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Editor’s note: Just in case it doesn’t go without saying, the Al Rawiya team continues to urge all of our readers to stay home as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic. In the better days ahead of us, we hope this series of articles can be a guide for any and all who want to experience Lebanon through a new lens.
Batroun: Where Historical Ruins Meet Pristine Beaches
Batroun is a hub for people of all ages, be they surfers, tanning enthusiasts, or simply those who enjoy the calming sounds and sweeping views of the Mediterranean. This town is a much-loved destination for the diverse activities it has to offer.
Having already had your breakfast at one of the smaller bakeries on the way, start by following the yellow signs into the old town and wander around the narrow streets as you make your way towards the port where you’ll find a plethora of seafood restaurants for lunch. If Italian food is more your thing, then head to Mariolino for a pizza at Villa Paradiso.
To burn off the calories from lunch, find your way to the old Phoenician wall and a church called Our Lady of the Sea (Saydet el Bahr). At night, Batroun really comes alive with its restaurants, pubs, clubs, and bars. For dinner, head to the iconic Jammal restaurant, which has been around since the 1950s. They also source their produce locally and organically and are making an effort like some other hospitality venues in the area to avoid single-use plastic and be more eco-friendly. If beach bars are more your scene, then this is the area for you. With beautiful beach bars like Bolero to choose from, you will not be disappointed and your Instagram stories will knock the socks off your followers with all the spectacular sunset photos you’ll be posting. When it’s time to call it a night, some nice places to stay include Nazel Saada Boutique Hotel, Beit el Batroun, Abdelli Terraces, and Blue Marlin Batroun.
On your second day, we recommend you go for a little drive away from the busy town center and choose from one of the three enticing options on offer. Either way, we have you covered. Wine aficionados can visit the Ixsir Winery and enjoy lunch in its vineyards and follow that with a stop by Adyar wines for a tasting of their top-notch organic wines.
Aquaphiles will have a field day with all the water activities on offer, such as scuba diving and surfing. Batroun is famous for its beaches along the coast, including Pierre and Friends or Orchid (if you’re after somewhere more upmarket). Last but not least, the mountaineers out there can get their hiking on and explore the Mseilha track (suitable for beginners or those who want an easier trail). There’s also Kaftoun, meaning “dug from” or “sculpted from”. Here you can go down towards the river and check out the Theotokos Monastery by the edge of the river carved into the red rock cliffs. If you’ve still got some energy, there’s a bike ride that goes from Batroun to Chekka and passes through an old Ottoman tunnel.
Anfeh and Chekka: Did Somebody Say Santorini?
It’s time to hit the road (again), Jack, and drive further north till you reach another coastal wonder, Anfeh, or “Anforini” as it’s commonly known. Why do the locals call it this, you ask? Simple, it’s painted blue and white and looks just like Santorini. Your first port of call is breakfast at Em Salim, one of the best and oldest bakeries in Lebanon. On the menu for today is zaatar, shanklish (herbed yoghurt cheese), lahm baajin (a Lebanese meat pastry), eggs with fresh vegetables, and mabroumet Nutella (a sweet, rolled pastry). You’ll need this sustenance, because you’ve got a hard day’s work of tanning and swimming in crystal clear waters ahead of you at Chez Fouad. If a break from the beach is what you had in mind, then how about a tour of the monasteries and churches in the area, followed by lunch at Samket Gerge El Dayaa (George’s Fish from the Village)? Wrap up your day with a coastal stroll and find the perfect spot for yet another breathtaking sunset. Accommodation options include Marse BnB, Anfawiyat, L’auberge de la Mer, and O Fleur de Sel.
After a good night’s sleep, head over to Chekka and make the most of the clearest water on the Lebanese coast by spending the day at the beach, stand-up paddling, snorkeling, cliff jumping, caving, or camping with a view. Other landmarks worthy of a visit include the old railway line, Mseilha Fort, and Our Lady of Noorieh for a magnificent view. With some time to spare, a visit to Arnaoon is a must. You’ll be spoilt for choice food-wise with many vegan and vegetarian options also available.
Tripoli: A City of Peace and in Pieces
Tripoli, the coastal capital of the North and the second-biggest city in Lebanon, is a melting pot of street food, history, culture, and the kindest and most hospitable people you could meet. Bear in mind that whilst Tripoli is home to the wealthiest elite, a considerable majority of Tripolitans come from more disadvantaged backgrounds on many levels, especially economically. Yet, despite all of this, they have never wavered from being one of the star attractions of the country. After all, there is a reason that they’re known for their charm, warm hospitality, and heart. So, when you’re in Tripoli, do make a point of talking to the locals and listening to their stories.
Before getting lost in the historic sites, cobblestone streets, and alleyways, fuel your body for the day with the queen of breakfasts, fatteh or Kaake Trabolsiyeh with cheese and sumac from one of many street vendors around the old souk. Then head to the old city (if you’re not already there) and visit the Roman Baths, the Hippodrome, the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles, and Tal Square. For lunch, it’s all about the street food. You can’t go to Tripoli and not have their traditional moghrabieh sandwich from Al Dabbousi in the old souks or pick up some Sfiha Trabolsiyeh. Part of the experience is also sitting in one of the surrounding parks and soaking in the sounds of the city beeping horns and all. Next, make your way back to the old souks and get lost in the chaotic historical labyrinth that it is. Check out Khan Al Saboun and watch soap being made by hand in the traditional way. Don’t forget to check out an ancient Mamluk or Ottoman hammam or two if you still have time.
You can’t say you’ve been to Tripoli unless you go and indulge in the gluttony that are Lebanese sweets from Hallab 1881’s flagship store. It’s almost criminal if you don’t stop here! Al Nour Square is now calling your name for a night-time stroll. This is where some of the biggest protests have been held in what is often referred to as “the beating heart of the (2019) revolution.” So wander around, admire the murals, and soak up the soul and energy before calling it a night. SEED Guest House in Nejmeh Square or Beit el Nessim in El Mina are two charming guest houses that can put you up for the night. There’s also Via Mina, a historical boutique hotel in El Mina.
In stark contrast to the historical parts of the city is your first port of call for your second day in Tripoli, a modern, futuristic architectural masterpiece that you cannot miss, the Rashid Karami International Fair. It was designed by renowned Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer and built during the Golden Era of the 1960s. Continue on to El Mina for a serious dose of wanderlust by meandering through its colorful cobblestone streets and grab an ashta ice-cream from Al Balha for a morning snack. Lunch beckons, so get yourself another Tripolitan speciality, a samke harra (spiced fish) sandwich. After that, hop on a boat and head to Rabbit Island for an afternoon dip in the ocean before making it back to El Mina for a sunset stroll along the corniche and a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area.
Akkar: Love at First Hike
Next up, head to Akkar, Lebanon’s northernmost region, famous for its tannour bread. To make this, the baker sticks some dough to the walls of a special kiln. So grab yourself a manoushe made in the tannour and make your way to the Ammoua Forest for a stunning hike among iron oak trees and end it with a picnic. On your way back, stop by Qobayat for a coffee and, if you love a bit of old-style architecture, the Daher Family mansion and the abandoned silk factory are both worth checking out.
Then, drift into the land of nod at Jabalna Ecolodge or Graneroverde Resort.
Rise and shine! Get up early and make the most of your day by having a quick breakfast and going south to Ouyoun El Samak (Eyes of the Fish). Get your cameras ready and admire one of the most picturesque waterfalls, a charming bridge, and some majestic lakes. You might forget that you’re still in Lebanon here! Why not go for a hike whilst you’re at it?. Your followers on social media are in for a treat when you post from Jabal Al-Arbaeen (Mount Forty). For the adventure-lovers who aren’t afraid of heights, go for a ride on the giant two-seater swing.
Ehden: Home-grown Mountain Goodness
If you’re wondering why Zgharta is a bit quiet in the summer months, it’s because its locals have gone up to Ehden. When it comes to breakfast here, the early bird catches the worm, or in Ehden’s case, a croissant from Angela’s. Your first stop is Our Lady of the Fortress (Saydet el Hosn), a church overlooking the beautiful terracotta-tiled roofs of the village. Then get an adrenaline rush in the Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve and choose from activities such as paragliding, caving, and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding. Other must-visits are Al Ferdaws and Bab el Hawa with their views over the surrounding mountains. At night, all roads lead to Miden, the heart of the village, where people gather to talk, smoke shisha, and enjoy the famous sahlab (sweet milk pudding) at Airout.
Well-rested, it’s time for a beautiful hike but first, breakfast. Opened in October 2019, Teshrin is a great place to have a bit of everything. Start near Bab El hawa following the Blue Cliff Trail signs till you reach Mist Hotel at the end. Then drive towards Meghterbin street for lunch at any of the restaurants before its time for sunset drinks in the newly-opened Bar Vu.
Bcharre: Take My Breath Away
Bcharre is yet another picturesque region known for its cedar trees and breathtaking landscape where another hike beckons. This time, you’re going for a family-friendly one in The Cedars of God (Arz al-Rabb). Find the Jetté lookout to enjoy a serene view of the surrounding mountains and neighboring villages with their famous tiled roofs and friendly people. Places worth visiting include the Gebran Khalil Gebran museum along with the many monasteries and cathedrals. Afterwards, have a bite to eat at Le Pichet des Cedres, Masa, or Jesr el Amar. For overnight accomodation, try Dar Qadisha or Auberge. You can also go camping if that’s more your cup of tea.
All coffeed up, make your way to Qannoubine valley and be amazed by its lush green landscape and waterfalls. Explore the valley, go for a spectacular hike, and take more pictures to give your followers a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). For the ski bunnies, Bcharre is your place. Locals flock here during winter and soak up the sun, frolic in the snow, and enjoy the ski resorts. Why not join them, too?
So the next time you visit Lebanon, be sure to head north and add all of these places to your bucket list!
Marie Lou is a Lebanese architect, diamond grader and jewelry designer with a passion for food, photography and adventure. Also known as @lougoes, Marie Lou has created her own digital gallery, through which she portrays her Lebanese tourism adventures with a simplistic approach. She can be found wandering through hidden gems, creating episodes of her exploitations whilst sharing her love for Lebanon.