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
360 degree views from the top; it was quite windy; see video below
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Since it was late afternoon, we went out and started walking in the village towards the mosque. Actually, it is technically not a mosque, but called a “Khalwa”, translated to “isolation place/nook/sanctum/recess” as it’s far away from people and cities, so that the religious people can concentrate, meditate, discuss, read some scriptures and do rituals freely without any disturbance. 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 the Khalwa. 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 Khalwa.
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 Khalwa 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 Khalwa.
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
This is a very small town, not much happening, so we went back the B&B.
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.
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.
We said goodbye to our wonderful host, Fadia, and to Mresti, and drove onto Deir El Qamar & more Druze