My accidental trip to Lebanon, part two: Bsharri


Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

So, like I was saying in part one, there was one other reason behind us being so cheap. We couldn’t come all the way to Lebanon and just stay in Beirut, so we booked our first tour since the Grand Canyon in 2010. Fawzi from Explore Lebanon Tours was our guide. Within less than an hour of leaving Beirut, seeing the hills layered with mist; we knew saving our money for this was worth it.


Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Our first stop was the St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya. Nestled in verdant slopes of the Qadisha Valley, its monks are credited with the abundance of wheat, vines, cedars, olive trees and mulberry trees surrounding it. In 1584, it housed the Middle East’s first printing press. Hermits lived in rocky cells in the cliffs surrounding it. Strangers and pilgrims came from afar, seeking its generosity and shelter. It was passed to its current owners, the Lebanese Maronite Order formed in Aleppo, in 1708. In the light morning mist, it was ethereal.


Mar Antonios Monastery of Qozhaya

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya
St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya | دير مار أنطونيوس قزحيا

Tourists gathered with bowed heads in St. Anthony’s Church of Qozhaya. A display with a silver cedar honoured saints from Lebanon. Fun fact: St. Anthony is also the patron saint of my half-hometown, Lisbon.


St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya

St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya

St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya

St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya

St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya

St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya
St. Anthony's Church of Qozhaya

The monastery was quiet inside. No one occupied the polished reception desk. My footsteps echoed. It was so peaceful I felt like I was intruding.


St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya inside

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya inside

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya inside
Inside the St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya

Fawzi directed us to the Cave of Qozhaya. Despite the mumble of chattering tourists outside, inside it was utterly silent. At its centre was a stone altar. There was a faint, strangely comforting musty odour. I could have sat there for hours just enjoying the serene quiet.


Cave of Qozhaya at the St. Anthony Monastery

Cave of Qozhaya at the St. Anthony Monastery
Cave of Qozhaya

The cave is famous in the Middle East for miracles, especially curing mental illness. Unfortunately, I’m still bipolar.


St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya

St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya

Road to St. Anthony Monastery of Qozhaya
Leaving the monastery

We got back in the car. I stretched over the back seat to take photos. The views of the Qadisha Valley were just too beautiful not to!


Qadisha Valley, Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, Lebanon

Kadisha Valley, Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, Lebanon

Kadisha Valley, Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, Lebanon

Kadisha Valley, Lebanon

The car stopped on an unassuming suburban road. ‘Here,’ Fawzi said, ‘The Cedars of God!’ There was no fixed entrance fee, but donations were welcomed. In return, we got some cute postcards.


Cedars of God postcards
Cedars of God postcards

It was around 10am. Paths were quiet. The air was refreshingly cool and pure. Soothing stillness reigned amongst the trees. I was glad for a guide as Fawzi explained which cedars were 1000, 1500 or 2000 years old. It was difficult, yet amazing to even try to comprehend their age and vastness.


Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

أرز الرب

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Us at the Cedars

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon
Cedars of God | أرز الربّ

Atop a hill, in a serene clearing, a cross sat before a log altar. It belonged to an unmarked church. Fawzi explained this was the Church of God. The surrounding cedars, 2000 years old, were supposedly planted by Jesus himself.


Church of God, Cedars of God, Lebanon
Clearing used for services at the Church of God

Church of God, Cedars Forest, Lebanon
The Church of God at the Cedars of God

Church of God at the Cedars, Lebanon interior

Church of God at the Cedars, Lebanon interior
Inside the Church of God

Bible in Arabic and Amharic
Bible in Arabic and Amharic

Cedars of God, Lebanon
2000+ year old cedars, supposedly planted by Jesus

The surrounding mountains reached the clouds. As we walked back down, Fawzi pointed out the oldest and hugest tree of all – at 5000 years old. I was tiny beside it!


Cedars of God, Lebanon
The oldest Lebanese cedar at 5000 years old

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon

Cedars of God, Lebanon
Walking back from the Cedars of God

Hills around the forest were arid. It was incredible to see the cedars surviving regardless.


Kadisha Valley, Lebanon
Back on the road

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Sunflowers in the Qadisha Valley, Lebanon
Sunflowers in the Qadisha Valley

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Bsharri, Lebanon

We stopped at a quiet café in Bsharri for lunch. Fawzi picked a labneh wrap for me and meat for my mum.


Labneh wrap in Bsharri, Lebanon
Labneh wrap in Bsharri for lunch

Bsharri, Lebanon
View from the cafe

Bsharri, Lebanon

Streets of Bsharri, Lebanon

Bsharri, Lebanon streets

Bsharri, Lebanon streets

Bsharri, Lebanon streets

Bsharri, Lebanon streets

Bsharri, Lebanon streets
Bsharri streets

Our final stop was the Khalil Gibran Museum in Bsharri. The views it offered of the town and its surrounding green hills were stunning.


Gibran Museum, Bsharri, Lebanon

View from Gibran Museum, Bsharri, Lebanon

View from Gibran Museum, Bsharri, Lebanon

View from Gibran Museum, Bsharri, Lebanon

Khalil Gibran Museum, Bsharre, Lebanon
Gibran Museum, Bsharri

Gibran was an artist, writer and philosopher. Before the museum was purchased by his sister in 1931, it was the Monastery of Mar Sakis (St. Serge). His wish was to be buried in its hermitage and have the monastery converted to a museum. It houses 440 paintings, letters, drawings and Gibran’s furniture and belongings, as well as his tomb. The museum opened in 1975. Entrance fee is 8000 LBP. Photography isn't allowed.


View over Bsharri, Lebanon

View over Bsharri, Lebanon

Gibran Museum, Bsharre, Lebanon

View over Bsharri, Lebanon

View over Bsharre, Lebanon
Leaving Bsharri

I was sad our tour was over, but excited to see more beautiful views on the way back to Beirut. Fawzi showed us photos of the same roads and the cedars in winter. Untouched snow was piled high. It was difficult to imagine this hot and humid place ever buried in snow!


Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Kadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Lebanon landscape

Lebanon Valleys

Lebanon landscape

Valleys of North Lebanon

Qadisha Valley, North Lebanon

Mountain street in North Lebanon

North Lebanon landscape
Leaving the valleys of North Lebanon

Jounieh, Lebanon

Lebanon landscape

Lebanon coast

Jounieh, Lebanon

Jounieh, Lebanon

Jounieh, Lebanon coast

Jounieh, Lebanon
Passing by Byblos and Jounieh

Beirut, Lebanon streets

Beirut, Lebanon streets
Back in Beirut

The Egg cinema, Beirut, Lebanon
The Egg, an unfinished cinema damaged during the Civil War

Fawzi dropped us at our hotel. It was around 4pm. We walked down to Ramlet al-Baida, Beirut’s last public beach. At this hour, Beirut was tinted bronze. The sun was golden, then deep red, spreading a pink glow that faded to pastels.


Beirut, Lebanon beach at sunset

Beirut, Lebanon streets

Civil War damage in Beirut, Lebanon

Ramlet al-Baida Beach, Beirut, Lebanon

Raouche, Beirut streets

Sunset at Ramlet al-Baida, Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut sunset

Sunset in Beirut, Lebanon

Sunset in at Ramlet al-Baida, Beirut
Sunset at Ramlet al-Baida | الرملة البيضا

Beirut, Lebanon sunset

Beirut, Lebanon at night

While my mum rested on benches, we were entertained by the groovy pop booming from cars. It was that day a man screeched to a stop, leapt out of his car and began washing it while blasting Caramela Sexy Lady. That is, I've decided, full Beirut.


Beirut skyline at night

Raouche Rocks, Beirut at night
Night on the Corniche

In the supermarket, I got a cute bag of rice. The world should expect me to get on planes with random foodstuffs by now. I once took half an onion home from uni. Anyway, I used my rice for pumpkin curry and lentil dhansak.


Bag of rice in Arabic

It was our last day. Our flight departed the next day at 4am, so we left our luggage at reception and walked to Hamra. We needed souvenirs!


Hamra, Beirut streets

Yellow house in Hamra, Beirut

Hamra, Beirut streets

As the internet promised, there were good old tourist traps opposite the Commodore Hotel. We bought magnets, a shirt and keyring.


Lebanon souvenirs
Lebanon souvenirs

Hamra, Beirut souvenir shops
Souvenir shops in Hamra, Beirut

I thought this cheap manakish I'd heard about was a myth. Then we stumbled on Abou Issa Bakery. Cheap manakish did indeed exist, starting at 1000 LBP, and it was delicious! We even found a nice broken bench to sit on at a building site.


Vegetarian manakish from Abou Issa Bakery
My lunch, vegetarian manakish from Abou Issa Bakery

Other than the wraps on our day trip, this was our first ‘proper’ meal. When I got home, I found I’d lost 14lbs (6.4kg). My mum lost 7lbs (3kg). Next time I need to lose weight, I guess I’ll just go to Lebanon with no money.


Cheese manakish from Abou Issa Bakery
And my mum's lunch, cheese manakish

Religious decorations in Hamra, Beirut
Religious decorations in Hamra

Political and travel posters in Beirut
Religious and political posters in Beirut

With no strict plans, we wandered through Ras Beirut. Colourful apartment blocks, balconies draped with striped cloths, lined upmarket streets.


Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Supermarket in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Buildings in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Buildings in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Damaged building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Green building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

War damaged building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Colorful building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Colorful building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Colorful building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Buildings in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Building in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Alleyways in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Traditional windows in Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Streets of Ras Beirut, Lebanon

Apartment blocks in Ras Beirut, Lebanon