- Updated On:
- September 3, 2019
- none Garages
- Year Built: 1900
El-Shouf! Just thinking of this beautiful region in Lebanon brings incredible images to my mind, such as the snow topped mountains, the valleys and cedars forests, the authentic villages and houses, the ancient castles, the fortresses and the caves. El-Shouf is the ideal place to relax and enjoy nature.
I left Beirut on an early beautiful sunny morning in June. I hit the coastal road towards Saida and the South of Lebanon, in my blue Karmann Ghia 1964. At the city of Damour, I turned left to take the headland leading up to the mountain, and began my five-day journey.
My first stop was in Serjbel, more precisely its river and waterfall. I wanted to have a closer look at this hidden gem, where I had a swim and a couple of dives. I was lucky to enjoy the place alone. I took some photos and had a quick snack before hitting the road again.
On my way up to Beit Ed-Dine, I visited Kfarhim Grotto. To be honest, it is a beautiful place but a bit expensive for a thirty-minute visit. It is definitely not to be compared with Jeita Grotto. I wouldn’t say it is a must see.
Since I wanted to leave the best for last, I went to Moussa Castle before visiting Deir El Qamar. This castle was built by Moussa Abdel Karim Al Maamari. It took him 60 years of dedicated hard work to finish its construction. Take your time to look around the place and enjoy the museum of Lebanese history and culture. I will leave it to your curiosity to discover the story behind it, but I will give you a small hint “always follow your heart and dream big.”
Words cannot describe Deir El Qamar (Monastery of the Moon). This village has been one of my favorite destinations since I was a child. This historical city was the capital and the residence of the Emirate of Mount Lebanon from the 16th to the 18th century. I just love to walk in its narrow streets, between the traditional Lebanese stone houses with their red tiled rooftops. You can wander for hours between the Mosque (Fakhreddine), the Synagogue (now the site of the French Cultural Center) and the churches. You should visit Fakhreddine II palace and the palace of Emir Yusuf Shihab (place of the Municipal Council). Deir El Qamar was the first village in Lebanon to have a municipality, created in 1864. The wax museum, “Marie Baz”, was founded during the same year. During your journey, save some time to see Saydet El Talle (Our Lady of the Hill) and the Mount of the Cross.
I ended my day enjoying a grilled halloumi platter, some labneh, olives and vegetables, with a cup of hot tea in Serail El Bek restaurant facing Dany Chamoun Square.
There was no better place than Bouyouti guesthouse to spend the night and have some rest. This peaceful, one of a kind site is located in the middle of a wonderful greenery in the town of Maaser Beit Ed-Dine.
I started my day with a big platter of kneffeh, some fresh orange juice and Turkish coffee under the shade of an olive tree next to the swimming pool.
As I was craving a couple of hours of good hiking, I headed directly to Barouk. The Shouf Biosphere Reserve is the biggest in Lebanon. It contains the forests of Barouk, Maaser El Shouf and Ain Zhalta-Bmohray. It is bio diverse, well maintained and a real paradise for nature lovers. The welcoming, well trained staff can show you around and suggest trails according to your skills and time.
When in the region, you should stop in Nabeh El Safa and eat in one of their restaurants. I tried El Yammine restaurant. Their hummus and tabouleh were delicious, and you can hear the sound of the river flowing through the middle of the restaurant. Before leaving, grab some fresh fruits and vegetables from the numerous shops on both sides of the road.
I spent my afternoon in Atelier Assaf where I had some great time. “Nature – Culture – Art”, this is how the three brothers, Assaf, Mansour and Aref like to present their eco-touristic project. They are sculptors, carrying on the heritage of carving stone, passed down through the generations. There is an eco-friendly atelier of sculptures, “The House,” where rural traits are combined with modernism and history. I stayed till the evening in the middle of this splendid nature, under the 2 oak trees, eating freshly cultivated apples, figs and peaches with a cup of Turkish coffee and exchanging stories with the three brothers. I should mention Samah too, our amazing and smiley guide during the whole visit. He talks about the place with pure passion and he made me love it even more. Thank you Assaf, Mansour, Aref and Samah for this unforgettable experience and until we meet again very soon.
I have never imagined I would spend my night in such an amazing place around the camp fire. In Cesar’s Guest House I felt I was at home, away from home. The owner, Cesar, and his mother, are simply adorable and the staff are very friendly. It is a peaceful, authentic, simple place with great food and clean rooms.
When you are in the mountains, sleeping for five or six hours is more than enough. I woke up with the first day light on the sound of the birds and the farm animals. Everything I ate for breakfast was produced by the farm: eggs, labneh and vegetables … It was the best way to start my third day with positive energy.
I was in a mood for another hike. This time it was in Moukhtara, where I walked near the river, passing by old mills and stone bridges. It took me five hours (three hours walking time) to cover a distance of 7.5 Km passing by small waterfalls and abandoned houses, and I ended up at Berket El 3arous (The Bride’s Pond). (Wikiloc App – Account tonyaoun – Track 18: El Moukhtara – Wadi Naher El Barouk)
After that splendid walk, I had one place to have lunch: Shallalat Nabeh Merched. It is a restaurant where you can have great food, in a great mood and breathtaking entourage. You will be sitting beside the river with gorgeous nature around you and waterfalls coming down from almost everywhere.
There is no clear procedure for visiting the Moukhtara Palace. However, you can request a visit from the security on the main entrance. Most of the times they will welcome you and take you on a small tour to some parts of the magnificent place. The palace was built in the 17th century by Ali Jumblat and since then, it has been playing a big part in the history of Lebanon. It has been visited by many kings, presidents, prime ministers from all around the world. It is indeed a palace you should not miss.
After that, I passed by a village named Baadaran. It has a nice location with old traditional Lebanese houses, Roman ruins, monuments, castles and a forgotten airport field.
As a sunset lover, ending my day in Niha was something I always wanted to do. The word “Neeha” comes from Syriac and it means calm or peaceful. This village is very rich in culture and history and it is known for its olives, cherries, grapes, apples and almonds. Its main tourist attractions are the church of Saint Joseph, Niha castle and the Prophet Job tomb where you can witness one of the most spectacular sunsets, above the clouds.
All I needed after that long day was some good night sleep, and this time I chose El Achkar Guesthouse in El Khraibe. It has a marvelous setting and a lovely garden with a spectacular mountain view at a fair rate.
The majestic Beit ed-Dine Palace hosts the annual Beit ed-Dine Festival. It was built between 1788 and 1818 by Emir Bashir II. This superb place has delightful architecture featuring beautiful arcades, mandaloun balconies, fountains, facades, rooms with carved and painted cedar wood embellished with Arab calligraphy, antique furniture, inlaid marble and fine mosaics.
Five-minute drive up the hill is the Mir Amin Palace, overlooking Beit Ed-Dine, Moussa Castle and Deir El Qamar. In my opinion, it is a must see whenever I visit El-Shouf. They have delicious food and I highly recommend their Sunday buffet. I could have easily stayed the night there but I wanted to try a new place.
Bkerzay is a village inside a village, built with natural stones in the middle of a vast green space. It is an eco-friendly conservation project and a perfect place to reconnect with nature and take a break from urban life. It offers a pottery studio, hiking trails, infinity pool, tasty food, a wellness program and many other attractions. And therefore, it is a perfect getaway.
Between Naameh, Damour, Jiyeh and Rmayleh I had numerous options for places to relax, enjoy the sun, have a swim and think about the amazing last few days I had spent on the road in one of the most wonderful regions of Lebanon.
I ended my journey in Iris Beach Club in Damour with some cocktails and lovely music, then I headed back home to plan my next road trip.
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