10 things to do in the West Bekaa
With stunning fertile lands that stretch as far as the eye can see the West Bekaa is a great destination that offers everything from an important natural reserve to ancient villages. Petra Chedid, an active member of the Food Heritage Foundation and a local guide in the West Bekaa on the USAID funded food tourism project Food Trail shares ten must visits in the region
The village of Deir Tahnich
Deir Tahnich was originally composed of only seven mud houses and was the first village to be populated in the Bekaa area. This small village and its geographical lands allowed its residents to raise goats and other grazing animals. Take a walk between the village houses, chat to local villagers and visit the recently renovated ancient church to soak up the atmosphere. The high season for visitors is between 1 and 15 August when the village celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. To visit the church contact Hiyam Farhat (03 258678).
Ammiq Ammiq Wetland Natural Reserve
The village of Ammiq is home to the
(03 330413), a destination for bird watching, and an important spot for migrating birds in the Bekaa Valley. Not far from the reserve, hidden within the mountainous part of Ammiq, lies the ancient shrine of Lady Shaawane. The story goes that she disguised herself as a boy and ran away with her father, the King, to escape a life of luxury and dedicate herself to prayer. After facing many problems in her life, she was exiled to the village of Ammiq where she later died and her grave was turned into a shrine. Managed by the Druze community, Sheikh A’aram will happily receive visitors and tell them the legend in detail. While in the area, enjoy the splendor of the surrounding nature with a picnic lunch or stop by Tawlet Ammiq (03 004481) to eat traditional dishes from the local region, while supporting small farmers and producers.
Sultan Yaacoub Mansour Shrine
Sultan Yaacoub is the highest village in the West Bekaa. It is thought that Sultan Yaacoub, originally from Morocco, came to Lebanon with the aim of establishing contacts and buying merchandise to trade in Morocco. His reign was distinguished by an architectural boom and prosperity. He was mesmerized by the beauty of the village and decided to build his tomb on the highest rock in the village. The village took his name and his shrine has become a touristic site.
The village of Saghbine
Though just a small village, Saghbine has seven churches, most of which are open to the public. In 1809, Patriarch Youhanna El Helou is said to have celebrated mass at the old St. Georges Church and the church of Saydit El Kherbeneh later opened in 1828. Saghbine has two churches dedicated to St.georges and four dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the final church is dedicated to St. Therese. Established in 1996, the 3-star Hotel Masherif Saghbine, has become a popular overnight stop in the area. Masherif Saghbine (08 671200) welcomes guests all year round. The hotel’s restaurant specializes in freekeh, with chicken and meat. Also in Saghbine is Ets. Elias Zaidan (08 670166), a family dairy production business that was one of the first in the West Bekaa to be certified by the Ministry of Health. Here you can purchase fresh, local dairy produce including labneh, cheese, yogurt and shanklish.
Overlooking the vast man-made Qaraoun Lake, created in 1959 on the Litani River, the village of Aytanit is renowned for the historic St Georges Church, where Patriarch Kyrilos Kyrilos was buried in 1796. The church was recently renovated and its ancient arches restored. Visit the village during the olive season, from mid September until mid December, and pass by Bchara Shaqar’s Olive Mill (03 322478). Here you can observe both old and new olive pressing techniques, taste and buy freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil, olive oil soap and olive charcoal, made from the residues of the olives annd known to generate high heat. You can also take out one of the boats in the lake and eat at one of the many restaurants established along its shore.
in the middle of the West Bekaa, Kefraya is renowned for its vineyards producing red, white and rose wine.
Chateau Kefraya ( 08 645333/444) is the second biggest winery in the Bekaa after Ksara. While visiting the winery, take in the area’s breathtaking landscape and stop by the Dahr-el-moghr site of Roman graves dating back to the 3rd Century. End the visit with an afternoon of wine tasting at Kefraya, followed by a meal at the winery’s restaurant, which offers exquisite French dishes.
7 Chateau Qanafar 8 Ain Zebde B&B and Table D’hote
In the tiny village of Ain Zebde, perched on a small hill at the foot of Mount Barouk, lies a homey B&B where you can enjoy an authentic food experience. Host Noha Abou Rached (08 670572) is famous for her grilled potato kebbeh stuffed with labneh and kawarma. She also prepares the dish mansoufeh, made from bulgur wheat, pumpkin, caramelized onions and sour grape juice. These two recipes are the trademark of Ain Zebde village. If you spend a night at the B&B, Abou Rached will serve a Lebanese breakfast, consisting of kishik soup, goat labneh and many more delicious dishes.
Though not a regular stop on the Bekaa Vallery wine route, Chateau Qanafar’s tavern (Qaissar Karam 71 131964, Georges Naim 71 725708), which lies in the hills of Kherbet Qanafar Mountain overlooking the village, is worth a visit. The winery’s owners send out off-road cars to pick up visitors because of the challenging terrain leading to the winery. It has produced white and red wine since 2010, for which its won two Gold Awards from the New York Club for Wine.
9 Mouneh, Kherbet Qanafar
Lina Saade Haddad Table d’hôte,
Lina Saade Haddad (08 645303) is the host of
part of the Food Trail, established by the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) at the American University of Beirut in collaboration with the Food Heritage Foundation and the Shouf Biosphere Reserve in the framework of the Lebanon Industry Value Chain (LIVCD) project. Lina specializes in mouneh making ( kishik, tomato paste, pumpkin jam, mulberry juice), as well as milk cookies. The fruits and vegetables she uses are from her orchard and fresh milk comes from her family farm. Also in Kherbet Qanafar is
Raymonda Nehmeh Table d’hôte (03 480035) which is part of the Food Trail project, where you can buy homemade arak and wine.
10 Trek: the West Bekaa’s Ein Zebde to the Shouf’s Mresti Trekking Trail,
This four-to-six hour Ein Zebde to Mresti
linking the village of Ein Zebde at the foothill of Mount Barouk and the village of Mresti in Higher Shouf, was recently rehabilitated and several members of the Youth Association of Ein Zebde were trained as local guides. Historically, inhabitants of both villages used this foot trail to attend festivities and support each other in moments of grief. To take a guide along the trail contact Shouf Cedar Biosphere Reserve at (05 350150).
Photos courtesy of Petra Chedid
Photo courtesy of Gaby Nehme