THE BEKAA

ZAHLÉ, BAAL­BECK, ANJAR

Lebanon Traveler - - MINI GUIDES -

ZAHLÉ

Lo­cated in the Bekaa Val­ley, Zahlé is Le­banon’s third largest city and a hub in the re­gion. The city is sur­rounded by snow-capped moun­tains and is known for its crisp and cool mountain air. Renowned for pro­duc­ing a large share of Le­banon’s wine, arak, and po­etry, Zahlé is an idyl­lic re­treat just an hour from Beirut.

GET­TING THERE

By car: Zahlé is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. If you’re go­ing by car, just fol­low the Beirut high­way east, through Hazmieh and above the moun­tains. The road is well sign­posted.

By pub­lic trans­port: Buses and small vans de­part from the Jisr el Cola in Beirut ev­ery half an hour or so. They go di­rectly to Zahlé, stop­ping only in Ch­tura on the way. The whole jour­ney takes around an hour and costs just 2,000 LBP.

WHAT TO DO Our Lady of Zahlé

Watch­ing over the city on a 54-me­ter high tower is a bronze statue of the Vir­gin Mary, known as the Our Lady of Zahlé. Even if you aren’t re­li­gious, a visit to the site is worth the panoramic views you’ll be able to en­joy.

Winer­ies and arak

Thanks to its crisp, cool air and moun­tain­ous ter­rain, Zahlé is home to some of Le­banon’s best winer­ies that vary in size, from large es­tates to small fam­ily-run winer­ies. Try Château Ksara (08 801662, châteauk­sara.com), Château Mas­saya (08 510135, mas­saya.com), Do­maine Wardy (08 930141/08 930777, do­mainewardy.com), or Château Khoury (08 807143, châteaukhoury.com).

The Ber­daouni River

The Ber­daouni River be­gins in the snowy moun­tains of the Bekaa Val­ley and cour­ses right through the heart of Zahlé, en­dow­ing the area with an un­ri­valed nat­u­ral cool­ness. Restau­rants line the river on the east­ern side of town, of­fer­ing the per­fect place to en­joy a peace­ful meal, while lis­ten­ing to the sooth­ing sound of run­ning wa­ter.

WHERE TO EAT

Casino Arabi

Si­t­u­ated on the banks of the Ber­daouni River, Casino Arabi (08 800144) is one of the most pop­u­lar restau­rants in town. It spe­cial­izes in mezze and also serves al­co­hol and shisha. Arabi is on the more-ex­pen­sive side but the food is phe­nom­e­nal and the river-side deck is sim­ply beau­ti­ful.

Boozah Kha­laf and Abou Sleiman

Along the Ber­daouni River is the fa­mous Boozah Kha­laf and Abou Sleiman (03 408880/08 823733). The fam­i­lies got to­gether 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 SLEEP

Akl Ho­tel

Like many of the build­ings in the old town, the Akl Ho­tel dates back more than 100 years. The small, fam­ily-owned es­tab­lish­ment has 10 bed­rooms, one din­ing room and two lounges. 08 820701

Taanayel Ecolodge

Lo­cated in the heart of the Bekaa Val­ley in the small town of Taanayel near Zahlé, the Taanayel Ecolodge is made of sev­eral old-fash­ioned adobe houses. The Ecolodge of­fers ac­com­mo­da­tion that mir­rors the tra­di­tional way of sleep­ing, in one large room with mat­tresses on the floor. 08 544881

BAAL­BECK & ANJAR

Baal­beck is a city that needs no in­tro­duc­tion. One of Le­banon’s most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions, its as­tound­ing tem­ples are a UNESCO World Her­itage Site and at­tract thou­sands of tourists ev­ery year. The city’s his­tory spans back to the early Phoeni­cian times and crosses into the reign of Alexan­der the Great and, later, the Ro­man Em­pire.

Less pop­u­lar among tourists but equally im­pres­sive is the quaint nearby city of Anjar, with its Umayyad-era ru­ins. Anjar has strong Ar­me­nian in­flu­ences and a combined trip to Baal­beck and Anjar pro­vide a valu­able in­sight into Le­banon’s rich and di­verse his­tory.

GET­TING THERE

By car: Take the Beirut-da­m­as­cus high­way out of Beirut and fol­low the mountain road to Zahlé, from where you will see the signs to Anjar. From Anjar, pass back through Zahlé and con­tinue north to reach Baal­beck.

By pub­lic trans­port: Take a bus from Jisr el Cola in Beirut to Zahlé, the trans­porta­tion hub in the Bekaa, which costs 2,000 LBP. From Zahlé, you can find buses that run to both ci­ties for 2,000-3,000 LBP.

WHAT TO DO

Baal­beck Arche­o­log­i­cal Site

There are three an­cient tem­ples at the Baal­beck Arche­o­log­i­cal Site—the Tem­ple of Venus, Jupiter, and Bac­chus, all of which are stun­ning rem­nants of the Ro­man era in Le­banon. The sheer size of the tem­ples is enough to as­tound vis­i­tors. An­cient col­umns loom high over­head and sup­port an in­tri­cately dec­o­rated roof.

Like much of Le­banon, the re­silience of the ru­ins in the face of de­struc­tion is truly mag­nif­i­cent. Through mul­ti­ple em­pires, rulers, and wars, the tem­ples have man­aged to not only sur­vive, but to keep their bril­liance and grandeur in­tact. Take your time to ab­sorb these an­cient grounds with a knowl­edge­able lo­cal guide like Mo­hamed We­hbe (03 926604).

Umayyad Ru­ins in Anjar

Be­fore the dis­cov­ery of the ru­ins in Anjar, Le­banon had arche­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence of al­most ev­ery stage of Arab his­tory ex­cept the Umayyad. The site was found ac­ci­den­tally in the 1940s by a team of arche­ol­o­gists, who stum­bled upon the miss­ing link in Le­banon’s long line of Arab rulers. Anjar is home to a com­plex of Umayyad ru­ins, in­clud­ing two palaces, a mosque and a pub­lic bath. A walk around takes around an hour.

The Kfar Zabad Na­ture Re­serve

Thanks to the pres­ence of en­dan­gered birds in Anjar, the Kfar Zabad wet­lands have been de­clared a na­ture re­serve and there are plenty of out­door activities to do in the area. The So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Na­ture in Le­banon (SPNL) is the main body in the wet­land, or­ga­niz­ing sev­eral hikes, with an em­pha­sis on bio­di­ver­sity and bird life.

WHERE TO EAT

Al Shams

No trip to Anjar would be com­plete with­out a visit to Al Shams (08 620567, sham­srestau­rant.com). It is the spot to go to try top-notch and au­then­tic Ar­me­nian food, which can be en­joyed on their out­door ter­race. Be sure to or­der their fa­mous bal­loon pota­toes and kibbeh.

Al Jazira

Perched on the side of a lake, Al Jazira is a lo­cal fa­vorite and a tourist at­trac­tion. The Le­banese food they serve is con­sis­tently tasty, fresh, and rea­son­ably priced. Al Jazira is great for chil­dren who will en­joy feed­ing the ducks and trout in the lake.

WHERE TO SLEEP

Ho­tel Palmyra

Lo­cated within walk­ing dis­tance of the Baal­beck ru­ins, Ho­tel Palmyra is a beau­ti­fully renovated house, com­plete with ter­races, a sunny gar­den, and a lovely restau­rant. The ho­tel is dec­o­rated with au­then­tic vin­tage dé­cor and fur­ni­ture that is rem­i­nis­cent of old Le­banese grandeur. The ser­vice, rooms, and over­all am­bi­ence will make you feel im­me­di­ately wel­come and en­am­ored with Baal­beck’s old charm. 08 370011/08 370230

Lay­ali Al Shams

This ho­tel is the re­cent project of the Al Shams restau­rant and of­fers modern and lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion in Anjar. The prop­erty boasts a large pool and out­door space, and easy ac­cess to all of Anjar’s glo­ri­ous high­lights. 08 622600

Photo: Peter Ghanime

Baal­beck’s Tem­ple of Bac­chus. Photo: Jubran Elias

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