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Wilderness feels like home – Vol. 2

An engaging ‘flowscape’ for hikes and bike rides in northern Lebanon 
Zgharta District | July 20, 2016.

In the northern Mount Lebanon Chain, the ‘flowscape’ of mixed pine, cypress and oak forests, old houses, village squares, churches, a mosque, alleys and terraces, strongly engages us with the wilderness. When exploring the region, many places feel like home and revive authentic bonds between visitors and nature.

I read from Rumi that ‘where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.’ Relics of the past hold emotional prints and the intense living and sentiments lived by villagers. With their past narratives, they have been transformed into historical landmarks. The remains of old houses that reflect the souls of their makers could speak much about their history. They hold within them untold stories, our ancestors’ lifestyle and their relationships with nature. Again, authenticity and the identity of a place leaves traces in our hearts. The joyful feeling of delving into the past can revitalize us instantly, to give us the energy to continue on with our holiday or busy life when going back to town.

Mazraat El Touffah (Apple Orchard) is one of those villages that can revive our strong, innate attachments to nature and culture. It is located in the district of Zgharta in the north of Lebanon, at 90 kilometers from Beirut and 30 kilometers from Tripoli. At 900 meters altitude, the village captures the start and end points of many roads that lead to its main square. It is accessible from four main entrances namely Seba’el, Ejbeh, Toula and Meziarat. At the beginning of the civil war, those villages hosted refugees from coastal cities. At that time, people built strong relationships with the surrounding wilderness, as a cooler escape in hot summer days and mild during the autumn and winter months. Visitor can discover incredible stories of civil guardians in the area who preserved old tree specimens, which can still be spotted when strolling the roads or paths in the whole region.

Stepping in from the south, north, west or east entrance, a green-scape of land surrounds the villages. The mixed forests of pine, oak and cypress are sprawled across abandoned terraces on the villages’ edges. Walking the forests will unfold green tapestry of storax, juniper, thornapple, hyssop, oregano and St John’s wort. A bike ride in the area will reveal abandoned half circular terraces where farmers used to thresh the wheat and sort out the chaff to be taken to the water mills that still stand near the river on the way to Aslout and Meziarat. From the village’s square, hikers can access El Keif, Dalil, Sifon and Rechta’mout spots and they can cross the borders between villages in Wadi El Karakir, Mereh and Bnache’et and visit old churches of Mar Moura and Mar Chalita.

Despite the hardship of living in my homeland, rambling on a bike in the villages or walking through the forests of the mountains or valleys in rural areas can soothe the soul and instil strong feelings of belonging to the land.

Note to travellers
Explore the roads leading to the village square by bike, where you can enjoy a manouche. Visit the old houses of the villages and stroll through their backyards, gardens and terraces. Have a bite At Istirahat El Saha (03 463853) in the village square, Kioske Edy on the entrance of Mazraet El Touffah from Sebe’el and Eat at La Roche restaurant in Aitou.

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