ZAHLÉ, BAALBECK, ANJAR
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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