Located in the Bekaa Valley, Zahle is Lebanon’s third largest city and a hub in the region. The city is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is renowned for producing a large share of Lebanon’s wine, arak and poetry.
Just an hour’s drive of Beirut, Zahle is easily accessible. Simply head onto the Beirut- Damascus Highway and follow the signs to Zahle.
What to Do
Our Lady of Zahle
Watching over Zahle on a 54-meter high tower is the Our Lady of Zahle, a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary made by an Italian sculptor in 1958. Even if you aren’t religious, a visit to the statue is well worth the panoramic views of the city and mountains from the top.
Monastery of Our Lady of Najat
This 18th-century monastery is located in Zahle’s old town, where buildings from the Ottoman era are plentiful. The monastery itself is a great example of this old architecture, complete with flower gardens and the largest bell in Lebanon. Take a few minutes to stroll around and appreciate this old structure and the area surrounding it.
Wineries and Arak
Thanks to its crisp, cool air and mountainous slopes, Zahle is home to some of Lebanon’s best wineries. The area surrounding the city is home to over ten wineries that vary in size from large estates to several small family-run enterprises. Whether it is Chateau Ksara (+961 8 801662, chateauksara.com), with its impressive two-kilometer-long cellars, Chateau Massaya (+961 9 322778, massaya.com), which hosts Sunday brunches and yoga classes, Domaine Wardy (+961 8 930141/ +961 8 930777, domainewardy.com), across the Bekaa Valley, Chateau Khoury (+961 8 807143, chateaukhoury.com), with its exceptional view over the valley or Al Karram Arak (+961 3 960998), boasting 100 years of family tradition, each represents the wealth of Zahle. All the wineries offer guided visits and wine tasting throughout the year.
The Berdaouni River
The Berdaouni River begins in the snowy mountains of the Bekaa Valley and travels through the heart of Zahle. Along the river on the eastern side of town are restaurants with beautiful terraces where you can enjoy a delicious meal on the water’s edge.
Where to Eat
Casino Arabi (+961 8 800144) is one of the most popular restaurants. Specializing in mezze, the restaurant also serves alcohol and shisha. Arabi is a little pricier than some of the other options, but the food is phenomenal and the river-side deck is a beautiful place to enjoy a meal in nature.
Much like Zahle’s other restaurants, Tanbakji (+961 8 808208) specializes in Lebanese cuisine; however its colorful, hipster-style decor makes for a more modest place to eat. Don’t forget to take a picture with one of their over-sized coffee cups.
Along the Berdaouni River is the famous Boozah Khalaf and Abou Sleiman (+961 3 408880 / +961 8 823733). The two families joined forces to start producing ice cream three generations ago, when they mixed miskeh, sahlab and milk curd, otherwise known as ashta. Today, they still serve this authentic, hand-made ice cream in their shop.
Where to Stay
Like many of the buildings in the old town, the Akl Hotel (+961 8 820701) dates back more than a century. The small, family-owned establishment has 10 bedrooms of which six have private bathrooms, one dining room and two lounges.
Nestled in the heart of Zahle, Grand Kadri Hotel (+961 8 800038) is one of the few remaining historical landmarks of the country. Built in the 19th century, this building is a living testament to traditional Lebanese architecture. Its style combines oriental aesthetics with a modern influence.