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كازينو لبنان لاس فيغاس الشرق - [more]
By: حنان مرهج
Date: Sunday, January 01, 2012

منذ إعادة إعماره بعد الحرب اللبنانية وحتى اليوم، يعتبر كازينو لبنان المرفق الوحيد الذي يؤمن المرح والتسلية في آن معا، إضافة الى المطاعم الفاخرة، والبرامج الفنية العالمية، ويشكل بالتالي الهدف الأساس لجميع السياح الذين يتوافدون الى لبنان ولا سيما في فترات الأعياد ومواسم الإصطياف.
كازينو لبنان الذي يقع على هضبة مطلة على البحر، شمال منطقة  جونية وخليجها، والجبل في آن واحد، يبعد عن بيروت 22 كلم شمالاً وتبلغ مساحته ما يقارب 34000 كم مربع، ويجمع بين أروع التسليات والثقافات والرفاهيّات التي قد يحلم بها أي لبناني، أو سائح أجنبي كان أم عربي.
خيارات عدة وفاخرة وواسعة تأسر القلب وتجعل الإنسان متلهّفاً لمعاينة لاس فيغاس الشرق، فيتضمن كازينو لبنان ثلاث غرف للّعب وهي الغرفة العالميّة وغرفة الشرق الأوسط وغرفة دائرة الذهب، وتقدم هذه الغرف مجموعة منوّعة من الألعاب تتشكل من لعبة (الروليت الأميركيّة) و(البلاك جاك) و(البونتو بانكو) و(كازينو ستاد بوكر) مع رهانات مختلفة تناسب جميع اللاعبين. كذلك يقدّم مساحةً لماكينات الحظ التي تتميّز بأكثر من 320 جائزة كبرى وماكينات من أحدث أنواع ماكينات لاس فيغاس، وبحسب المعلومات فان عدد ألعاب الماكينات يلامس ما مجموعه 365، و57 من العاب الطاولات والبوكر. وهنا تجدر الإشارة الى أن ليلة رأس السنة وعلى هامش الحفلات في مختلف الأماكن اللبنانية، تتوجه أعداد من اللبنانيين الى الكازينو، لكشف حظهم، من أي طبقة إجتماعية كانوا، فهناك صالات في استطاعة الجميع الدخول إليها.
وبعيداً عن اللعب، والمقامرة، والتي تعتبر سيف ذو حدين، لكازينو لبنان وجه آخر وأساسي أيضاً في الوجهة السياحية والضيافة اللبنانية، فيتميّز الكازينو بتنوعّ مطابخه العالميّة التي يتقنها بكل سهولة وسلاسة إضافة إلى الخدمة السريعة والكاملة. فهو يجمع كل المكوّنات اللازمة لجعل مطعمه مختلف عن أيّ مكان آخر. ومن المطاعم المتنوعة الموجودة في الكازينو مطعم (بكارة) للمشروبات والمأكولات، ومطعم (سيركل دور) الفرنسي وبوفيه (إنترناشيونال) و(لا مارتينغايل) و(ميديتيرانيان) الفرنسيان و(لو تيراس) اللبناني. مما يشكل خيارات متنوعة ترضي كل الأذواق.
وفي فصل الصيف، يشكل الكازينو نقطة أساسية لإستقطاب حفلات الأعراس  والكوكتيل المميزة، في التراس السفلي، الذي يستقبل أيضاً المآدب والولائم ويتمتّع بتنظيمات مذهلة في الهواء الطلق. كذلك يضم هذا المنتجع غرفتي عرض وصالة السفراء والمسرح الذي يضمّ بدوره منصّات واسعة ومقاعد وفيرة مع أحدث التكنولوجيّات السمعيّة البصريّة، وتنظم فيه أهم الحفلات والعروض التلفزيونية، ولا سيما انتخاب ملكة جمال لبنان التي تقام في صالات الكازينو.
بعد عرض مفصل لهذا المكان الذي يجمع في صالاته ما يرضي كل الأذواق، وفي مطاعمه مختلف المطابخ العالمية، لا بد من الإشارة الى وجود إشاكالات عدة، وملفات فساد، تبقى وإن غطى عليها صخب أجواء وليالي كازينو لبنان، نقاط استفهام، لا بد من الإجابة عليها يوماً، ولكن بعد مرور ليلة رأس السنة التي تعتبر الأهم بين السهرات اللبنانية، يحييها هذه السنة المطرب كاظم الساهر، يشاركه الفنانان مروان خوري ويارا.
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Sursock Museum to reopen its doors in 2012 - [more]
By: Alex Taylor
Date: Friday, November 11, 2011

BEIRUT: After years of delays the renovation of the Nicolas Sursock Museum in Ashrafieh, a project expected to double the exhibition space and cost $12-14 million, is set to be completed toward the end of 2012, according to the chief architect behind the project.

“The whole building was about 1,500 square meters and now we are adding more than 7,500 square meters but all underground,” explained Jacques Aboukhaled of JA Designs, chief architect behind the project in collaboration with French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

The project was launched in 2000, but because of delays such as the 2006 war, groundbreaking only took place in 2008. The renovation will add four underground floors to the museum below the courtyard area in front of the building. In addition to parking for museum staff and the technical staging and storage facilities for the collection, new public areas being built include a 160-seat auditorium and a 600-square-meter room for the museum’s main temporary exhibitions.

The museum will continue to display its permanent collection on the ground level, while the first floor exhibition space, which used to be the main temporary exhibition hall, will now be an additional, dynamic space to show more of the permanent collection or offer second temporary exhibitions.

Maintaining the character and look of the building while updating the fixtures of the exhibition spaces is crucial to the renovation, according the Aboukhaled: “We are keeping the old building as it was and the front [of the building] as it was kept in the 60s when they did the first renovation.”

The building was constructed in the late 19th century by Nicolas Sursock as a private villa. Upon his death in 1961, it became a museum and underwent its first, and until now, only renovation.

“What was kept from the first renovation is kept 100 percent … but we are making use of all the square meters available because we need them for the museum. They didn’t have enough space for their collection,” Aboukhaled added.

For example, the façade of the building, including its grand staircase, and the main floor of the building, its “etage noble” with famous stained glass windows and the salon arab, will be preserved.

“We kept the heart of the first floor more or less as it used to be,” while updating the building with “all the new technology … because it is a museum that will be finished in 2012,” he said.

But when the digging first began almost three years ago, the public reacted with skepticism over the project.

“When we took out the round staircase at the entrance, everyone was screaming, ‘What are they building? What are they doing?’ They thought that we were building a car park for a building next door,” laughed Aboukhaled, adding that, in reality, they were reconstructing and reinforcing the staircase.

The most significant change, aside from the underground floors, will be the addition of a contemporary-style cafeteria and bookshop in the courtyard of the building. The addition has specifically been designed to look clean and simple so as not to compete with the ornate facade of the museum.

“We thought it was quite important to have the contrast because it’s a renovation that is finished today, 2012, and it has to mark our time or materials, but be extremely simple and very neutral so that we highlight the old part,” Aboukhaled said of the new cafeteria.

The project, Aboukhaled insists, is about creating the highest quality space for people to enjoy the Sursock and traveling collections.

“In general when you go into a museum it’s not to see the architecture, it’s to see what is in it and you can highlight it by very clean and very simple backgrounds – so that’s what we have.”

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Baskinta Literary Trail preserves town’s heritage - [more]
By: Samya Kullab
Date: Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BEIRUT: The protagonist in the prologue of Mikhail Naimy’s Book of Mirdad recounts, “Facing the sea to the west and rising many thousands of feet above it, with a front broad, steep and craggy, Altar Peak appeared from the distance to be defying and forbidding.”

Neglectful of the warnings from local mountaineers, our hero’s resolve to climb is strengthened as he observes, “Yet, reasonably safe accesses were pointed out to me, both tortuous narrow paths and skirting many precipices – one from the south, another from the north.”

The vivid backdrop summoned by Naimy’s words is that of his home town Baskinta, a village that sits high on the slope of the regal Mt. Sannin, overlooking the eastern Mediterranean. The area was also home to other eminent literary figures, Abdallah Ghanem, Amin Maalouf, George Aroyan, Rachid Ayoub, and Suleiman Kettaneh. A rich cultural heritage accompanied by striking landscapes inspired Joseph Karam, President of ECODIT, to conceive the 24 km mini-thematic hiking path, The Baskinta Literary Trail to promote and preserve the region’s heritage.

“The idea was to develop a trail where people could discover these authors and poets by walking in the region, learning and feeling what these figures must have felt when they wrote about the village, when they mused about existence: whether it is a great philosophical essay like The Book of Mirdad or the poetry of Abdullah Ghanem,” he says.

Indeed, the common hiker with a penchant for reading is at once struck by the likeness between Naimy’s renditions of the fictional Milky Mountains to the impression left by the stunning views extant in Baskinta: Of hills bending, reclining, and forever rising in succession from the faraway shore; of tranquil hamlets encased in verdant frames; of valleys nestled in hills, “studded with men at labor” selecting the best of their yield.

“When people walk on the trail and go to the places where these authors lived and worked, things inevitably pop up from what they wrote, prompting the hikers to realize, ‘Aha! So, this is what was meant,’” continues Karam.

Part of the larger project, the Lebanon Mountain Trail which connects communities across north and south Lebanon, the Literary Trail was conceived, with the help of USAID, to conserve the environment in the area and to provide economic opportunities for the locals through tourism.

The trail passes the home of Naimy, where one can find the 600-year-old oak tree overlooking the valley, under which he sometimes meditated, the simple room that he shared with his brother, and the tiny crevice in the wall which served as his library. A chance encounter with his nephew, Yusuf – dropping in to tend the apple and cherry orchard – might divulge an anecdote about the author’s life.

“My uncle died in my arms,” Yusuf related that in 1988, Naimy beckoned his nephew to pay him a visit in Beirut. “I found him smoking and drinking coffee in his home, he said he felt very tired and very sick. Within two hours of my arrival, he was gone.” Naimy requested that Yusuf bury him in El-Shakhroub, where he wrote many of his notable works. The site of his grave is also a landmark contained in the trail.

From here, the snaky paths eventually lose their definition as one descends into the depths of Wadi el-Deleb. On the way, one catches sight of smiling strangers and invitations to share a pot of coffee; streams carrying freshwater all the way from Sannin; Forest markers erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian of the 2nd century, banning all logging in the area; and the majestic mouth of the Sayf al-Dawla Cave, named after the enlightened Arab leader of the Hamadani state in 940 A.D.

A laborious ascent by way of the El-Hosseyn Hill brings one to the heart of the village of Baskinta, leaving behind an arresting view of land already traversed. Rugged landscapes give way to asphalted roads, many-storey houses: the standard indications of civilization.

A cultural center dedicated to renowned poet, philosopher and journalist Abdallah Ghanem is located here, storing the his most prized possessions for public viewing: his notebooks, his identification papers, his characteristic walking cane, and the desk where he rarely wrote.

“My father wrote most of his poems in the presence of nature, facing the mountains and the valleys” says his son, Ghaleb Ghanem, the present head of the Supreme Judicial Council. In fact, many of Ghanem’s poems were written atop Mt. Sannin, where the view of the steep valleys bestowed him with an unvarnished honesty, as the lines from one of his poems reveal: “Upon my heart she tapped and said, ‘Oh kindly open let me see.’”

Naturally, the question of why the small village of Baskinta, in particular, has produced such a startling number of remarkable figures arises: During the 18th century, with various missions from Russia and France venturing to the area to establish schools, the area gained a reputation to be an educational center. Children from neighboring villages and beyond made the commute to take advantage of the didactic opportunities.

“There are essentially two interrelated elements in Baskinta that contribute to its cultural heritage: the nature and a certain literary culture, with an accompanying humane culture which developed in the beginning of the 20th century,” explains Ghanem.

Anomalies in what would otherwise be a pristine landscape do, however, exist. This is evident in the series of unfinished buildings that may remain for years in skeletal form, depending on the income of the owner.

“A foremost threat to conservation efforts in the area, is construction,” says President of the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association, Karim al-Jisr. “The essence of a trail is to see nature and the value of a trail is how much nature you get to see. The minute construction becomes rampant then you diminish the value of the trail.”

According to Jisr, bad habits, combined with ignorance and low-cost projects are contributing to the environmental threats to the area: “People tend to widen existing roads, or build new roads by cutting it through landscapes. They don’t look for the path of least-resistance, or try to make these new additions blend with the environment by cutting as few trees as possible and managing the rubble that is produced along the way.”

In an attempt to maintain the trail and its surroundings, LMT is planning to segment the route, along with a business sponsor, and encourage individual municipalities to present the trail in their urban planning regulations.

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سرسق ومعوض: متعة تاريخية وجمالية - [more]
By: كارمن جوخدار
Date: Monday, October 24, 2011

متحف سرسق: ارستقراطية وحداثة
"متحف سرسق" قصر اثري لبناني بناه نقولا سرسق عام 1910 وهو في الوقت عينه متحف الفن الحديث في لبنان، وهبه صاحبه بعد وفاته عام 1952 إلى بلدية بيروت، على ان يتحوّل متحفاً للفنون الحديثة كما ذكر في وصيّته حيث اشترط أن يكون رئيس بلدية بيروت مشرفاً عليه وان تدير شؤونه نخبة من الشخصيات البيروتية.
بين سنة 1953 و1975 استخدم القصر لاستضافة ملوك ورؤساء زاروا لبنان رسمياً ليتحوّل بعدها الى متحف، حسب رغبة ووصية صاحبه، يضم قطعاً من الأثريات والمقتنيات الثمينة التي وجدت في قبو القصر.
ومنذ العام 1961 الى يومنا هذا والمتحف ينظّم الكثير من المعارض لأعمال عدد كبير من الفنانين اللبنانيين والعالميين. ويحتوي المتحف على مجموعة من قطع وأعمال فنية نادرة ويبلغ إجمالي محتوياته المتنوعة خمسة آلاف قطعة فنية.
ويظن العابرون في شارع السراسقة، أحد أرقى شوارع الأشرفية في بيروت، للوهلة الأولى ان متحف سرسق القائم في وسط الشارع يتعرض للهدم ليقام مكانه برج جديد من الأبراج التي طمست معالم بيروت التراثية في ظل الحفارات والشاحنات التي تنقل الأتربة، ولكن الحقيقة هي عكس ذلك، باعتبار ان الحفريات الجارية في حديقة المتحف هي غير الحفريات الجارية الى جانبه. فهنا سينبت برج حقيقي، بينما هناك يجري توسيع المتحف ليضم ملحقاً تبلغ مساحته 7000  متر مربع دون أن يغير شيئاً من طابع المتحف التراثي باعتبار ان هذا الملحق سيتوزع على 4 طبقات تحت الأرض وتحديداً تحت حديقة المتحف في ما يضم قاعة محاضرات كبرى، وقاعة وسطى، وقاعات معارض، ومساحات لتخزين القطع الفنية، وموقفاً للسيارات، فضلاً عن ثلاثة مصاعد وأقفاص سلم تقع في الجزء المنجز عام 1967 خلف المبنى الأساسي. 
وستحتل ركناً من الحديقة مكتبة وكافيتريا تعتبران الجزء المكشوف الوحيد من البناء الملحق. ويتضمن المشروع أيضا إعادة تأهيل المبنى القديم «الذي سيبقى محافظاً على صورته».
ويعتبر المبنى متعة معمارية لكونه مزيجاً من الأسلوبين الفينيسي والعثماني فيما يحافظ القيمون على هذا الرائعة المعمارية على الديكور الأصلي الداخلي كما أن المجموعات لا تزال على حالها اضافة الى النقوش اليابانية والفن الإسلامي جنبا إلى جنب مع النحت والسيراميك والأواني الزجاجية والأيقونية التي يعود تاريخها إلى قرون الثامن عشر والتاسع عشر والعشرين المعروضة بشكل دائم دون أن ننسى أعمال الفنانين اللبنانيين المعاصرين الدوليين التي تقدم في معارض دورية داخل المعرض.

من فرعون الى معوض... والقصر يتحول الى علبة جواهر ومقتنيات نادرة
قصر هنري فرعون درسٌ في التاريخ، صاحبه أعظم من جمع التحف في لبنان، شيّده عام 1901 قرب السراي على الربوة الغربية من بيروت القديمة في منطقة زقاق البلاط، وهو المولع بهوايته الى حد الهوس، متيقظ يُعنى بكل شكل من أشكال الفن العربي، ومنزله الرائع شاهد ينطق بأصالة ذاك الفن.
ويعرض المتحف قطعاً تزيينية تاريخية، وفخاريات من العهود القديمة، وألواحاً خشبية أعيد تجميعها، الى قطع فنية فريدة تتراوح بين الكتب القديمة والمجوهرات النادرة الحديثة. 
في 22 حزيران 1991، انتقلت ملكية القصر الى روبير معوض أحد المشاهير في حقل صياغة المجوهرات، الذي معه تحققت أمنية هنري فرعون التي طالما رددها: "أتمنى منزلي متحفاً شاهداً على التعايش بين الأديان".
وتكمن أهمية القصر في احتوائه مجموعات نادرة متناغمة، فهو يجمع بين تراث الانسانية فكراً وفناً، ضمن نظرة جمالية تعكس ذكريات من الفن اليوناني والروماني والفينيقي والاسلامي والبيزنطي.
وحسب ما جاء في كتاب "العمارة اللبنانية" الصادر عن متحف سرسق، بدأ هنري فرعون هوايته منذ عام 1929 لتأثيث صالون عربي أصيل فإذا به عام 1936 يجمع في منزله أجمل مجموعة زخرفية تعود لما بين القرنين الثالث عشر والتاسع عشر تضم خشبيات محفورة ومرسومة مجلوبة من محتويات أهم القصور المهدّمة التي بيعت في دمشق وحلب، وتعود الى ما بين القرنين الثالث عشر والتاسع عشر، وهذه المجموعة تزين بفخامة أربعة عشر بهواً في الطابق الأرضي وست غرف في الطابق الأول. 
المنزل الذي عشق هنري فرعون السكن فيه مؤلف من طابقين وبرج، استقبل فيه كبار الشخصيات السياسية من الأمراء والملوك والأباطرة، وشخصيات غير عادية. 
التوقّف عند كل تحفة لا يكفيك للتلأمل بروعة محتوياته ويحتار الزائر في النظر الى الخشب الذي يذكّر بروعة المنازل في العهد العثماني أو الى نماذج من القرميد السوري والتركي والبرتغالي، إلا أن أكثرها تميزاً هي مجموعة القرميد الهولندي الفريدة. ولم يحتوي القصر على مجموعة من الكتب الدينية والمخطوطات القديمة، من أوائل الكتب المطبوعة فضلا عن نماذج راقية من الخزف الصيني الأبيض والأزَرق والفخاريات الاسلامية في مجموعة متميزة من السيراميك في حين تجد مجموعة من السجاد التركي تزين أرض المتحف.
وتنتصب الأيقونات نماذج رائعة من الفن المقدس وتشكّل القطع الأثرية مجموعة باهرة من الأعمدة وأكثر من مئة تاج تكملها قطع فنية أخرى مصدرها الشرق الأدنى وغيرها من الحضارات القريبة اضافة الى مجموعة كبيرة من القطع المعدنية تضم قطعاً من الحضارة الفارسية وأخرى من تركيا وسوريا.
يضاف الى ما سبق ذكره، مجموعة نادرة من جميع الحقبات التاريخية المهمة في مجال تصميم المجوهرات، العديد منها من دُور مجوهرات مشهورة في العالم. فمن قلادة زمرد اسبانية من القرن السادس عشر الى بروش ألماس من ستينات القرن العشرين الى تصاميم أكثر حداثة.

القصر تحوّل اليوم الى تحفة في علبة مجوهرات مخملية تعود الى فنان المجوهرات الذائع الصيت عالمياً روبير معوض، الذي أعاد تأهيله وترميمه وتحويله الى متحف دائم إيماناً منه بأنه ثروة أثرية وفنية من الثروات الوطنية الثمينة. "واذا كان هنري فرعون هو الذي جعل من هذا القصر جوهرة بيروتية، فإن رجل الأعمال روبير معوض أضاف الى هذه الجوهرة المعمارية مجموعتين لا تقلان روعة وجمالاً"، تقول المسؤولة عن المتحف كريستيان خلاط. 
"اكسلسيور"، هي الماسة الفريدة وثاني أكبر ماسة في العالم بعد ماسة التاج البريطاني، التي اشتراها معوض في مزاد علني منذ سنوات عدة بقيمة 12 مليون دولار، والتي تعرض ضمن المجموعة الأولى في المتحف اضافة الى العقد الذي تزينت به الملكة البريطانية اليزابيت يوم زفافها. أما المجموعة الثانية فهي جزء من مكتبة كميل أبو صوان وتحتوي على مخطوطات قديمة ونادرة.

قصران هما نقش اضافي في تاريخ لبنان وحضارته، قصران هما جوهرتان تلمعان في بنيان بيروت وعمرانها فتحويان تاريخ منطقة برمّتها وتختصران فنا وذوقا.

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زيتون بشعلة البترونية طوابع مالية - [more]
By: باميلا كشكوريان
Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2011

من ضمن الدفعة الأخيرة التي اصدرتها وزارة المالية اللبنانية من طوابع مالية تحمل رموزا لبنانية عريقة كان لزيتون بشعلة طابع مالي جديد، فبعد قلعة المسيلحة ها هي اشجار زيتون بشعلة تتربع على عرش الطوابع اللبنانية .
والمعروف ان بشعلة والزيتون توأمان  فمنذ القدم ، حباها الله باشجار معمرة من الزيتون يقال ان عمر بعضها يتخطى الستة الاف سنة فيما ان اصغر اشجار زيتون المعمر يتخطى الالف سنة .
ومع اصدار طابع مالي يحمل صورة زيتونها من الجدير الاشارة الى ان هذه البلدة التي تقع في جرود البترون  هي بلدة أثرية، سياحية تتميز بأشجار زيتون معمّرة وسخيّة بعطائها، وتعد الأقدم في لبنان وتعود الى أيام نوح.
وتتميز بشعلة بمجموعة من الاثار والتراث منها:
1.     حقول الزيتون المعمّر والذي يقدر عمره بستة آلاف سنة. ويذكر أن زيتون بشعله هو الأقدم في العالم.
2.     قلعة الحصن، تقع الى الشمال الشرقي من البلدة، وليس لها من ممر إلا من جهة بشعله. تحتضن القلعة آثار معبد فينيقي وبعض حجارة مداميك ضخمة، يبلغ طولها 350 متراً وعرضها 150 متراً وهي على مساحة 52000 ألف متراً مربعاً.
3.     مدافن ونواويس وغرف جنائزية.
4.     كتابة يونانية على تاج عمود قرب كنيسة السيدة. يصعب قراءتها.
5.     دير مار مار ضومط
6.     كنيسة السيدة، تعود الى العام 1500 ورممت في القرن السابع عشر
7.     دير مار توما، معبد قديم.
8.     صخرة الحبيس. تقع في تجويف صخري في محلة تدعى “الشميس”
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Lebanon’s peak scalers win spectacular view - [more]
By: Nicholas Blanford
Date: Thursday, October 13, 2011

QORNET AL-SAWDA, Lebanon: It is easy to forget while living amid Beirut’s dust, noise, pollution and seemingly endless bland stacks of concrete that there is a vast expanse of Lebanon that remains unspoilt, remote and happily free from the clumsy human touch.

The top of Mount Lebanon, stretching from south of Jabal Sannine to north of Qornet al-Sawda, is a rugged uninhabited region of undulating plateau and sharp limestone peaks where it is possible to wander for a day or more and see no one and hear nothing but the sigh of the wind.

Recently, I fulfilled a long-standing goal to hike this wilderness from Sannine (Lebanon’s third highest mountain at 2,680 meters) to Qornet al-Sawda (Lebanon’s highest mountain at 3,080 meters), a journey of three days and some 70 kilometers.

The trip began on a Thursday night when I and my three fellow hikers, Yousseph Salameh, his brother Shady and Charbel Gharios, were dropped off along the potholed lane between Nabaa Sannine and the Tarshish-Zahle road. Camping here for the night ensured an early start the next morning.

To the east, the lights of Zahle and the surrounding villages and roads transformed the Bekaa into a distant starry constellation. Above the black silhouette of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, Jupiter shone with spotlight intensity, dominating the fainter stars dusting the night sky. To the west, a soft blanket of cloud, a ghostly luminescence under the two-thirds-full moon, crept ever higher up the deep valleys.

We rose at dawn to a sky of the most intense blue streaked with pink as the sun inched over the mountains to the east and the Bekaa was partially hidden by mist. The summit of Sannine lay seven kilometers to the north and 800 meters above us, a steep climb made harder by backpacks weighing around 23 kilograms. We had to carry all our water as there were no springs en route. The track wound through spectacular Karstic limestone scenery – near perfectly conical sink holes and crazily tilted slabs of bedrock – that grew ever more rugged as the summit of Sannine drew closer.

After four hours of walking, we scrambled to the top of Sannine and dropped wearily into the leeside of a rocky outcrop to brew some tea out of the wind.

Sannine was a front line during the Civil War and the detritus of conflict is still found among its lofty peaks. The top of Sannine is pockmarked by old foxholes and tank revetments. Empty cartridges and rusty shards of shrapnel lie scattered on the ground. There are more dangerous mementoes of the war still lurking beneath the stony soil. Much of the Sannine area is blighted by minefields, most of them poorly marked. The Lebanese Army kindly gave me some years ago a large-scale map of the Sannine area marking all minefields, active and cleared, as well as other suspected hazardous areas.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached a shepherd’s encampment beside the road between Ayoun al-Siman and the Bekaa, and we were exhausted. The back-breaking, knee-cracking climb up and across Sannine had taken longer than anticipated and we had fallen behind schedule. While considering our choices, we were invited for tea by Khaled, a shepherd from Aarsal in the Bekaa who each year brings his family and goats to Ayoun es-Siman for the warm summer months. His wife filled tiny glasses with tea and then brought out some bread and a bowl of thick, freshly-made labneh that had a delicious tang of goat’s cheese. Khaled’s brother Mohammad, offered to drive us in his pickup truck to our intended camp site, a gesture we reluctantly accepted. If we had declined, it is unlikely that we would have made it to Qornet al-Sawda by Sunday.

The second day’s leg was some 28 kilometers, taking us from just south of the road cutting across the mountains between Afqa and the Bekaa to the road crossing the ridge between the Cedars and Ainatta. Unlike the frost-shattered and tortuous landscape of Sannine, most of the route followed the gently rolling sepia-tinted plateau of the Jurd Yammoune. It was a Saturday morning, and the hills were alive with the sound of gunfire as hunters charged up and down the farm tracks in SUVs, blazing away at anything that moved.

During the day, the route grew steeper as we headed toward the pass between the Cedars and the Bekaa. By late afternoon, thick cloud had descended over the hills and an icy wind howled up the natural wind tunnel formed by the Qadisha Valley and blasted us as we followed the ridge that brought us to the Cedars-Ainatta road. We staggered through the cloudy gloom looking for cover from the wind, but the only shelter available was an abandoned single room stone hut that once had served as a Syrian army billet and today, judging from the smell and evidence on the floor, was a public latrine for those caught short on the drive over the mountains. Unpleasant, but we had little choice if we wanted to stay out of the wind. The wind dropped as night fell and the skies cleared. Lying in my bivvy bag and gazing through the open door, I could see the lights of Baalbek shimmering 25 kilometers away and 1,400 meters below.

Shortly after drifting asleep, a car pulled up at the entrance, its headlights shining through the door. Several policemen marched in, one of them carrying a rifle. They asked us who we were and what we were doing. Apparently, someone had noticed our presence in the hut and called the police. Satisfied with our answers, a policeman suggested we take his phone number in case we had any problems over night.

“Are you sure you will be okay up here?” the policeman asked. “There might be people who could come up here and kill you.”

Kill us? Surely he was exaggerating, but his comment guaranteed a near sleepless night for me. From that moment on, every vehicle I could hear grinding up the steep road 200 meters away was potentially filled with gunmen on the hunt for foreigners. At one point, a car did pull up outside, but it turned out to be a courting couple who quickly sped away when they realized the hut was occupied.

Another glorious dawn and we set off on the last leg to the summit of Qornet al-Sawda. To the west, the Qadisha Valley cut through the landscape toward the sea like a giant axe stroke. The famed Cedars of God far below us looked pathetically small and frail, a tiny emerald set against the dun-colored hills.

The thin air and steep final ascent up Qornet al-Sawda usually makes for hard going. But three days marching in the mountains with almost no food, apart from the odd handful of trail mix, seemed to have hardened us, and the climb was not as taxing.

The view from the summit was spectacular. But we were soon collected from the summit by a friend in his SUV and began the long drive back to Beirut. Three days in the mountains, 70 kilometers walked, six kilograms loss in weight. Bliss. Now to plan the next trip.

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Jezzine offers Lebanese wines, culinary tradition - [more]
By: Mirella Hodeib
Date: Tuesday, October 11, 2011

JEZZINE, Lebanon: One of the country’s overlooked treasures, the district of Jezzine is rightfully regarded as south Lebanon’s vineyard and the protector of the south’s scrumptious culinary traditions.

Located in a fertile plain, the district lies in the midst of pine forests and vineyards and is guarded by lofty mountains and hills which in the 1980s and 1990s witnessed intense fighting between Lebanese resistance fighters on the one hand and Israeli occupiers and their agents on the other.

But with the years of Israeli occupation long gone, Jezzine and surrounding villages have, despite the lack of adequate infrastructure, succeeded in carving a niche of their own and soon became among the country’s most popular touristic venues.

At the intersection between the Chouf and the south, Jezzine is known for its strategic location, exactly 20 minutes from the southern coastal city of Sidon.

Abundant vineyards allow Jezzine wineries to produce some of the great wines that south Lebanon has to offer. The scent of close-by pine trees mix with those of the grapes, generating a very fresh, lively and floral wine.

Once in Jezzine ask around for the Karam Winery, where Habib Karam has mastered winemaking and fermentation techniques to give his product the tranquil body characteristic of good wines.

But Jezzine is not only about savory libations. Traditional Lebanese architecture is well-preserved in the town and public buildings such as the municipal palace, the Serail, and the public library bear witness. Private residences, such as the Farid Serhal Palace, boast a large collection of valuable antiques and are open to the public.

The recently revamped old souks are one of Jezzine’s main attractions. Located behind the splendid Serail, Souk al-Sad has become a favorite nightlife hub, with a wide selection of pubs and cafes.

Souk al-Sad is also where you will find traditional shops selling the unique Jezzine cutlery sets with handles carved from ebony or bone into a phoenix bird pattern.

Paul Rehayem the owner of one of those shops explains that only 10 families in Jezzine master the craft, but laments the fact that it will soon die out since Jezzine’s younger generation are not interested in acquiring the necessary skills to make to cutlery.

He adds that prices range between $10 for a piece to $1,800 for a whole set.

A few meters away from Souk al-Sad, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the town’s famous waterfalls.

Several restaurants overlook the impressive falls, which due to global warming run dry during the summer and fall seasons. Al-Shallal restaurant is one of the best eateries in the area offering traditional Lebanese mezze and other specialties.

Spending the night at one of Jezzine’s many hotels is definitely worthwhile, especially if the goal is to explore the south Lebanon district and surrounding areas in depth. The Iris Flower and Arz al-Sanawbar are the town’s cleanest and most comfortable hotels, with rates starting at $120 per night.

Planning a longer stay in Jezzine? Rent a chalet at the L’Etoile du Loup compound, which is situated near a pine forest overlooking the town. Prices start at $200 per night including breakfast.

A visit to Jezzine is never complete without a trip to the nearby village of Aramta where the charismatic Mona Sabra and her team struggle to preserve and recreate Lebanon’s traditional food products, referred to as “mouneh.”

In her tiny store dubbed “Khayrat Aramta,” Sabra and her women spend long hours grinding burghul and spices, drying thyme and sumac, distilling rose water and concocting tomato sauce, jams, apple cider and pomegranate molasses.

But the team leader of Khayrat Aramta, a project which receives support from the United Nations Development Program, the Research Group for Vocational Training and Oxfam, has introduced a creative twist on the old-fashioned food.

Sabra has revisited the traditional mouneh introducing new items such as ginger jam or banana jam every season.

South Lebanon’s culinary wealth is effectively safeguarded by the numerous top quality restaurants scattered in the district of Jezzine.

For an exceptional southern culinary experience stop at Les Caves Restaurant in Roum on the way back to Beirut through Jezzine. Although a little bit pricey, the restaurant, which used to be a horses’ stable back in the old days, is a hidden gem.

The varied menu includes a typical south Lebanon dish the “frakeh,” which is raw lamb meat reduced to a creamy paste mixed with burghul, orange zests, basil, marjoram, ground walnuts and chilly, with a pinch of salt.

Trying Les Caves’ fattoush, chicken liver in pomegranate sauce and succulent mixed grills is also a must. However those with a sweet tooth will not be entirely satisfied by the selection of fruits offered by Les Caves for desert.

End your trip to south Lebanon with some sweets from the renowned Al-Samra shops on the main highway linking Sidon to Beirut. The bondkieh, lawzieh and semsmiyeh, a variety of nuts or sesame in heavy syrup, at Al-Samra are likely to delight taste buds.

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Travel postcard: A visit to the pearl of Lebanon - [more]
By: Yasmin Alameddine
Date: Thursday, September 29, 2011

EHDEN, Lebanon: Ehden, the pearl of north Lebanon’s mountain towns, has not gained its touristic reputation for nothing. With its idyllic mountain climate, proximity to Beirut, and wide variety of tourist attractions to please the daredevil or food connoisseur alike, Ehden remains one of the hottest destinations in Lebanon.

Ehden has an altitude of 1450 m above sea level. It is conveniently located 110 km from Beirut, 30 km from Tripoli and only a 20-minute car ride from the Cedars. With 10 hotels available, hospitality is one of the town’s strongest points.

Grand Hotel Abshi and Ehden Country Club are two of the favored destinations. Grand Hotel Abshi, founded in 1932, has rooms usually occupied by tourists who stay for two to three days, and chalets for those who stay for one to two months. Many Lebanese come to have weddings at this hotel, usually in the spring or summer months. “It has 100 percent occupancy on the weekends. It’s completely full!” says hotel receptionist Rita Bedrosian, “but is less on the weekdays.” Ehden Country Club, another reputable competitor has 160 units. It differentiates itself from other hotels by having extra facilities, such as its three pools and multiple restaurants. It also offers team building retreats for university students and companies, and has partnerships with travel agencies allowing guests to book day trips through the hotel. Ehden Country Club also offers a kids club with ping pong tables, tennis courts, archery classes and kids pools.

With more than 40 restaurants in Ehden, no tourist can ever go hungry. One of the most well known restaurants Al Fardaws holds true to high expectations. If the large hoards of people indulging in the traditional Lebanese cuisine, and the scenic mountain view do not convince you of the restaurant’s prestige, then your taste buds will. The succulent meat, fresh vegetables, savory mezzes and delectable desserts will leave you feeling completely satisfied.

Another favorite eatery is the patisserie Fouad Jer Doueihy. “I think everyone eats here because they trust our brand, it is very well known,” says manager Sarkis Doueihy. Established in 1919, the patisserie is known for mouthwatering Lebanese sweets, including halawat el-jeben and other traditional sweets such as knefe, baklava and maamoul. It is located in the center of Ehden’s most popular center Al-Midan.

Al-Midan, the town square, is one of the main recreational places to enjoy in Ehden. After a full day of sightseeing, tourists and locals alike unwind in the square while enjoying desserts, smoking narguileh, eating or drinking coffee in the many restaurants and cafes. With more than 10 nightclubs near Al-Midan, young partygoers can hop from one place to the other with ease, staying out until the early hours of the morning. Besides food and drink, the town of Ehden also offers a rich history.

The town has more than 15 churches: St. Sarkis Convent, Church of Mar Mama, Sayidat Al-Husun and St. Georges Church – home of the statue of 19th century national hero, Yousef Beik Karam. One of the most captivating sites has to be the Monastery of St. Anthony that possesses the first printing press in the Middle East, which printed “The Book of Psalms” in 1610. Despite this rich history, Ehden’s main attraction is the striking natural beauty of the surrounding mountains – a characteristic that local proprietors understand must be preserved for their sake and for future generations of Lebanese and visitors to enjoy. “Without environment there is no tourism, and without tourism there is no one to appreciate the environment.

We have to work together,” says Jamil Moawad, the manager of the Ehden Country Club. The institutions of Ehden work with environmental committees to preserve the environment as best they can. With its towering mountains, proximity to the world-renowned Qadisha Valley and the ever-flowing Spring of Ehden, the town is a tree huggers paradise. Horsh Ehden, four kilometers east of Ehden is a protected zone for thousands of trees, 500 species of flowering plants and wild animals.

 The lush forests and adjacent mountain areas provide an ideal environment for many outdoor adventures – cave explorations, off-road trips in 4x4 jeeps, mountain biking, hiking in the Qanoubine Valley, mountain climbing and rappelling, parasailing, horseback riding and camping. “The Ehden touch is completely unique; this makes it different from other places in Lebanon. Everyone is very hospitable and receives guests with a smile,” says Moawad.

This claim is most certainly true as tourists notice the genuine hospitality of the locals from the moment they pile out of their minivans until they check out of their hotels. The locals treat guests more like relatives than customers, giving Ehden a one-up on the myriad of other attractions this region has to offer. “This is what makes tourists want to come back,” comments Moawad.

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Domaine al-Rachid, Bekaa’s tranquility base - [more]
By: Emma Gatten
Date: Saturday, August 27, 2011

JDEIDET, Baalbek: Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is something of a tantalizing unknown for tourists. Its mountain scenery, many wineries and delicious traditional food attract plenty of visitors, yet the area is relatively untouched by the country’s tourism industry and dogged by a reputation of danger.

Domaine al-Rachid, a quaint new bed and breakfast in the village of Jdeeidet 135 kilometers from Beirut, challenges the area’s stereotypes, while providing guests with all the local flavor they could want.

Upon arrival we are warmly greeted by Pascal Abdallah, a tourism consultant and university lecturer who runs Domaine al-Rachid along with two of his four brothers.

The house has been in the family since the 1960s, and belonged originally to Pascal’s grandfather, Jeddo Rachid, an officer with the French army who lived to the age of 107. The house was first opened up to guests in the 1990s before falling out of use after Jeddo’s death in 2000, and was restored by the family this year to accommodate guests.

“There is a need for hotels in the region,” says Pascal, who specializes in responsible tourism development, explaining the family’s reasons for re-opening. “And since we were already in this business, and my mother very much likes to receive and talk to people, we decided to refurbish the house.”

We soon meet the mother in question, Helene, who proves as informative as Pascal suggests. First, we are given a quick tour of the house by Pascal. There are two bedrooms – each with four beds – plus an upstairs lounge area, where it is more than warm enough to sleep during the summer months, and space on the grounds for tents.

Once the sleeping arrangements are sorted, we enjoy a more detailed tour of the house and its history from Helene, during which she explains the story behind perhaps the house’s most notable feature – the intricate, colorful designs that cover the doorjambs and walls of several of the rooms, painted by Jeddo Rachid over the course of 20 years, starting in 1976 when he was 83.

The house is founded on Jeddo’s legacy, evident not only in the paintings but in his pictures and belongings which are dotted around the house. This legacy is an integral part of Pascal and his siblings’ vision for the future of the guesthouse.

“We want people to experience the region and to discover the heritage of our family, through our grandfather’s history,” Pascal explains. The family has inherited Jeddo’s creative tendencies and hope that the house will become something of a cultural center to nurture local artistic and musical talents that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunities to develop.

The house has been updated somewhat since Jeddo’s days, after two months of renovations. The garden, home to Dourga the dog and the family’s ram, is full of treasures left by Pascal’s brother, Peter, an architect and events manager. In one corner lies a dilapidated Warner Brothers sign, in another the front end of a car turned into a bench, adding to the house’s copious amounts of charm. The garden also contains a bar, where beers, wines and spirits are available.

Dinner and breakfast are included in the price of a night’s stay and are prepared by Nawal, a relative of the family. The food is delicious, traditional Lebanese home-cooking: safsouf (a version of tabbouleh with less parsley and more bulgur), loubieh, and makloube for dinner; kishk-on-eggs, labneh and ma’mouniyyeh for breakfast.

Leaving the guesthouse for the day, the obvious place to visit is the nearby Al-Assi river. If you are of an active nature, there are several companies offering white-water rafting, which the guesthouse can organize. Otherwise, a bit of searching should turn up somewhere quiet by the river to eat lunch.

The nearby Anti-Lebanon mountain range provides plenty of hiking opportunities, which again the guesthouse can help arrange. They also offer cultural tours, exploring local carpet weaving and lute making, and a visit to a museum of grape molasses in the neighboring villages.

Equally appealingly, you could just doze in the Rachid garden, enjoy some fresh mulberry juice and watch Dourga the dog chase her own tail.

Domaine al-Rachid is open all year, with limited opening hours November to March. http://domainealrachid.wordpress.com. Accommodation is $45 a night, including dinner and breakfast; $10 a night for a tent, plus $15 for meals. Contact: pascal@responsiblemobilities.com; peterlimited@gmail.com

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In a locale defined by conflict, a peaceful escape - [more]
By: Niamh Fleming-Farrell
Date: Saturday, August 20, 2011

NAHR al-KALB, Lebanon: Crossing the Nahr al-Kalb gorge north of Beirut today is so easy it’s forgettable. A modern highway, a tunnel and a bridge mean that vehicles can flash through at speeds best not contemplated. However, for ancient advancing armies the gorge presented one of the most daunting obstacles to their progress. “A few men could prevent the entire world from passing though this place,” assessed one astute observer in 1232.

With Mount Lebanon cutting the coastal plain to meet the sea at the Nahr al-Kalb river-mouth, armies of yore had no choice other than to move single file and contend with the 80-meter high steep sides of the gorge, leaving themselves prone to attack. In gratitude for a safe crossing, these armies inscribed plaques that they then left on the mountainside – the oldest of which dates from 1298-1235 B.C., the time of Pharaoh Ramesses II’s campaign to extend the Egyptian Empire from the Canaan to the Euphrates.

Plaques mounted over the centuries are still visible on the steep cliff face, all baring one found on the south bank of the river. Each is labeled and explained in both English and French as part of the Nahr al-Kalb “living museum,” which also includes a concise exhibit on the history and geography of the gorge and is accessible without charge or impediment by simply pulling off the highway just after the clearly marked Nahr al-Kalb tunnel.

The Nahr al-Kalb (or Dog River in English) itself is a pitiful body of water. Rising in Jeita, it is polluted by the time it empties into the Mediterranean. Known in antiquity as the Lycus, or the river of the wolf, it’s contemporary name, legend (as relayed in the “living museum”) has it, comes from a time when a statue of a dog was mounted on the cliff, facing out over the sea. This dog, the story goes, would bark so loud to warn of approaching enemies that it could be heard in Cyprus. Today there is no such statue present, and verification that it ever existed, let alone barked, has not been attained. However, the area is nonetheless aptly named. As one explores, one may hear the incessant yapping of an unimaginable number of dogs. If so, you’ve been lucky enough to come upon Nahr al-Kalb during feeding time at the dog kennel further along the valley.

For the most part though, a wander through Nahr al-Kalb makes for a peaceful hour or so. The steep cliffs swallow the highway’s noise, and the sheer verdancy of the gorge conceals the waterway’s less charming features.

The most systematic way to view the plaques is to follow the road along the south bank until you see an old triple-arched bridge. At this point, turn back and walk toward the highway, encountering the plaques as you go. The first, almost parallel with the bridge, commemorates the bridge’s erection by the army of Mamluk Sultan Said al-Ain Burqua. It is followed by the stele of Emperor Caraculla (211-217AD). The next few are more recent installations, commemorating military campaigns of the 1920s and 1940s, and include a monument to the French war dead of 1919-27 which was moved in 1960 from its original location in Ras Beirut.

Just as you arrive back at the highway, take the steps following the path of the plaques upward, across the top of the tunnel – where three information panels recount the history of the area – and onward up the mountainside. The steps are in good condition and the climb isn’t taxing. Nonetheless there are plenty of benches and even a picnic spot (although litter makes it less attractive than it could be) for those in need of brief respite, or keen to sit and contemplate the view out across the Mediterranean and up and down the Lebanese coast.

The final segment of the trail descends and rounds the cliff face to deliver one at the last two steles. Pharaoh Ramesses II is depicted making a sacrifice to the god Ammon, while next to it is the stele of the Assyrian King Esamaddon dating from the 7th century B.C.

With a little more time to spare, and if your feet feel warm, there are further adventures to be had on the north bank. The final stele is worn and perhaps not worth the trek to the other side of the river, but crossing the 14th century bridge, keep a close eye on the cliff face and you’ll spot a metal ladder beckoning you as the “Drink me” bottle lured Alice in Lewis Carroll’s tale. The ladder itself is secure, but accessing its base requires some careful steps along a short but narrow and overgrown path with a steep drop to the right.

Stepping off the ladder at its top, one encounters a swiftly flowing and shockingly clean aqueduct. It’s possible to ramble blissfully along this waterway for a kilometer or two into the valley. However, before removing your shoes, attiring sandals (if available) and stepping in, there are a few matters to consider – namely: spiders’ webs, frogs and snakes. The first in procession up the aqueduct will have to break a path through the ticklish sinews of invisible gossamer, and frogs will cheerfully bounce from bank to bank as you pass. The snakes, while not encountered, were reported by locals who claim they come to the aqueduct in the heat of the afternoon to drink.

When you can’t comfortably follow the waterway any further, there are two options: Splash your way back as you came, or descend the steep path to the road and follow it back to the highway.

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