10 things to do in the West Bekaa

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ay­tanit vil­lage

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.

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Chateau Ke­fraya

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

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