The trip begins by traveling up north towards the district of Batroun, where two roads lead to Bcharreh, coming from either side of the Qadisha Valley. In Bcharreh, you can visit the Gibran museum, spend some time under the tall trees of the Arz forest, and have a bite at one the restaurants overlooking the valley.
Continuing on the road that climbs behind the cedars, you will soon reach the highest viewpoint in Lebanon: a plateau leading to Qornet el Sawda, overlooking Bcharreh and Qadisha on one side, and the extent of the Beqaa valley and Hermel on the other. Stop here to revel in the view, breathe the fresh air and prepare for the descent.
The road now begins to slope quickly down the other side, twisting and turning through an incredible arid landscape of rough white stone, dark green shrubs and chalky sand. Soon, the landscape begins to flatten, and once past Ainata, you are in a shallow valley, surrounded by Olive and Juniper fields.
The last stop before Baalbek is Dar el Ahmar, vanishing behind as the plain comes into view. The colours now shift; lines of sight extend horizontally in layers of yellow and brown under the infinite sky. Quickly, the city advances on the plain; suddenly, after a few turns, you are in the middle of Baalbek, where the sun setting behind the Temple of Jupiter reminds you of the reason for your trip.
You’ve earned your right to relax and unwind in the Annexe’s jewel of a courtyard. Tomorrow, Baalbek, Niha and Rayak await.
Wondering where to stay in Baalbek? Take a look at L’Annexe, our Family Member in the City of the sun.
Start your second day early with a delicious breakfast of fresh saj and cherry jam, and enter the Baalbek site as it is still waking up. Next on the itinerary are two choices, the temples of Niha, or the industrial ruins of Rayak.
Driving south from Baalbek, Niha is on the right, a small unassuming town, hiding incredible gems. In the centre of the town, you will directly find the entrance to the first of the two lower temples, rising almost intact beneath the looming crest of Mount Lebanon above. If you've skipped the ruins at Baalbek and have more time, you can also explore the two higher temples, a short drive up from the village.
Back on the main road, you can branch East towards Rayak, where different kinds of gems await. By virtue of its location on the main trade route that linked Beirut to Aleppo, Rayak before the civil war was a prosperous city, and held Lebanon's main railway centre. Today it also has a large military airbase, which stretches opposite of the railway's site.
Although one could easily spend hours exploring the industrial ruins that the railway station and train factory have become, it is only with a special permission from the railway administration in Mar Mikhael that the site can be legally entered. Still, you can have a partial view of the abandoned wagons (and a good chance of sneaking in) by visiting Raymond, and trying his special chicken casserole, a destination unto itself.
After lunch, you can chose to extend the trip by continuing down south for a walk in Taanayel, visiting the convent's grounds, or a short hike in the Ammiq swamps, if your energy still allows.
To return to Beirut, depending on your last stop, you can either continue through Chtaura back along the main highway to Baabda, or drive south towards Kefraya, and back up across the mountains of the Chouf, although the latter might be better kept for a different trip, and another day.
Arriving by nightfall to Beirut you will probably be tired, but certainly inspired by the incredible variety of the Lebanese landscape, and how much of it can be experienced in two days.