Bsharri, Quadisha Valley and Bekaa Valley

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Lebanon July 2018
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Bsharri, Quadisha Valley and Bekaa Valley

After leaving Tripoli, we drove east, away from the sea towards Bsharri and Quadisha Valley. The geography of Lebanon is such that there are 2 parallel mountain ranges (Lebanon Mountains and Anti-Lebanon Mountains) that run north-south, with the Bekaa valley in-between. The Bekaa Valley is in fact, at the start of the Great Rift Valley that starts in Lebanon and ends in Mozambique, passing thru Kenya and other African countries.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Geography of Lebanon
Geography of Lebanon

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley, where we were heading, is along the western slopes of the Lebanon Mountain range. So the road started climbing from the coast, and we passed through some very pretty countryside.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Towns along the way to Quadisha Valley
Towns along the way to Quadisha Valley
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Qadisha Valley
Quadisha Valley

This area is predominantly Christian, and you can see lots of churches, and monasteries in the least likely places. The theory is that monks used to hide in caves to escape persecution, and so these hermits’ locations were where Monasteries were built when the persecutions stopped. Quadisha Valley is one of the most important settlement sites of the first Christian monasteries in the world, and its monasteries, many of which are some of the most ancient monastic communities in the Middle East, are set in an extraordinarily rugged landscape.

See video below of the Quadisha Valley

Some monasteries that we drove by as shown below

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley How does one reach this Monastery? How does one build here?
How does one reach this Monastery? How does one build here?
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Remote Monasteries
Remote Monasteries
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Monastery near Bsharri; note the cross on the cliff below the building, and on the mountain above
Monastery near Bsharri; note the cross on the cliff below the building, and on the mountain above

See video of the landscape near Bsharri

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Multiple small communities along the way, on the mountainside
Multiple small communities along the way, on the mountainside

We pulled into Bsharri, called Tony, and met him at Bauhaus Chalets, and rented a room from him for the night for $70 (per Tony, the $50 we had been quoted by the Tourist office in Tripoli was valid several years ago 🙁 ). We settled in and cleaned up, showered and madam went to get her hair done by Tony, who turned out was a French trained Coiffure Createur, a rung above a normal hair stylist. Tony’s assistant was a Philipino lady; turns out that there are many Philipino people here (Ethiopian’s, now Philipino’s). We then went out for the evening; Tony had recommended the Mississippi Restaurant in town, owned by Aisha.

The Mississippi Restaurant was located next to the Abou Ali river under a bridge, at a small waterfall; the restaurant had 3 levels and we went to the lower level where the river falls was.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Mississippi restaurant by the Abou Ali river falls; lower level seating
Mississippi restaurant by the Abou Ali river falls; lower level seating

Aisha came by, & joined us for drinks. Alcohol was no problem in this Christian majority area 🙂 . Aisha talked with us, mostly in French and some English, and then said desert and fruit was on her; another very nice gesture by a total stranger. Lebanese people are very nice indeed.

Bsharri and Qadisha Valley Sunset in Bsharri
Sunset in Bsharri
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Meal at Mississippi Restaurant. Lebanese salad, nuts, huge tomato slices with garnish, local river trout whole fish, flan, cake and fruit. A most wonderful meal
Meal at Mississippi Restaurant. Lebanese salad, nuts, huge tomato slices with garnish, and not in the picture was local river trout whole fish, flan, cake and fruit. A most wonderful meal

Since this is a small town, there was no excitement in the night, so we took the opportunity to get a good night’s rest after a long day. Checked the Amex situation, and still no change.

Next day, woke up early; Tony had a small breakfast & coffee laid out for us. After breakfast, plan was to go visit one of the oldest and continuously inhabited hermitage in this area; the Monastery of St Anthony Qozhaya (Der Mar Antonios Qozhaya). To get there, we drove west from Bsharri for a few miles, and then turned left to drive deep down into the Valley of the Saints. A few scenes on the way

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Steep cliffs and deep valleys
Steep cliffs and deep valleys
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Strategic bluff location
Strategic bluff location
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Interesting Flora
Interesting Flora

We drove down a narrow steep road, and climbed down to almost the bottom of the valley when we came upon the St Anthony Monastery, after passing a lot of small monasteries and churches or monuments to saints along the way. That is why this area is called the Valley of the Saints.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Der Mar Antonios Qozhaya monastery in a remote location
Der Mar Antonios Qozhaya monastery in a remote location

After parking here, first stop was to check out the actual cave the St Anthony occupied while escaping persecution and leading his monastic hermit life

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley St Anthony’s hermit cave, and altar
St Anthony’s hermit cave, and altar
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Gas
Newish chapel (1800’s) carved into the rock

We then went into the main monastery on the pretext of looking for a bathroom, and came across a monk who was passing by. So we stopped him and talked to him; he spoke perfect English, and explained that 12 monks live in this place full time, and showed us around their common area, prayer area and the eating area and kitchen. He explained that they lived normal lives like normal people, and take a lot of time to pray and contemplate the Lord. They did seem to have large buildings and grounds outside where they grew their crops; and did appear to have a decent number of staff to take care of them. He kindly allowed us to wander around (except where their living quarters were); the area was quite large and had been built up at different times, presumably as funds became available. For example, check out the dining room below; which is only used by the Monks and their benefactors.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Dining room of the Monastery; must have a lot of benefactors regularly. The kitchen at the far end was also large and well equipped
Dining room of the Monastery; must have a lot of benefactors regularly. The kitchen at the far end was also large and well equipped

The kitchen staff kindly offered us some fruit when we visited the kitchen. Very hospitable people everywhere

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Nice view of the Valley of the Saints from the monastery
Nice view of the Valley of the Saints from the monastery

There was also a museum in this complex, where they had a lot of old artifacts from the area, and after checking this out, we left to go back to Bsharri. On the way back, once on the main road, we stopped at a small roadside restaurant for a small lunch of Kibbeh, and were walking to our parked car which was parked a short distance away, when we were invited to join a family having coffee on their patio outside their small shop. Again, great warmth and hospitality from complete strangers. One woman spoke English (lived in Australia) and translated for us. The Lebanese (Arabic) coffee was way too strong and bitter for me 🙁

Bsharri and Qadisha Valley The Lebanese family who invited us to join them for coffee
The nice Lebanese family who invited us to join them for coffee

We then drove into Bsharri to check out Khalil Gibran’s house museum. Khalil Gibran was a famous writer, poet, painter and philosopher, and was born in Bsharri, into a poor family, living in a one room house, which is now a Museum. Not much to see here, so we started driving further west towards the Bekaa valley and Baalbek; we were climbing higher to reach the top of the Lebanon Mountain, with the Bekaa valley on the other side. On the way, we stopped at the “Cedars of God” ; which was a small Cedar forest. The Cedar is the symbol of Lebanon and is prominent on their flag.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Cedars of God
Cedars of God

We kept climbing to 2600m (8500ft) and crossed over the ridge, onto the other side of the mountain overlooking the fertile Bekaa valley and the Litani river that provides water to this valley. The view was breath-taking and photographs cannot do justice to it

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley View of Yammoune farming community in the Bekaa valley
View of Yammoune farming community in the Bekaa valley

Short video of the Bekaa Valley view from the Lebanon Mountains

We drove downhill admiring the splendid views. We also saw this interesting sign, maybe a remnant from one of the wars?

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Interesting roadside sign
Interesting roadside sign; wonder is this a remnant from one of their wars
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Small town at the entrance to the Bekaa valley, with lots of farming
Small town at the entrance to the Bekaa valley, with lots of farming

We reached the bottom of the mountain at a small town; where we saw the first presence of the Lebanese army; there was an army post, built up with sandbags, and manned by armed soldiers who were checking the cars going in and out of the Bekaa valley towards Baalbek. The road was blocked with spikes and concrete barriers, so one was naturally forced to slow down to zig-zag one’s way through these obstacles. Behind their office, was a camouflaged tank and an armored carrier. We were waved through like most cars in front of us, and we drove towards Baalbek. No photographs allowed. We kept wondering why this heavy army presence here.

We arrived in Baalbek, and the plan was to visit an extensive Roman ruins site here, and stay overnight. The GPS took me somewhere in Baalbek, but no ruins (GPS had failed me again), and the neighborhood seemed dirty, rough and seedy. So we turned around and went to a gas station in the town center and filled up, and asked the attendant for directions to the ruins. This was the only time we could not communicate. In addition, what we had seen so far of Baalbek was that it was a dusty, dirty town, with few women to be seen, and most of them were fully covered. As we drove along, we saw several (Syrian) refugee camps, which were basically a large collection of round white tents. We also saw several billboards with pictures of the Ayatollah’s of Iran, and that is when we realized that this was Hezbollah territory, and the reason for the military presence we had encountered.

I wanted to stop and take photographs of the camps and the town in general, but this place had spooked Dilshad, and she did not want us to stop here as she felt unsafe, and forbade me to take pictures of anything, lest it landed us in jail; and she felt taking pictures of the refugee camps was disrespectful of the refugees. So we simply drove south from Baalbek; which was the general direction we were supposed to go to next. We again had to pass through another military roadblock checkpoint as we left Baalbek, complete with sandbags, spikes and concrete barriers, the camouflaged tank and armored carrier, and heavy weaponry on display. So no pictures of Baalbek, or the refugee camps 🙁 .

Dilshad researched, and decide that we should drive to Zahle, the capital of the Bekaa valley, which according to the guide book, was supposed to be a nice place to visit. Distances are not large in Lebanon, so we drove till we reached Zahle by early evening. Zahle appeared to be a nice place, no army roadblocks, with people walking outside, both men and women liberally, with plenty of café’s everywhere. We stopped at one such café to get internet, but there was no internet there, and the staff or customers did not know of any other internet café nearby. So we used the poor internet on our local SIM card phone, and were able to do some research, and found a B&B which seemed reasonable. So we called and the lady who answered, did speak English :). She had a room available for us in her B&B, and wanted $50 (but no internet). I successfully negotiated her down to $35 (no breakfast), and drove to her place, which was nearby the café we were at, and in a nice part of town. When we met her, she turned out to be Philipino, who worked for the owner of the old house (complete with nice old furniture), and ran the B&B for her. She also agreed to do our laundry for us, for a very reasonable fee of $5; ready next day 🙂 .

After freshening up, we went and walked briefly in the main street in town, and it seemed quite lively with many people enjoying the evening. There was a party going on at a hotel nearby, which we were able to observe. One couple stopped us on the road, and talked to us in good English. When they found out we were in Lebanon to explore, they thanked us for visiting Lebanon, and said they were very happy we had come to visit Lebanon, as “Lebanon is very beautiful, and is sadly misunderstood by America”. Very interesting.

Dinner was at the Maaje restaurant nearby, where they had internet, but it was rationed, and you had to get a unique password, which expired in a short time. Not very usable and not high speed. After dinner of middle eastern food, we walked into the Bardouni area nearby, that had family entertainment places, coffee shops, and restaurants, and had desert there, before calling it a night.

Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Zahle at night
Zahle at night
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Bardouni area
Bardouni area
Bsharri and Quadisha Valley Map of trip so far
Map of trip so far

Next, we explore Zahle, the wine country, and onto Chouf Mountains and Druze territory

This entry was posted in Lebanon July 2018, Middle East

18 thoughts on “Bsharri, Quadisha Valley and Bekaa Valley

  • AmirT October 13, 2018 at 6:16 pm Reply

    Ali..Thanking you once again for a beautiful blog post! I am vicariously travelling too, with the help of your blog posts. Best Regards, amirTT

    • Ali Karim October 13, 2018 at 6:51 pm Reply

      Hi Amir, Many thanks for your feedback and encouragement. Hope all is well with you and Noor

  • Rosy October 15, 2018 at 8:42 pm Reply

    Thanks Ali for sharing the wonderful pics and experience. One day we’ll just have to do a vacation with you and Dilshad.

    • Ali Karim October 16, 2018 at 10:05 pm Reply

      Thanks Rozy, for the feedback. Glad that you enjoyed my blog posting.

  • Benita Naidu October 17, 2018 at 12:13 pm Reply

    lovely – thanks for sharing.

    • Ali Karim October 17, 2018 at 12:16 pm Reply

      Thanks Benita; glad you enjoyed the blog post

  • Zahir Dharsee October 20, 2018 at 9:31 am Reply

    Hi Ali and Dilshad – hope all is well. Zahir Dharsee from Toronto. I hope you remember me – we sat at the same table at the 2007 POW/Nairobi School reunion here in Mississauga – over 10 years – time flies!!. Anyway I really enjoyed the travelogue of your trip to Lebanon. A question for you. Did you by chance come across any Druze villages or people while in your Lebanese travels?? All the best and thanks. Zahir

    • Ali Karim October 21, 2018 at 12:49 am Reply

      Hi Zahir, thanks for reading my blogs and for reaching out to us; Of course I remember you from the Nairobi School reunion; so long ago.
      Glad you are enjoying the travelog. And yes, we did go into Druze country and stayed with a Druze family during this trip; I will cover that in the next blog
      So stay tuned 🙂
      Thanks again

  • NoorJehan Tejani October 21, 2018 at 12:38 am Reply

    Very cool! Lucky you both are able to drive around and experience
    all the Beauty. Keep it up and continue to share your awesome travels.

    Love, NoorJehan & Mehboob

    • Ali Karim October 21, 2018 at 12:41 am Reply

      Hi Noorjehan; yes, we are indeed blessed to be able to experience all the beauty of Lebanon and other places.
      Thanks for the nice feedback.

      • NoorJehan Tejani October 22, 2018 at 12:15 am Reply

        Your experiences are amazing. Who can do it ?
        Besides the Quality time you both are spending
        with mutual interest and available finances.
        God Bless you both. Have fun !

        • Ali Karim October 22, 2018 at 12:19 am Reply

          Thanks again; so nice to get your feedback.
          Enjoy yourself in Kenya; I envy you.
          I would love to travel and blog full time, but I do have to come back to Dallas and earn some money so we can travel again 🙁

  • Mahamud Jinnah October 21, 2018 at 12:39 am Reply

    Hi Ali;
    Lebanon sounds really nice.

    The monasteries look amazing.Makes you wonder how they built them so long ago.The dichotomy between the lives of the monk and the beautiful dining room was very interesting.

    Khalil Gibril is one of my favorite writers. I was sad to hear that the museum did not offer much.

    The hospitality of the people is beyond amazing.

    Keep the blogs coming.

    Give my regards to Dilshad. She was nice to you.If i had taken Samina anywhere close to the Hezbollah, she would have got one of them to shoot me lol.

    You should have taken pictures of the refugee camp and shown people that they need help.

    Regards,
    Mahamud

    • Ali Karim October 21, 2018 at 12:46 am Reply

      Hi Mahamud, thanks for reading my blogs and for the good feedback. I too regret that I did not take pics of the refugee camps to bring more light to their suffering; but I had to keep the wife happy.
      The Khalil Gibran Museum was the house he was born in and grew up in; a simple 1 room abode with sparse furnishings; no info that related to his life and work.
      Hospitality is indeed very nice from the Lebanese people; a refreshing experience for us, and a good lesson for us to learn, share, and pay forward.

  • Sabira Begum October 22, 2018 at 12:16 am Reply

    Thank you for sharing!!

    • Ali Karim October 22, 2018 at 12:19 am Reply

      Thank you Sabira

  • Nazneen Adatia October 23, 2018 at 8:23 pm Reply

    Hello Ali, beautiful pictures. I love the monastery in the cave and the church. Keep on travelling and send me pictures. Love them.

    Lots of love.

    Naz.

    • Ali Karim October 23, 2018 at 8:30 pm Reply

      Thanks Naz, will do with all your encouragement 🙂
      Thanks

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