The Cedars in the north of Lebanon is known for its Cedars of God forest reserve. The cedar tree has been synonymous with Lebanon since ancient times and is even featured on the country’s flag. The Cedars village is about two hours from Beirut. The forest is filled with ancient trees, many of which were used to build important religious sites in the area. At 3000 meters the Cedars has a higher altitude than many of the other ski resorts in the area, which means that it enjoys a slightly longer season.
Skiers first came here in 1920 and have been returning ever since. In 1953 the government installed the first lift at the Cedars. This chairlift is no longer in use. 5 T-bar lifts are in a large basin and can take skiers to the peak of the mountain for off-piste skiing or down-hill trails. The ski runs were extended and new lifts were installed in 2005. More recently around 15 million US Dollars was invested to improve the facilities and expand the resort. Improvements to accommodation, equipment, safety and services was done.
The Cedars is Lebanon’s oldest ski resort with peaks of over 3000 meters. The Cedars have 13 pistes with the highest being around 2700 meters above sea level and the highest vertical drop is 775meters. The area blends quality snow with amazing natural scenery while the pistes form a natural amphitheatre.
Ski season at the Cedars sometimes starts as early as November, lasting into late April. The resort offer four gentle slopes for beginners, with snow-wire lifts, while there are cross-country (total length of about 10 kilometres) and a wide variety of après-ski offerings for more experienced skiers.
The area has plenty to do when not on the slopes. There are numerous monasteries, churches and villages spread throughout the valley. A visit to Bcharre will take you to the home and resting place of the famous Lebanese poet, artist and novelist, Gibran Khalil Gibran. The village has a museum dedicated to him and showcases some of his work including drawings and paintings, along with some of his personal effects.
The nearby Qadisha valley is said to be home to one of the largest Christian settlements, with many Maronite churches and monasteries, dating back to the 4th century, carved from the local rock.
Visitor can reach the Cedars via one of three ways. The most exciting is from Deir Al-Ahmar in the Beqaa valley. A more direct way is from Chekka to Bsharre, where you can take either of two roads. The old road has hairpin curves and leas past the entrance path of the Qadisha grotto, while the new road is likely to be the easiest of the three. Rest assured that all three roads offer spectacular views along the way.
Lebanon is soaked in culture and history, and one of the few places in the world where you can ski in the morning, and enjoy sunbathing on a beach in the afternoon.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com