Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Lebanon July 2018
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Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze

After the drive to Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, we woke up early and walked downhill from our B&B to Wooden bakery, which was open; whilst most businesses were closed, as it was still early. We had a nice breakfast here, and used their internet which was not high speed, but were able to check out the Amex CC; still no strange charges, and still no charges presented by Babar. This is getting a little weird; fortunately, I am protected by Amex for fraudulent charges 🙂

After breakfast, we collected our laundry (all neatly folded), paid our bill and checked out. Plan today was to check out a church, followed by a winery/wine tasting, Lake Qaraoun and then into the Chouf mountains. We drove a short distance to Our Lady of Zahle church, which was on a small hilltop. The church itself was small but tranquil; and they had a tall tower that was about 7 stories high (had an elevator 🙂 ), and there was a large statue of the Virgin Mary holding grapes (this part of the Bekaa valley is well known for its wines) at the top. Views at the top were amazing 360 degree views of Zahle and the Bekaa valley, see below

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Rosary at entrance to Our Lady of Zahle church
Rosary at entrance to Our Lady of Zahle church
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Statue of the Virgin Mary 7 stories above the church
Statue of the Virgin Mary seven stories above the church

360 degree views from the top; it was quite windy; see video below

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze View of Zahle town from the top
View of Zahle town from the top

There was not much more to see/do in Zahle, so we drove to the town of Kefraya, where we came across our 3rd military checkpoint, once again heavily armed, complete with camouflaged tank and armored carrier. We turned left here and went a short distance to Chateau Kefraya; where we had a nice tour of the winery, followed by wine tasting (free); the wines were quite decent. We learned that the distance of the moon from the earth affects the cloudiness of the wine; so they avoid filtration by removing wine from the barrels when the moon is furthest away from the earth, and hence the least cloudy wine! Go figure; you live and learn.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Chateau Kefraya
Chateau Kefraya
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Vines of Chateau Kefraya and the Lebanon Mountains
Grape Vines of Chateau Kefraya, and the Lebanon Mountains

After this nice tour and wine tasting stop, we drove back through the Kefraya military checkpoint, and then turned left to go further south into the Bekaa valley to the Abu Elias restaurant that Dilshad had researched. This was supposed to be just about 1-2 miles south of Kefraya, but we could not find it where it was supposed to be, and no signposts. We drove around a little and finally found it at a narrow nondescript turnoff from the main road, not signposted in English (there was an Arabic signpost 🙂 ).

When we got there, it was empty, and we were the only patrons. The lady who was running the restaurant came out to give us the menu which was all in Arabic. We tried to converse with her but she spoke nothing except Arabic. So after a lot of gesturing, she kind of took charge and indicated that she would being out the food and we would not be disappointed. We went with that and shortly thereafter, she brought out a huge meze; soon as we saw this, we knew there was no way we would finish this.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Meze of dishes; fresh salad, humus, kibbek, tabouli, tahini, nuts, snack that was fried and another dish we had no idea what it was
Meze of dishes; fresh salad, humus, kibbek, tabouli, tahini, nuts, snack that was fried and another dish we had no idea what it was

We started digging in and saw that her husband (I assumed) had come out and had started barbecuing. Next came 4 sticks of kebabs folded in a huge pita bread to keep them warm.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze 4 sticks of Kebabs and pita bread followed
4 sticks of Kebabs and pita bread followed
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Fresh fruit for desert
by fresh fruit for desert

This had to be the best meal we had in Lebanon; it was simply delicious; and unfortunately, not only could we not finish it off, but we could not take away the remaining food with us as we were homeless and had no idea where we would be staying that night.

After we polished off what we could, we got up to leave and went to the husband-wife team that were seated and having Arabic coffee, to pay. They invited us to join them for coffee, and the husband spoke French, so we were able to converse a little. He explained that he was Abu Elias, and with his wife, Therese, owned and ran the restaurant by themselves; no hired help. They lived here, and grew everything themselves in their garden, organically. This way, they knew they had the best ingredients, and because only the 2 of them touched, prepared & cooked the food, they could control the quality of the food they prepared. And it certainly showed as the meal had been the most delicious we had had so far.

Abu Elias asked us how we had found the restaurant to come there, and I showed him the Google reviews for their restaurant on my phone, and they were pleasantly surprised. Therese then showed us her garden at one side of the restaurant, and sure enough, they grew everything here. She plucked some fruits and gave them to us to take with us.
The bill came to $20, which we gladly paid with a handsome tip, and left. What a wonderful & delicious experience.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Arabic coffee with Abu Elias and his wife, Therese, and our bag of freshly plucked fruit to take with us
Arabic coffee with Abu Elias and his wife, Therese, and our bag of freshly plucked fruit to take with us

We drove south 3 more miles and stopped at the Blue Lake restaurant, not to eat again 🙂 , but to admire Lake Qaroun from their patio. We explained to the owner what we wanted to do, and he graciously allowed us to check out the views from his patio

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze View of Lake Qaraoun from the Blue Lake restaurant
View of Lake Qaraoun from the Blue Lake restaurant
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze View of the Bekaa Valley and the Anti Lebanon mountains from the Blue Lake restaurant
View of the Bekaa Valley and the Anti Lebanon mountains from the Blue Lake restaurant

We thanked the owner, and left. We drove back to Kefraya town, passed the military check point for the 3rd time, and this time, we turned left and drove into the Lebanon Mountains; and had a final look at the beautiful and fertile Bekaa Valley

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Farewell view of the Bekaa Valley and Anti Lebanon Mountains from the Lebanon Mountains
Farewell view of the Bekaa Valley and Anti Lebanon Mountains from the Lebanon Mountains

Video below of Lookout point in Lebanon Mountains ridge, overlooking the Bekaa Valley

We drove over the ridge of the Lebanon mountain range, and descended on the other side to a small town called Maaser El Chouf. We were now in the Chouf Mountains, which is part of the Lebanon Mountain range, and the Chouf Mountains are home of the Druze Muslims. Dilshad researched on our phone and found a small B&B in Maaser El Chouf, and we called them but no answer. So we drove there and found the place, but it was deserted and looked like it was under construction. We researched some more and found what seemed to be a nice place nearby, so called them, and a lady answered and spoke some English. They had availability, and wanted $70; negotiated her down to $50, put her town of Mresti on the GPS and started driving there.

We drove on small but well paved windy roads through the Chouf mountains, passed several small quaint villages till we reached Mresti, about 20 minutes later. The GPS took me down a small street in this small town; but it was not the B&B. So called the lady again, and then gave the phone to a local villager (no one spoke English here or French), who then figured out that we need to backtrack about 200 ft. We finally got there, and met Marwan and Fadia, the owners. They had a nice house with terraces and great views of the Chouf mountains, and they were renting out 2 bedrooms in the lower level where their 2 children used to stay; but had now grown up and moved to Beirut where they worked. There was no other guests, so we had the lower level to ourselves. After settling in, Marwan and Fadia invited us to join them for tea, while they drank mate, all the way from Argentina. According to Marwan, Christians drink tea, Muslins (Sunni) drink coffee, and Druze drink mate 🙂 . They told us a little about this area; the town of Mresti was 100% Druze, and that there were about 300,000 Druze in Lebanon, 500,000 in Syria and about 150,000 in Israel. I asked them about their faith and their religion, but they were not well versed in their religion. They said that an older lady had died in the village recently and that was why people were gathering in a hall 3 doors up from them. We asked where the mosque was, and they told us to simply walk downhill on their street and we would come to it.

Marwan and Fadia then took us into their garden, which was full of fruits and vegetables; quite a lot in a small garden. They picked the ripe fruits and vegetables fresh off the tree

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Fruits Galore
Fruits Galore

Since it was late afternoon, we went out and started walking in the village towards the mosque. We came across a gentleman leaving his house with a tray full of fruit, which we stopped to admire. He offered us the tray, but we refused; he even came after us to persuade us to take the fruit. What nice people everywhere. We walked a little more but could still not spot any mosque. We walked to where the road ended in a small house and saw a few men, traditionally dressed, sitting on the floor with rosary beads in their hands; I assumed this was the mosque.

One man inside motioned with his hands in a gesture asking us to leave, and gestured to another man to escort us. This other gentleman, also politely gestured that we should move away from this mosque and walked back with us into the town. He spoke no English or French so we could not communicate, but he was friendly. I guess the Druze don’t like people who are not of their faith entering their mosques.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Friendly gentleman, traditionally dressed in black harem pants, shirt and white hat; who guided us away from the Druze mosque
Friendly gentleman, traditionally dressed in black harem pants, shirt and white hat; who guided us away from the Druze mosque
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Close up
Close up

We walked past the hall where people had gathered for the funeral ceremonies; men were on the top floor and outside on the street, and women were on the lower floor. Some scenes from our walkabout

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Town scene and housing
Town scene and housing
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Kids enjoying the evening; many boys were wearing the white cap; while the men were wearing the white “topee’s”
Kids enjoying the evening; many boys were wearing the white cap; while the men were wearing the white “topee’s”
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze We met these 2 beautiful sisters, who spoke good English. They were from Beirut, visiting their grandmother and were collecting berries which they shared with us. But they did not have much understanding of the Druze faith, when questioned.
We met these 2 beautiful sisters, who spoke good English. They were from Beirut, visiting their grandmother and were collecting berries which they shared with us. But they did not have much understanding of the Druze faith, when questioned.
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Women were mostly dressed like this; black dress with white shawls covering their hair
Women were mostly dressed like this; black dress with white shawls covering their hair

This is a very small town, not much happening, so we went back the B&B.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Sunset in Msreti, Chouf Mountains
Sunset in Msreti, Chouf Mountains

That evening, since we were quite full from the large lunch at Abu Elias, we had fresh fruit that Fadia brought for us, and called it a night, after checking the internet and the Amex credit card situation; still no change.

The next day, we woke up and Marwan had left for his job as a ranger in the Cedar Forest Reserves.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze View from our bedroom
View from our bedroom patio

Fadia had cooked us a big breakfast; eggs fried with goat meat in porcelain skillets , fresh homemade cheese, homemade fluffy light butter, olives, homemade pita type thin bread, fresh vegetables from her garden, homemade jam and marmalade, coffee and tea. Delicious.

Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Fadia and breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Chouf Mountains
Fadia and breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Chouf Mountains
Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze Mresti village, with its wonderful Druze inhabitants
Mresti village, with its wonderful Druze inhabitants
Map
Map

We said goodbye to our wonderful host, Fadia, and to Mresti, and drove onto Deir El Qamar & more Druze

This entry was posted in Lebanon July 2018, Middle East

27 thoughts on “Bekaa Valley Winery, Chouf Mountains & the Druze

  • AmirT October 25, 2018 at 7:26 pm Reply

    Thanks again Ali and Dilshad for this segment of your Lebanon tour blog. Enjoyed it!

    • Ali Karim October 25, 2018 at 9:00 pm Reply

      Thank you Amir, for all your encouragement; much appreciated

  • diana bakar October 29, 2018 at 9:57 pm Reply

    keep updating us Mr Ali & wife!
    how I wish to follow you one day! 🙂

    • Ali Karim October 29, 2018 at 10:02 pm Reply

      Thank you Diana, for the encouragement.

  • Oded Sheshinski October 29, 2018 at 9:58 pm Reply

    Hi Ali

    Kif Halek?,,,

    I liked he review as usual- looks exactly like norther Israel…I wish I could travel there one day- and visit same places, mainly Chateau Kefraya,,,

    Regards to your wife

    Oded and orna

    • Ali Karim October 29, 2018 at 10:08 pm Reply

      HI Oded
      Thanks so much for checking out my blogposts; I am so glad that I have at least 1 reader 🙂
      We never made it to Northern Israel last time we visited Israel, and so we want to go back and visit Haifa in particular.

      The wineries are very beautiful and nice.

  • NoorJehan Tejani October 29, 2018 at 9:59 pm Reply

    Awesome winery, beautiful view, great lebanese kebabs & fresh fruit.
    Holiday of a lifetime !

    • Ali Karim October 29, 2018 at 10:09 pm Reply

      Hi Noorjehan,
      Lebanon continues to pleasantly surprise us at every turn 🙂

  • Muhammad Patel October 29, 2018 at 10:00 pm Reply

    I enjoyed the above post.
    Druzes, as you may know, were at one point in time in history – Fatimid period – were Ismailis!!
    When Fatimid Imam Caliph AL Hakim (Hakim bi Amrillah) went into the mountains and never returned (probably was killed there) majority of the Ismailis of the time accepted Imam Zahir as his successor and the Hazar Imam. But there was a group of followers of Imam Hakim, who did not accept that and held the belief that not only Imam Hakim was alive but ascribed Divinity (or close to it) to him – and separated from the mainstream Ismailis. To this day they believe in Imam Al Hakim.

    This is just a brief version of their historical origin and main belief from my memory – I am sure there is more to their belief system.

    Safe travels

    • Ali Karim October 29, 2018 at 10:12 pm Reply

      Thanks Muhammed; Glad you enjoyed my blog post. We did meet more Druze Muslims and dug a little more into their history and beliefs; more in the next blogpost soon

      Thanks for reading my blog.

  • Zahir Dharsee November 1, 2018 at 8:00 pm Reply

    Hi Ali – really enjoyed this blog. Very educational just like the late Antony Bourdain’s travelogues!!. Looking forward to the next one. Stay in touch. Thanks Zahir

    • Ali Karim November 2, 2018 at 9:02 pm Reply

      HI Zahir, Thanks for the compliments; being compared to the late Anthony Bourdain is indeed very flattering; unfortunately, I don’t have the camera and recording crew to match his shows 🙁
      I appreciate very much your feedback; glad you enjoyed the blogpost.

  • Amir Rahim November 5, 2018 at 12:02 am Reply

    Hi Ali,

    Thx for the blogs about ur travel experiences. The blogs are very detailed and informative.
    I don’t read all the details,but always glance as they are well written.
    Glad u r having fun.

    Regards to Dilshad.

    Regards,

    Amirali Rahim C.P.A,C.A.

    • Ali Karim November 5, 2018 at 12:08 am Reply

      Thanks Amir, so glad you enjoyed them and found them useful and informative.
      Appreciate the feedback

  • NoorJehan Tejani November 5, 2018 at 12:03 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Muslim Harji November 5, 2018 at 12:04 am Reply

    I am enjoying the read & the photographs.
    Asante & regards to Dilshad

    • Ali Karim November 5, 2018 at 12:09 am Reply

      Thanks Muslim.

  • Shiraz Bata November 5, 2018 at 12:05 am Reply

    This is wonderful keep on traveling enjoyed it thanks

    • Ali Karim November 5, 2018 at 12:10 am Reply

      Thanks Shiraz for the feedback; glad you enjoyed it.

  • Nazneen Adatia November 5, 2018 at 12:06 am Reply

    Hello Ali, beautiful pictures, I loved the big rosary on the street. Wow beautiful pictures. Keep on travelling an send us the pictures. Love them.

    Lots of Love.

    Naz.

    • Ali Karim November 5, 2018 at 12:11 am Reply

      Hi Naz,

      Thanks for the feedback; so glad you are enjoying the blogs

  • Shine Bata November 5, 2018 at 12:16 am Reply

    Hi,
    I am having fun reading your blog, seems I am there with you guy’s.
    Keep the blog’s coming.
    Thanks
    Shine

    • Ali Karim November 5, 2018 at 12:17 am Reply

      Thanks Shine; glad you are enjoying our journey

  • Nagib Paroo November 7, 2018 at 7:51 am Reply

    What a wonderful country. Ali, you did it again.

    Time for me to visit this beautiful part of the world

    • Ali Karim November 9, 2018 at 9:51 am Reply

      Hi Nagib, Many thanks for the feedback; so glad you liked the blog.

  • Mubina Esmail November 9, 2018 at 4:29 pm Reply

    Wow that looks like an amazing trip. You lucky guys…

    Thanks for sharing. May you have many more trips!!!

    Mubina

    • Ali Karim November 9, 2018 at 4:30 pm Reply

      Thanks Mubina, for reading my blogs, and for the feedback.
      Yes, we are indeed blessed. Thanks for the good thoughts.

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