North Lebanon Ecotourism

North Lebanon’s natural beauty is a source of attraction to local visitors and tourists alike. Three of Lebanon’s seven protected areas are in the North possessing unique ecological characteristics rarely found in this part of the world. In addition, many other nature spots are ideal for hiking, trekking, paragliding, rafting and other outdoor activities. To complement your visit with a taste of history, discover the North Lebanon’s National Heritage locations.

Cedars

(2066m – 121km from Beirut)
Summer and Winter Resort

The Cedars has a lot to offer – scenic beauty, hiking and skiing. And, of course, there are the famous Cedars of Lebanon where some of the oldest and most majestic examples of this ancient tree grow.

Known as “Arz el Rab” or Cedars of God, the trees are among the last survivors of the immense forests that lay across Mount Lebanon in ancient times. Their timber was exploited by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians as well as the residents of Canaan-Phoenicia. The wood was especially prized by Egyptians for shipbuilding and Solomon used it for his temple.

Once the plains of Lebanon were shaded by thick cedar forests, so it is no coincidence that the tree is the symbol of the entire country. Today, after centuries of persistent deforestation, the extent of this forest heritage has been markedly reduced. The trees however, do survive in areas and there they seem to reign supreme. This is the case of the slopes of Jabal Makmel that tower over the Qadisha Valley where, at an altitude of more than 2000 meters, we come to a vast forest known as “The Cedars.” Here there are 12 trees that are over one thousand years old, and about 400 that are more than one hundred.

The forest is rigorously protected. It is possible to tour it escorted by an authorized guide. Recently, after a preliminary phase in which the land was cleared of detritus, the sick plants treated, and the ground fertilized, a massive reforestation program was undertaken. The fruits of these efforts, will only be appreciable in a few decades since cedars grow so slowly. In these areas the winter offers incredible scenery, the trees are covered with a blanket of snow.

Not far from the Cedars is Lebanon’s Highest Village At 1,750 meters, picturesque Bqaa Kafra which overlooks the Qadisha Valley. It is also the birthplace of Lebanon’s Saint Charbel, born in 1828. An annual festival celebrates St. Charbel’s Day on the third Sunday in July.

Getting There …
From the northern coastal highway at Chekka, head east towards Amyoun. Continue on passing through Kousba, Toursa, Hadath El Jebbe, Hasroun, Bqaa Kafra then your destination, the Cedars.

Horsh Ehden

(1200-2000m – 35km from Tripoli)

Horsh Ehden is a mountainous ecosystem on the Northern Mount Lebanon chain. It ranges from 1300m to 1950m in altitude and is located 3.5km north of Ehden and 100km from the capital Beirut.

After much lobbying by the Friends of Horsh Ehden the forest was declared a Nature Reserve by the Lebanese government in March, 1992 (decree# 121). The area set aside for the reserve comprises 1000 hectares of public land of which 350 are forested. Horsh Ehden is internationally acknowledged to be the southernmost limit for the growth of the species of Cilician Fir Abies cilicica.

This unique forest is a mixture of trees. More than 35 different species notably conifers, such as the Cedars, the High Juniper broadleaves such as the maple and the endemic wild apple.

A number of water sources can be found in Horsh Ehden, the most important of which are Ain Al-Baq, Nabaa Jouït and Ain Al-Baiada.

The wilderness qualities of parts of Horsh Ehden and of the adjacent mountain areas provide the ideal setting for walks, cross country skiing and other related activities. The summer resort of Ehden lies at an altitude of 1500m, surrounded by breathtaking mountains overlooking the timeless Kadisha valley.

The main “Midan” or square in EhdenA trip to Ehden is not complete without a visit to the “Midan”, a historic public square surrounded by typical Lebanese architecture filled with cafes, patisseries and restaurants.

Whether it is lunch or dinner you are seeking, “Mar Sarkis” is one of many quaint outdoor restaurants specializing in Lebanese cuisine. If your taste seeks something different, Ehden boosts a wealth of hotels, small restaurants, bistros and night-clubs.

And for a lasting memory of your trip, catch the sunset at Saïdit El Hosn from which you can see the whole of the north of Lebanon, stretching from the Syrian coast to Chekka .

Getting There …
From the northern coastal highway at Chekka, head east towards Amyoun. Continue your way passing through Kousba, until you get to Toursa where you should access the road that will take you to Jbaa. Then head east until you reach Ehden.

Jabal Makmel

(2800m)

Makmel mountain is considered as the East’s Plateau and Lebanon’s water reservoir. Its soil and rock type allow it to absorb and store water deep within starting at 3088m elevation (Lebanon’s highest peak) up to 2400m. It covers an area of 40km2 bordered by Qammouah mountain, Jahannam valley, Bcharreh and the Cedars to the north, Qadisha valley to the south and a steep drop toward Hermel and Baalbek region to the east, all the way to the smooth slopes of Ehden, Zgharta and Donnieh to the west.

Its high summits are covered with snow all year round. Springs gush out from around the Makmel mountain range starting from Orghosh, Lebanon’s highest springs (2200m) to Ain Al-Nawaeer (1450m) . Its ecology is diverse and particular to this area with a large number of it of rare species, the cedars of Lebanon is such an example.

Getting There …
Take the coastal highway northbound from Beirut to Chekka. From Chekka get on the eastern highway towards Amyoun, passing through Kousba, Tourza, Hadath El Jebbe, Hasroun and then Bcharreh. There is no paved road that leads to the Makmel mountain, but it can be accessed from Bcharreh on a dirt road.

Kfar Hilda

(32 km from Batroun) – Waterfalls and Monasteries

This long narrow town runs along the hillside of the rich agricultural valley of the same name and is known for its pleasant outdoor restaurants. Scattered around the village are the ruins of many monasteries and churches. Mar Butros is identifiable by its large rust-colored stones. There are also the partially preserved Deir Mar Tedros and the ruined church of the Virgin in the so-called “Haret al-Matawli” or Shiite Quarter.

Another church of the virgin, known as Saydet al-Kharayeb, or “Our Lady of the Ruins” was originally decorated with wall painting.

On the road of Kfar Hilda is a springtime waterfall on the Jose (Walnut) River which should be seen from the road above for the best view.

A pretty valley known as “Basatin al-Issi” near the falls is suitable for hiking or picnics. This is reached by a rough road about half a kilometer long.

Getting There …
From the northern coastal highway at Batroun, head east towards Abrine, Sourat, Da’el. Just before you reach Deir Billa turn right and continue until you reach Kfar Hilda.

Palm Islands

(0m – 5.5km from Tripoli)

A group of three flat, rocky islands of eroded limestone pavement, 5.5 km offshore and northwest of Tripoli, together with their surrounding seas constitute the Palm Islands Nature Reserve. The overall area of the reserve is 4.2 sq km.

The reserve has recently been designated as a Mediterranean Specially Protected Area under the Barcelona Convention (1995). The islands were also identified as a Wetland of Special International Importance by Carp (1980), and have been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International (Evans, 1994).

Palm Island is the largest of the three islands, covering an area of 180796 sqm and is flat with no obvious relief; its highest point is only about 6m above sea level. The earthen middle separates a rocky shoreline extending from the northwest to south, and a sandy beach extending from the north to the east. The island contains evidence of past periods of human occupation in the form of a fresh water well, an old Salinas and the remains of an old church that date back to the Crusader period.

Sanani Island covers an area of 45503 sqm south east of Palm Island. It is mainly rocky with a partially sandy shore that resembles that of Palm Island.

The smallest island, with an area of 34.903 sqm is located north west of Palm Island. Ramkine Island is mostly rocky and rises to about 12 meters above sea level. The island contains the remains of a lighthouse in addition to cannon emplacements and underground galleries that were built early this century. A solar powered navigation light has now been installed in the tower of the old lighthouse.

The importance of the reserve is mainly due to its biodiversity, i.e., what it encloses of species of fauna and flora as well as habitats and ecosystems, it also represents a resting area for rare and globally endangered migratory birds such as White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaetus albicilla, Audouin’s Gull Larus audouini and Corncrake Crex crex, during its passage or its wintering.

Also, its sandy shore is considered one of the few remaining areas for the nesting of the globally endangered marine turtles such as the Green Turtle Chelonia mydas and the Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta. It also hosts in its caves the Mediterranean Monk seal Monachus monachus that is the sixth mammal on the list of globally endangered species.

As for its flora, it contains medicinal plants and other rare and endemic species. But the remarkable is that the surrounding submerged area of the reserve, whether it is herbaceous, sandy or rocky with crevices, is considered as unique ground for spawning fish and sponges.

The coastal flora of the Lebanese shore is subjected to extinction due to pollution and urban development. It is not the same for the reserve islands which are uninhabited, that gives it a better chance to enclose a variety of the Eastern Mediterranean coastal flora, and to be a sample of how the Lebanese coasts were in the past.

In addition, the islands witness alternation of a variety of monthly plants, which leads to a different cover not only from one season to another but from one month to the other. The Palm Island Nature Reserve islands are also distinguished for the variety of medicinal and beehive plants that it has.

The islands are distinguished by being the only place in Lebanon that has nesting sea birds (Yellow- Legged Gull), and that is because it is away from hunting and urban pressure. Also there are nine other species that nest on the islands such as the Hoopoe Upupa epops, Graceful Warbler Prinia gracilis, Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, and White Wagtail Motacilla alba …

As for migratory and wintering species, there are about 156 species, 41 of which continue their route to nest on the Lebanese mainland. Worthy to say is that the chaos on the islands before it was declared a reserve, resulted in the disappearance of four species of birds that used to nest on them and these are: Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii, Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis, Common Tern Sterna hirundo and the Little Tern Sterna albifrons, that is normal because the islands are characterized wherever they are by a fragile ecosystem.

But after the conservation, two of these species have returned to the islands these are: Audouin’s Gull and Common Tern. And it is hoped that the other two species will return if conservation continues according to the management and action plans set for this purpose.

The reserve welcomes visitors during the months July, August and September. The islands cannot be visited outside the visiting period unless a person take permission from the reserve manager before at least three days from the visiting period.

Getting There …
Once you are in Tripoli, go to the sea port where you will have to arrange for a boat ride to the Islands which are 5.5km away. The Islands are not accessible in winter time.

Quadisha Valley

(1300m – 6km from Beirut) – “Holy Valley” of History”

The Qadisha Valley near Bsharreh marks the start of a deep geological fault whose extending valleys reach out of sight to the sea. The word “Qadisha” comes from a Semitic root meaning “holy” and Wadi Qadisha is the “Holy Valley”. Filled with caves and rock shelters inhabited from the third millennium B.C. to the Roman period, the valley is scattered with chapels, hermitages and monasteries cut from rock. In the 7th century it was inhabited by Christian monks who settled in almost inaccessible limestone caves to lead ascetic lives.

A number of monasteries were built in this area, the most important of which are Deir Qannoubin, an ancient seat of the Maronite Patriarchate; Deir Qouzhayya, site of the first printing press in the Middle East and Deir Mar Elisha, where the Maronite Order of Lebanese Monks was founded in 1635. The gorge is best explored on foot a narrow vehicular road descends to the bottom, but it is more fun to take one of the paths from the villages of Tourza, Blawza, Hadchit, Hasroun and Diman.

The Qadisha River, whose source is the Qadisha Grotto, runs through the valley, continuing down to Tripoli where it becomes the Abu Ali River. On the old road between the Cedars and Bcharreh is the Qadisha Grotto, where water thunders down from snow-fed springs. A sign marks the spot where you take a footpath from the roadside to the cave, a walk of about ten minutes.

The cave is lighted to show its limestone formations, but the rushing water and cool temperatures are the main attractions here. Below the cave is a powerful waterfall, especially full in spring months. Closed during the winter, in summer this is the site of an outdoor restaurant and cafe.

Getting There …
From Chekka take the main highway east towards Amyoun passing through Hadath El Jebbe, and Bcharreh. The valley can be accessed by foot from any of the following villages which you may pass through along the way: Tourza, Blawza, Hadchit, Hasroun and Diman.

Qammouah

(1500m – 155km from Beirut) – Scenic Mountain

Jabal Qammouah is a small paradise of streams, rugged mountains and sturdy gnarled pines. In winter the snow-covered peaks are particularly arresting.

This is a good place for picnicking, hiking and photography. Keep your eyes open for ruins and other remnants of the past. About half way across the flat-topped mountain there is a hill where three standing structures can be seen, possibly the ruins of an old monastery.

Getting There …
From El Abdeh, 15km away from Tripoli along the coast, take the eastern road to Fnaideq village, continuing through the town to a paved road that leads up the mountain.

Qannoubin

(6 km from Bsharreh) – Valley

At the Qalamoun frontiers, into the rocky chains girdling the country roads, you can come across the cavern of St. Marina. Its orange color set against a gray background makes it look embossed as if the rays of the sun have been soaked in a clump of dark trees.

This cave contains engravings enameled with pigmented substances that date of the Creek and Byzantine eras. Recently though, nine paintings were exhumed along with a Latin index drawn in thick Roman letters of the 8th century BC.

These paintings illustrate St. Marina’s story, who disguised herself as a monk in the Monks’ convent in the Valley Qannoubin at the heart of the forest in Qadisha – so as to help save miraculously many new-born whose mothers’ milk was not sufficient enough to feed them. Mothers came to St. Marina, then, seeking her grace and clemency. Deir Qannoubin is the monastery that gave its name to this part of the valley.

Getting There …
From Chekka take the main highway East towards Amyoun passing through Hadath El Jebbe, and Bcharreh. Qannoubine is 6km away from Bcharreh.

Tannourine

(1400m – 92km from Beirut)

Tannourine lies in a splendidly beautiful area near the mountain of the same name. The area is rocky and mountainous with sharp slopes and a deep valley (Ain El Raha).

The village also shares its name with a cedar forest of some 60,000 trees. The most abundant and sacred trees are the Cedars and this area is distinctive as native land for Cedrus Libani. These cedars can be seen along the road that goes north to Hadath al-Jebbe, which, although in poor condition, winds its way through wild and isolated scenery up to the Qadisha gorge.

Other companion trees like Cupressus, Pinus, Abies, Populus and other constitute a very rich ecosystem in plantr species. The fauna described as being present in this type of unique ecosystem renage from the various types of birds (eagles, owls, robins, etc…) to wild animals (hyenas, boars, squirrels, snakes and bats).

The Village of Balaa in the Tannourine area is known for its large sink hole. A 300 meter walk brings you to a dizzying open cavern some 250 meters deep. Three natural bridges – the middle one is the most spectacular – complete the scene.

And if you visit in spring you’ll also discover an impressive waterfall some 90 meters high. Besides the sink hole, which will occupy a good deal of time, the surrounding hills invite exploration.

Nahr al JozeIn and around Tannourine village are numerous scattered remnants from pre-Roman, Roman and Byzantine times. The Crusader Church of Mar Chalita is further evidence of its long history and even today the saint is honored in an annual feast on August 20.

Along the pretty river (Nahr al Joze), which runs through the wooded Valley of Tannourine are many attractive restaurants offering Lebanese food. More good restaurants in natural settings are found round Laqlouq.

Getting There …
From the northern coastal highway at Batroun, head east towards Abrine, Sourat, Da’el. Just before you reach Deir Billa turn right and continue towards Kfar Hilda and then Tannourine.