With the mountain snows melting rapidly, some friends had told us that the Nahr Ibrahim (also known as the Adonis River) was in full flow from the Afqa grotto. So Mitchell and I motored up into the mountains to check it out.
Afqa grotto is a giant cavern in the face of a towering cliff. During spring each year the snowmelt floods the underground river so that it becomes a torrent. According to ancient legend, Adonis was out hunting at this spot and was killed by a wild boar. His lover, the goddess Venus, tried to save him but was too late. And so the torrential river that gushes forth every spring is the blood of Adonis.
Anyway, after a few wrong turns courtesy of the GPS (I thought these things were supposed to stop you from getting lost – I seemed to end up in private farmland every few minutes) we finally made it to Afqa.
After a week of driving rains in Beirut, equating to blizzards in the mountains, we hit the road last Saturday for what will probably be the last dose of snow this winter. You see the temperature in Beirut was 30 degrees celsius, and up in the mountains it was probably around 10 degrees (if you discount the substantial wind-chill).
So no wonder that the snow was melting at a rapid rate and the stuff on the ground was more like rice pudding than soft powder or hardpacked ice.
Since Christmas eve the weather’s been cold and grey in Beirut, with lots of rain, wind and scudding clouds. Miserable for us, but great for snow in the mountains! Yesterday we took a little drive up to Faqra to check it out.
First off was some yummy lunch at our favourite restaurant overlooking the Faqra rock bridge. Then We spent a few hours mucking about in the snow. Needless to say, Mitchie enjoyed it a lot more than last time we went to the snow 12 months ago!
On Nanna’s last weekend here we enjoyed a nice drive up into the Chouf mountains (last visited in June). A particular highlight was exploring the lovely Beiteddine Palace, which as you can see here, is still officially the summer residence for the Lebanese President (though is not actually used as such). It’s a wonderful old Ottoman palace built in the early 19th century, and unlike many historical sites in Lebanon it has been carefully and tastefully maintained.
After our explorations we headed a little bit further uphill to the Mir Amin Palace Hotel, another former Ottoman palace. The hotel has a great restaurant on the courtyard, which as you can see here has a terrific view out over the valley down towards the distant Mediterranean Sea.
We ambled up without making a booking and quickly feared that we’d have no chance of getting a table. But the waiter looked at Sheridan with her sticks and decided what the hell, we could have the reserved head table looking out over the valley. So we had a delicious lunch of Lebanese mezze and nargile (Alex’s little vice), enjoying the view and the wonderful cool breeze.
[Update November 2011 – Wally, click on the following picture for a large format version]
Although today is not Father’s Day in Lebanon, it is in Australia so we thought bugger it, let’s celebrate (afterall, daddy deserves a bit of goodwill from his wee lad!).
This morning I got to sleep in while mummy managed Mitchell, which was a lovely treat. Then it was up for pancakes and bananas for breakfast. Yummo. After a quick call to Granddad in Australia we bundled into the black beast and motored our way up into the mountains.
Our destination for the day was Faqra, situated about an hour from Beirut at an altitude of 1500 metres and home (in winter) to a number of ski resorts.
Faqra’s main sights are the Qa’lat Faqra Roman ruins, and a 50 metre long natural rock bridge which, as you can see from the photos, is popular with abseilers and climbers. The bridge is quite impressive and fortunately there’s a nice little Lebanese restaurant with an outdoor dining area overlooking it. So we settled in for a typically Lebanese meal of humous, tabbouleh, kibbe, sambousik, stuffed vine leaves, grilled chicken wings and a mixed grill (which had the most succulent shish taouk chicken I’ve ever had).
With the weather really starting to heat up, and facing the prospect of yet another weekend at home in Beirut, we decided to go exploring in the Chouf district. This mountainous area south-east of Beirut is the heartland of the Druze and is one of the less spoiled parts of Lebanon.
Key highlights are the fabulous 18th century Beiteddine palace, the Jumblatt ancestral home, and one of Lebanon’s two remaining cedar forests (the other, more famous forest is in the hills above Bcharre, see here).
We had a lovely time driving around the mountains, never getting lost thanks to Alex’s new GPS (which he got for his birthday the other day).
But the highlight was the cedar reserve. It was just lovely to be the only people sitting under the cedars, enjoying the cool breeze blowing up the valley and with a soft bed of pine needles underfoot. There was nobody else about and we had this magical place to ourselves. Mitchell loved being able to roam, although he did have a particular interest with throwing rocks off the edge of the platform. Sheridan really enjoyed getting out and stretching her legs too. Alex just found the fresh air to be so invigorating after day upon day of air conditioning in smoggy Beirut.
Of course, there is always the sad knowledge that Lebanon’s mountains used to be covered with these magnificent old trees, some of which would have been alive when Jesus and his friends wandered through the area.
For more info about the Chouf Cedar Reserve, check out this website.