There is a certain serenity that settles on the mountains of the Shouf where land, sky and the blue horizon congregate. Behind the huge public square or midan, the Kharj Barracks, a beautiful architectural structure with an open courtyard and surrounded by volts stands still untouched by modernity. This massive structure was built by Fakhreddine II in 1616 as a munitions warehouse and barracks and remodeled into a food storehouse mainly for soldiers under Bechir III Chehab (1840 – 1842). It has taken a new life now, restored, this monument is the stunning setting of the French Cultural Center where cultural and social events take place. We spent a night there with the kids watching football. It was one of those nights where the open dark skies, the stars so clearly visible, and the crescent of the moon stood next to each other peacefully painting a picture perfect night. Sitting in its womb, one could get a sense of the culture and people that still inhabit this land.
Long stretch of road with loops and endless curves with sturdy old woody trees lined along the sides afford graceful swaying of the boughs and rides. Under a canopy of woodland trees in threads, our eyes readily tread on the path ahead, scenic as in covers of children’s storybooks. The Skies above clear and bright with wisps of cottony clouds congruent with the sun that illuminates the path to the Shouf in every bend.
Labneh (strained yogurt) is a daily food in the Lebanese diet and known by everyone and mainly eaten at breakfast. Go deeper in the country, into the Bekaa Valley or the Shouf Mountains, and another delicacy will unfold made in a terra-cotta bowl (labnet al jarra), where baladi and shami goats are respectively the main grazing animals that produce it.
The largest of Lebanon’s nature reserves, Al-Shouf Biosphere Reserve stretches from Dahr Al-Baidar in the north to Niha Mountain in the south and overlooks both the Bekaa valley to the east and the Shouf valley to the west. Blanketed with oak forests on its northeastern slopes and juniper and oak forests on its southeastern slopes, the reserves most famous attractions are its three magnificent cedar forests of Maasser Al-Shouf, Barouk, and Ain Zhalta. At the local level several of the cedar stands are recognized as outstanding scenic landscapes, the larger cedars contributing in a most distinctive way to the landscape. It covers an area of 50,000 hectares, equivalent to about 5% of the overall area of Lebanon, making it one of the largest mountain protected areas in the Middle East.