, the Assaf Brothers workshop, Fadi Mogabgab Art Contemporain, Souk au Shouf starting soon, boutique hotels and guesthouses such as Bouyouti and Deir Al Oumara.
Tell us about your favorite lesser-known destinations?
The Niha Fortress is a historical visit with incredible vistas, and wonderful trails have opened up such as the Mristi Roman Oak trail, the Moukhtara Valley Trail, as well as the new Barouk Patriotic Trail.