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Off the Beaten Track

Touring Lebanon’s lesser-visited forests| Get to know native trees of Lebanon.
#Lebanon Traveler Magazine, Issue 20 – August 2016.

Lebanon’s cedars are a source of national pride, tied up with the country’s identity. But beyond our most well-known forests, there are many more to discover. From umbrella pines in the Metn area, to the firs of the far north, the author of “Native Trees of Lebanon and Neighboring Countries,” Elsa Sattout, takes us on a tour of some of Lebanon’s lesser-visited forests.

♠ UMBRELLA PINE FORESTS, South Metn
Altitude: 450-800m
Distance from Beirut: 32km

The charming umbrella pine forests in South Metn, covering a large area of approximately 10km2, feature Judas tree (zamzarik),strawberry tree (katlab), St John’s Wort and rockroses in early spring. They are spread in the stunning valleys below the mountaintops of the villages of Zandouqa, Qsaibeh and Kneisse. Highlights within the region include Saint Veronica Giuliani church in Qsaibeh, the ruins of a silkworm factory and an Ottoman bridge in Kneisse. Stay at a campsite after hiking the area’s trails (Ray’s adventure, 76 383333). Hikes in the region can lead to the village of Salima and Ras El Metn where you can visit the Serail of El Lam’iyine, a Druze hermitage site perched on a cliff, and Ottoman monuments along the river.

♥ JAJ CEDAR FOREST, Byblos District
Altitude: 1,230–1,700m
Distance from Beirut: 75km

The village of Jaj in north Lebanon features a cedar grove and old isolated cedars that grow on rocky hills. Maple (kaykab), bear plum (khawkh el deb) and wild service-tree (ghbayra) are sporadically spread across the area. Historical records speak about the Phoenicians who transported cedar logs through rivers to the port of Byblos for shipbuilding and export. A 30-minute hiking trail offers a good overview of the area – passing from the forest parking lot to the cedar grove and old church. For more adventurous hiking and advanced mountaineering, explore the surrounding hills which have 360 degrees of panoramic views and take a break at the restaurant Sama Jaj (70 540223) for a quick bite or meal. In the village itself, pass by the 200-year-old oak tree near the church and the private museum of the sculptor and artist Boutros Farhat (03 254283).

♣ CALABRIAN PINE FORESTS, Zgharta District
Altitude: 885–1,100m
Distance from Beirut: 123km

Dense Calabrian pine forests extend on the hills surrounding the villages of Mazraet El Touffah, Ejbeh, Aitou and Sebeel. They cover more than approximately 3km2 and include gall oak (afess), kermes oak, cypress (sharbeen), storax (loubn), juniper (ar’ar), hawthorn (za’rour), hyssop (zoufa), orchids, sage (kas’ine), Syrian oregano (zouba’) and endemic Lebanese oregano (mardakoush lubnani), along with St John’s Wort (dmou’ lebsaynat). The forested area is accessible from the surrounding villages and Meziarat. The landscape features abandoned terraces that were once cultivated with wheat and semi-circular terraces for wheat thresh, old houses, old churches and a water mill. Enjoy outdoor activities in the area, including hiking to El Keif, Dalil, Sifon and Rechta’mout, biking and sightseeing tours, or simply take a picnic and enjoy the panoramic views. If you aim to cross the borders between villages, hikes to Wadi El Karakir, Mereh and Bnache’et are available with eco-tour operators.

♣ CALABRIAN PINE FORESTS, Antoura- Harissa
Altitude: 200–500m
Distance from Beirut: 21km

In the Kesrouane region, a large green tapestry is made up of Calabrian pine, florals and plants. Forest edges are composed of kermes oak, pistachio (burzok), Syrian maple (shrek), carob (kharoub), strawberry tree, Mediterranean buckthorn (zefrine), Judas tree, orchids, sage and rockrose. The forest extends over approximately 21km2 in the valley and the region offers the 7km Darb El Qamar trail (09 212212) starting in Aintoura and ending in Daroun-Harissa. A panoramic view takes in the Mediterranean Sea, oak woodlands to the south and dense Calabrian pine forests to the north. The area features orchards, a watercourse and 15 monasteries, including Deir Hrash in Ain El Rihane, which dates back to 1640 and the Lady of Harissa – Virgin Mary.

♠ CALABRIAN PINE FORESTS, Qobayet, Akkar
Altitude: 700–1,600m
Distance from Beirut: 145km

Calabrian pine forests extend over 31.1km2, from the foothills where Qobayet village lies to the high peaks of the surrounding mountains. On the hills, Calabrian pine trees grow mixed with heather, rockrose, orchids, sowbread, oregano and sage. The area offers hiking, biking and camping as well as overnight accommodation in the forest at Jabalna Ecolodge (03 542935). Hikes from the village can be organized to the highlands of Karm Chbat nature reserve; Qammoua and the Cilician, cedar and juniper forests; and the water source Nabeh el Shouh in Akkar el Atika. Nature lovers can enjoy an indoor exhibition of birds and butterflies at the Permanent Scientific Museum for Animals, Birds and Butterflies at the St Doumit Monastery (06 350004) or take in the many monumental shrines and old churches.

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