Tourist’s delight

Historically and culturally diverse Lebanon has something for everyone, writes RAGHDA MUGHARBIL

Lebanon was once known by many who’ve visited this historical and culturally diverse place as the Switzerland of the Middle East and tourists often marvelled the idea of being able to swim and ski all in the same day.

With an area of 10,452 sq km, visitors from all over the Arab world and some parts of Europe have been flocking to see this magical place. Its unique topographical areas – the narrow coastal plain, the inland peaks of Mount Lebanon, the Beqaa plateau and the mount-Lebanon range – help in giving Lebanon such divergent temperatures and weather, in addition to the mouth-watering cuisine, rich culture, ancient craft and year-long activities. 
The narrow coastal plains are heavily urbaniaed and hold the major cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon. The weather is hot in the summer and mildly cold with showers in January and February. The Beqaa valley, an inland plateau, situated 1,000m above sea level is drier than the rest of Lebanon and enjoys more pronounced climate extremes. It is hot and dry in summer and cold and frosty in winter.
The mount-Lebanon range which runs parallel to the coastline, reaching 3,000m at its highest point, enjoys Alpine Climate, plenty of snow and sub-zero temperatures on the peaks during winter, making it a perfect destination for ski tourism.
Skiing is a feature that singles out Lebanon among its neighbouring Arab countries. If you are a ski lover then why not try the Lebanese slopes? The months of December through April are when skiing is at its best, and the slopes are full to capacity with skiers, snowboarders and people simply enjoying the snow. If you’ve never skied before then the Lebanese slopes are the best place for you to learn. There are many resorts to choose from ranging from the Cedars (Al Arz) to Faraya Mzaar to Laqlouq in the mountain range above Byblos.
The Cedars is the most picturesque resort of all, and is a two-and-a-half hour drive from central Beirut but well worth your while. It can make a great weekend escape. The brushed-up terrain is suitable for beginners, but the Cedar’s are renowned for their challenging slopes.
If you are not into long drives, then Faraya Mzaar, a posh skiing locale, is only a 50 minutes drive away from Beirut and it’s the place where the most serious skiers hang out. Three separate but connected areas – Jonction, Warde and  Refuge – are appropriate for skiers of all ages and abilities. Martin Mugharbil, a beginner saids that he prefers Faraya to other resort because of its proximity to Beirut. “I like the idea that I can be in Faraya in 45 minutes, and since I am not a professional skier there are many slopes to choose from. I can practice on the easier ones before I go to the more difficult.”
Faqra, a private club, is situated a few minutes away from Faraya Mzaar at a lower elevation, while Laqlouq is a low-key, reasonably priced resort, popular with families and cross country skiers. Lebanon is the place where children can learn to ski. They can be enrolled in a ski school for a season which will take care of all of the logistics and would organise transport from Beirut to the mountains every weekend.
Lebanon is also a country rich in culture and boasts a wide variety of events, with festivals taking place in Beiteddine, Baalbeck, Tyre, Byblos and Beirut. Here, you can also attend music festivals, art exhibitions, theatre and dance at any time of the year or visit the home towns of famous Lebanese writers Gibran Khalil Gibran in the mountain village of Becharre or Amin Maalouf or, for that matter, Mikhael Naymeh.
Food is one of Lebanon’s major attractions and is bound to be the highlight of anyone’s trip to Lebanon. Your taste buds are unlikely to forget the delicious flavours of Oriental and Mediterranean influences long after you leave the country – and it’s worth noting that it’s also one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. A typical Lebanese meal begins with a variety of hot and cold starters called mezze served on small round dishes and can include stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, homos, variety of salads and spinach pies. The main dishes consist of meat kebabs, usually chicken or beef. Most of the food is eaten with the Lebanese pita bread.
Lebanon is also famous for its handicrafts. You can even see them being made using traditional techniques handed down from generation to generation. Tripoli and Sidon are known for soap manufacturing. There is glass blowing in the south, basket making, cutlery making, copper- and meltware, bell making, woodwork, embroidery and pottery, to name a few.
There is so much to see and do in Lebanon that tourists are bound to fall in love with this enchanting place. It’s a place where there’s something for everyone.