Country of Origin: Lebanon
Sentinel Duet: Check out Julianna Wages’ story here for a complementary perspective and a different experience from another corner of our world!
My husband and I were not able to travel this past summer for a variety of reasons, including several weddings. Thus, we were very excited when close friends of ours said that they will be coming abroad to us for a vacation for ten days.
Me, being a planning freak, started what I do best: planning. My husband opened Google Maps and we checked places in close proximity with each other and worth seeing. One week before they got here, the list of places to see, where to eat and the prices were ready.
Ten days, eight trips around Lebanon.
And at last, on June 3, 2022 at 4 p.m., our vacation started.
Trip 1: Diving deep into caves and cities
June 4 was a holiday, so our plan was to take it slow. We started our journey just outside of Beirut with Jeita Grotto, the Middle East’s longest cave. For US$12, we got a cable railway ride to the upper cave, which is a wonder. That was followed by a trip to the lower gate, another geological wonder, which is guarded by “The Guardian of Time.”
In both caves, no pictures are allowed. Next stop, the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon. We did not drive all the way up, but we took the US$7.50 round trip cable cars. What a view from all the way up! The view is a mixture of the Coast of Azure in France and the view from Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. I could spend the whole afternoon just enjoying that view.
The coastal city of Jounieh really does have an amazing bay, but awful traffic jams. After that, the city of Jbeil, also known as Byblos.
We were not able to go into the ruins because we arrived late, but a walk around Jbeil in the fresh air was needed. We strolled around until we reached 1188, the place to be for a quiet relaxation drink or meal (for us it was a drink) away from all the hustle and touristic places in downtown Jbeil.
Trip 2: The beauty of walks, drives, and nature
Wednesday, June 5 was the start of our second road trip. Destinations: St. Maroun Monastery in Annaya, the Baloue Balaa nature reserve and waterfall, and Tannourine Cedars Forest Reserve.
After our first breakfast, we drove all the way to the Saint Maroun Monastery in Annaya where St. Charbel Makhlouf lived. It is a great and well known sanctuary for Christian and Muslims in Lebanon. St. Charbel is known for healing the sick and for answering prayers. Our second breakfast was in Snack Mar Charbel right next to the monastery.
After fueling up again, we headed towards Baloue Balaa, considered one of the world’s most breathtaking waterfalls. It was really easy to find it on Google Maps. I must say, I went to Beloue Balaa last year and it was an adventure just trying to walk all the way.
This year, the Tannourine municipality is working hard on getting this natural wonder safe for the public by building pathways and barriers all the way from the top to the bottom. The entrance fee to walk down is a mere US$2.50 per person. We had lunch on our way to Tannourine Cedars Reserve.
Bellies full, Cedars here we come. For a mere entrance charge of US$4.50, the Tannourine Cedars Reserve is worth seeing, with several clear walking paths that you can choose between depending on how willing you are to walk.
End your day with sweets at Hallab, Jbeil.
Trip 3: Seeing the sea
Our destination on June 6 was cities in the South: Sidon, Tyre, and Naqoura.
After the usual first breakfast, we arrived at Chamsine Bakery for our next breakfast. Nice sweets and delicious croissants.
The Sidon Sea Castle was easy to reach through Google Maps, our favorite companion. It’s a shame what has been done to this beautiful castle. Would it be too much to ask for decent, knowledgeable guides inside the castle?
Next, we went all the way to Tyre’s Christian Neighborhood and Abou Ghassan, a small seafood restaurant at the entrance of the neighborhood with no more than four tables. The shrimps there are not to be missed. We walked the food off with a stroll throughout the neighborhood. Do not miss the Church of our Lady of the Sea and the old church just beneath the new one.
The neighborhood is a totally different story. You have the feeling that you are in a different country with the narrow streets, colorful buildings and the beach next to Dar Alma.
We wanted to check the Naqoura beaches after all those Instagram stories. But what we missed is that if you are accompanied by foreigners, you will need a special permit from the secret service of Sidon. Since we did not have that, we went back to Cloud 49 at Tyre Beach and chilled.
Trip 4: Biking, bites, and bars
On June 7, we went to the village of Taanayel, the town of Anjar, and the Kefraya winery in that order. In Taanayel, which is not far from the city of Zahle, we biked for around an hour; In the hot summer weather, that was a bad idea!
Our bike ride took us to this lake in the middle of the reserve. The lake had a beautiful relaxing view overlooking mountains from both the east and the west. The path to get there is so amazing, with huge trees on both sides of the lane and flora and fauna all around.
Past those trees, we could see some vineyards. You could practically smell wine coming out of them. After this sweaty but worthy bike ride, we couldn’t not try the “labne,” a fermented dairy product with the consistency of soft cheese that’s served with savory seasonings.
Next stop was Anjar with its beautiful ruins. We had lunch in Chamas (a must-try) and went to Kefraya to drink it all off. The wine tasting was totally free.
During the weekend, we took it slow with family visits and a trip around the downtown area, along with church and mosque hopping. A rooftop bar worth checking out was C Lounge, which is on the rooftop of the Bayview Hotel. They had affordable drinks and lovely sunset scenery.
Trips 5-8: Wrapping it all up
We still had four more road trips to go on. We started our week with the Chouf area: Deir al-Qamar, Moussa Castle, Beiteddine Castle, and the Chouf Natural Reserve.
We walked around Deir al-Qamar. There, we checked the mosque, synagogue, and church, which was relaxing. The tourist shops were not that expensive for souvenirs.
Moussa Castle is a man-made wonder; it’s really interesting how one man dedicated his life to building such a castle. Unfortunately, Beiteddine was closed for unknown reasons, so we stuck to seeing it from the outside.
Lunch was not good that day, unfortunately. But a visit to Mir El Amin Palace uplifted our spirits. It’s a palace turned hotel with a courtyard of flowing fountains and a scenic mountain view that’s considered to be a model of early nineteenth century Lebanese architecture.
Next up was Chouf Natural Reserve. The drive to the top was really something, with its beautiful, breathtaking scenery. I wouldn’t say the same about the pathways which require a bit of planning.
After that was Ksara in the city of Zahle, where we had our cave tour, wine tasting, and lunch. Ksara’s caves are exceptional! After that, we took the route from Zahle to Baalbek.
A drive from Baalbek to Faraya to check the statue of Saint Charbel was relaxing thanks to the mountain view.
We could not forget the north: Bnachii Lake in Ehden, Cedars of God, and the town of Bekaa Kafra. Pedaling in the Bnachii Lake was so much fun; racing and goofing around was the best way to de-stress. The lake itself was not that big, but the view of the mountain in front of us with some snow still on the top was worth every goofy moment and every picture taken.
Lunch had to be in Ehden to try their “kebbeh.” Kebbeh croquettes are meat stuffed with more meat, pine nuts, bulgur wheat, and lard. They are to die for, but so fatty.
After that was Cedars of God where the cedars date back two thousand years. Cedars of God are at the bottom of Lebanon’s highest mountain top, Qurnat as Sawda.
Bekaa Kafra and the house of St. Charbel followed the cedars, which was then followed by a visit to Qannoubine Valley. You can drive all the way down to the valley and decide which monastery you would like to see and whether to get there by car or on foot.
We still had one thing to see: Our Lady of Nourieh in the coastal town of Chekka, and the ancient Phoenician wall, Batroun. For our trip to Chekka, we took the seaside road from the town of Kaslik to Our Lady of Nourieh. It was a drive worth taking with all the sea views and the wonderful shores.
After the monastery there, lunchtime was at Abou Ghassan, a restaurant serving fresh, tasty fish just next to Rocca Marina. We ended it all in Batroun, walking around the whole town and visiting several churches and finally, a drink by the sea.
Eight Trips to Remember Forever
Those ten days were our ultimate summer vacation in Lebanon. There are still many more places we need to see. Until next time, Lebanon.
Thank you to Brooklyn Riepma and Julianna Wages for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Lifestyle & Relationships team.
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