10 things to do in win­ter: From ski des­ti­na­tions to wine by the fire

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENT -

Oh baby it’s cold out­side! But don’t let that stop you. Le­banon is brim­ming with life in the win­ter months from snow-topped moun­tains and for­est walks to mu­sic fes­ti­vals and home-cooked din­ners

1 Tripoli’s ar­chi­tec­tural gem

Beirut-based Tripoli­tan Mira Minkara of­fers monthly Tripoli tours around her home city; a rich ex­pe­ri­ence dis­cov­er­ing the ur­ban fab­ric of a di­verse city, through the eyes of a lo­cal. For ar­chi­tec­ture lover’s one tour of­fers an ex­plo­ration around the im­pres­sive In­ter­na­tional Fair of Tripoli, de­signed by renowned Brazil­ian ar­chi­tect Os­car Niemeyer. Built in 1964, but never com­pleted be­cause of Le­banon’s civil war, the avant-garde space is full of dom­i­nat­ing modernist ar­chi­tec­ture pieces that stand in a vast empty space. Af­ter­wards Minkara guides her vis­i­tors around Mina’s old neigh­bor­hoods by the coast. An­other guided walk passes through Tripoli’s old souks, rich in an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture from Mam­luk and Ot­toman mosques to 19th Cen­tury Or­tho­dox churches, ham­mams, khans and madrasses (Quaranic Schools).

2 Win­ter for­est

The Shouf re­gion has a mag­i­cal charm dur­ing the win­ter months and makes the per­fect des­ti­na­tion for a win­ter walk through the Shouf Cedar Re­serve fol­lowed by an overnight stay in a cozy lo­cal guest­house. “Guest­houses in the Shouf make spe­cial meals dur­ing win­ter such as roasted chest­nuts and baked potato in the stove,” says Nizar Hani, manager of the Shouf Cedar Re­serve. “Now peo­ple are en­joy­ing the Shouf Re­serve in all sea­sons; they like the am­biance of walk­ing in win­ter and then re­turn­ing to the guest­houses.” shoufcedar.org

3 Le­banon by night

Out­side of Beirut, be­yond the city lights, star-filled skies set an im­pres­sive back­drop to Le­banon’s ru­ral land­scapes. The Night Col­lec­tive are a group of am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers who make weekly trips to moun­tain­ous land­scapes to doc­u­ment the beauty of Le­banon’s nightscapes and share via their Face­book page. “In 2009 we formed with a group of for­eign­ers in Le­banon who wanted to ex­plore the coun­try, but most peo­ple had day jobs so we had to take pho­tos at night,” says Gaby Nehme, a Le­banese pho­tog­ra­pher and one of the ad­mins of the Night Col­lec­tive Face­book group. “Tech­ni­cally it’s harder to cap­ture images at night than day so there is this artis­tic pres­sure to try to cre­ate some­thing out of very dark sit­u­a­tions. We ven­ture far, ex­plore new places at night and shoot rain­storms, ce­les­tial events, the moon and stars, and dif­fer­ent land­scapes. It’s a very nice so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, we share the same hob­bies, dis­cuss tech­ni­cal is­sues and breathe fresh air.” Take in­spi­ra­tion from the Night Col­lec­tive and take your cam­era un­der the night sky and ex­plore!

4 Ur­ban walks ur­ban walk

Beirut has a wealth of in­ter­est­ing neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties and an

on an early Sun­day morn­ing is the per­fect way to re­dis­cover the city. It’s be­come a weekly habit for Tourism Con­sul­tant Myr­iam Shu­man. “On Sun­day morn­ings Beirut is very calm. The city is ours,” she says. “There are so many dif­fer­ent moods. Lots of Beirutis know one neigh­bor­hood and stay within it. In only a cou­ple of hours you can ex­plore many new neigh­bor­hoods, go down small streets, look up at the var­ied ar­chi­tec­ture, dis­cover peo­ple and places and have a cof­fee and con­ver­sa­tion with lo­cal res­i­dents.” Ras Beirut is one of her fa­vorite neigh­bor­hoods to walk around, to be “close to the sea and the city at the same time.” There the feel of old Beirut still ex­ists with her­itage houses hid­den be­tween high rises and au­then­tic cafes with a long his­tory.

5 A warm­ing sound­track Bus­tan Fes­ti­val

Since it was es­tab­lished in 1994, the

(al­bus­tan­fes­ti­val.com, 17 Feb-22 Mar) has built a tra­di­tion of mu­sic cul­ture in the win­ter sea­son. Held in the stunning Al Bus­tan Ho­tel in Beit Mery, the fes­ti­val de­liv­ers a rich pro­gram of pre­dom­i­nantly clas­si­cal mu­sic from renowned in­ter­na­tional artists. This year the fes­ti­val has a wel­come jazz tan­gent in­clud­ing the bril­liant Le­banese/ Ar­me­nian or­gan­ist Arthur Satyan and his Acous­tic En­sem­ble (12 March, Crys­tal Gar­den), a trib­ute to the leg­endary swing star, Sinatra (13 March, Emile Bus­tani Au­di­to­rium, Al Bus­tan Ho­tel) and the Marly Mar­ques Quin­tet (14 March, Crys­tal Gar­den.) Oliver Poole, the Bri­tish mu­si­cian dubbed a “mas­ter of the pi­ano” by the BBC, will make sev­eral ap­pear­ances at the fes­ti­val (17, 19, 21 Fe­bru­ary, Al Bus­tan Ho­tel) and one unique con­cert will bring mu­sic to Beirut’s Na­tional Mu­seum with cel­list Alexander Bu­zlov and pi­anist Veronika Ilin­skaya play­ing Schu­bert, Beethoven and Brahms.

Al

The re­turn of Zaarour

es­tab­lished in 1975, but un­used since the civil war, is a ski and sports re­sort with a her­itage, that’s just had a USD 40 mil­lion facelift. At only 35km from Beirut, it’s the clos­est ski re­sort to the cap­i­tal city. Spread over an area of 2.5km ev­ery de­tail of the re­sort has been trans­formed, from a new sport and ski sta­tion, to four new ski lifts, spe­cial magic car­pets to help kids learn to ski and a vast ar­ti­fi­cial lake. You’ll most likely know Zaarour Club’s GM, Serge Zarka, who has spent two decades pre­sent­ing on MTV Le­banon. An

Zaarour Club

avid skier, he’s pas­sion­ate about the ski and sum­mer re­sort. “I re­mem­ber Zaarour from when I was very lit­tle. I used to ski there on the old slopes,” he says. “It looks very dif­fer­ent now, be­lieve me it’s trans­formed. We’ve even re-worked the moun­tains.” With a hos­tel and restau­rant due to open next sum­mer and chalets planned for the fu­ture, Zaarour looks set to also be­come a popular sum­mer des­ti­na­tion with a whole line of events and ac­tiv­i­ties planned.

Face­book: Zaarour Club

7 Le­banon’s win­ter tra­di­tion

Kfarde­bian is the big­gest vil­lage in Le­banon at high altitude, reach­ing up to 2820m. The area has four months of snow cov­er­age over the win­ter and the big­gest slope in the Mid­dle East re­gion, Mzaar Ski Re­sort (skimzaar.com) along with ski­ing at Faqra Club (faqr­a­club.com). This year Kfarde­bian launches a new cross-coun­try ski trail, of­fer­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent for those look­ing for an ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond the usual ski ses­sion. “Kfarde­bian ski trail is the first se­cure pri­vate trail for cross coun­try ski­ing in Le­banon,” says pres­i­dent of nearby Au­berge Be­ity, Jospe­hine Zgheib. She’s no­ticed an evo­lu­tion in the tastes of Le­banese skiers, hunt­ing for new dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences; “The youth in Le­banon are ad­ven­tures and na­ture-lovers. Al­ter­na­tive ac­tiv­i­ties in win­ter such as snow­shoe­ing and cross-coun­try ski­ing al­low them to dis­cover the beauty of Kfarde­bian na­ture.” Only 10 min­utes from the slopes is the homely Au­berge Be­ity (03 214871, be­ity.org), which makes the per­fect cozy overnight retreat af­ter a day of ski­ing.

8 Ex­plor­ing Mar­jay­oun

The Le­banese town of Mar­jay­oun is one of the hid­den beau­ties of the south, per­fect to ex­plore dur­ing the cooler win­ter months. Its lo­ca­tion at the top of a hill means it has the per­fect van­tage point on never-end­ing land­scapes, in­clud­ing Mount Her­mon and the 1,000-year-old Cru­sader Cas­tle, Beau­fort in the East, and Mount Amel in the West, Mount Ri­han and Niha in the North. Its fer­tile lands con­tinue south­wards to­wards the Golan Heights. The town, char­ac­ter­ized by Le­banese her­itage homes with the tra­di­tional red-roof and arched win­dows and a di­ver­sity of trees, has var­i­ous re­li­gious sites of in­ter­est such as the Cathe­dral of Saint Peter. Famed Le­banese-amer­i­can jour­nal­ist An­thony Shahid, wrote the bril­liant mem­oir “House of Stone: A Mem­oir of Home, Fam­ily, and a Lost Mid­dle East,” pub­lished shortly af­ter his death in 2012. Cov­er­ing the year he spent restor­ing his fam­ily’s home in Mar­jay­oun, it makes the per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment for a trip to the re­gion. For the in­sight of a lo­cal ex­plore with guide Wael Sh­meis (78 884176, 03 909596).

10 Wine by the fire­side

Lo­cated in Bham­doun, the renowned restau­rant and win­ery Le Télé­graphe de Belle-vue (05 260073, 70 628383, letele­graphede­belle-vue.com, Bham­doun, Mount Le­banon) and Chateau Belle-vue Win­ery, have opened a new bou­tique ho­tel lo­cated in the at­mo­spheric set­ting of the his­toric for­mer res­i­dence of the French am­bas­sador to Iraq and Jor­dan. “From the very first, our goal has been to pre­serve Bham­doun’s her­itage, sup­port the com­mu­nity and craft ex­tra­or­di­nary wines,” says co-owner Jill Boutros. “Our goal is to de­liver an in­ti­mate, warm and re­laxed at­mos­phere where our guests feel at home from the mo­ment they cross the thresh­old.” Start the day with a vine­yard tour and wine tast­ing, ex­plore the nearby vil­lage, en­joy a din­ner of home­made spe­cial­ties us­ing lo­cally-pro­duced sea­sonal prod­ucts, ac­com­pa­nied of course by a bot­tle of one of the award-win­ning Chateau Belle-vue wines. Then re­cline by the fire­side with a mulled wine (avail­able over the hol­i­day pe­riod) be­fore re­tir­ing to the com­fort of one of their seven suites.

9 Dine out­side Beirut

One of the plea­sures of win­ter is en­joy­ing warm­ing food in a cozy set­ting, while the tem­per­a­ture drops out­side. There are nu­mer­ous restau­rants to dis­cover. Roalla El Hoss has been host­ing vis­i­tors to her home in Tan­nourine for the last two years of­fer­ing the in­ti­mate dining ex­pe­ri­ence, Roalla’s Ta­ble (03 637276, Face­book page: Roalla’s Ta­ble.) She pro­vides an adapt­able menu ac­cord­ing to vis­i­tors’ tastes, from warm­ing Le­bane­ses­tyle soups to lamp chops, Le­banese mezze and Mediter­ranean cui­sine, all made from lo­cal pro­duce. Make a week­end of it and stay overnight in El Hoss’ guest­house (LL225,000 sin­gle per­son; LL300,000 cou­ple ac­com­mo­da­tion, full board; lunch/ din­ner LL60,000 per per­son). Dining at Broumana’s Le Gar­gotier (04 960562) is like step­ping into the past, with the leg­endary French restau­rant re­main­ing vir­tu­ally un­changed since the ‘60s. In Naas, close to Bik­faya, Fadel (04 980979) has a wellde­served rep­u­ta­tion for its ex­cel­lent Le­banese mezze menu and Lola (04 983440) serves au­then­tic food, sur­rounded by the Metn pines. Af­ter a day ski­ing the moun­tains of Kfarde­bian, the cheese and wine of French restau­rant Chez Michel (09 300060, ter­re­brune­ho­tel.com, Faqra, Kfarde­bian) around a cen­ter-placed chim­ney is a wel­come in­dul­gence. Also Rikky'z (09 341422, rikkyz. com, Faqra, Kfarde­bian) is a popular spot for hun­gry skiers.

Face­book: Mira’s guided tours 70 126764 - mminkara@gmail.com

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Mira Minkara

Monthly events are open to Night Col­lec­tive group mem­bers with an in­ter­est in photography and their own equip­ment. Face­book: The Night Col­lec­tive

Photo cour­tesy of Tarek El Wazzi

Photo cour­tesy of Shouf Cedar Re­serve

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