Simply known as "The Cedars", this resort settlement in Lebanon's highest range is one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in the country.
Its centerpiece is an ancient grove of cedars, a tree synonymous for millennia with Lebanon itself.
Just below The Cedars is the town of Bsharre, birthplace of Gibran Khalil Gibran.
The most exciting way to get to The Cedars is from Deir al Ahmar in the Beqaa valley. The road snakes up the bare eastern slopes of Mount Lebanon presenting marvelous views at every turn. As you get higher, at the crest you look down the other side into a gigantic bowl where the ski resort, the cedar grove and the Qadisha gorge lie before you in a wide-angle panorama. Plan this route for summer or fall because snow closes the pass in winter.
A more direct way to The Cedars is from Chekka (south of Tripoli) to Bsharre.
Two roads lead from Bsharre village to the cedars, about seven kilometers up the mountain. The older road, known for its hairpin curves, leads past the entrance path of the Qadisha grotto. The new road, with more gentle engineering, is kept clear in winter for painfree ascent. Whichever way you take, the vistas are beautiful, especially when fog rises from the valley.
You first arrive at a large assortment of hotels, chalets, night clubs and restaurants, which thought not a village, does form a local community of residents, visitors and local proprietors. About a kilometer further on is the famous Cedar grove where the road is lined with the inevitable souvenir stands and small restaurants. the same road continues to the ski area at 2,066 meters and goes over the mountain and down into the Beqaa valley.
The Cedars is a resort for all seasons. In summer the high elevation makes it a wonderful escape from the humid coast while in winter skiing is the favorite activity.
The Cedars in History
As remote as they are, the cedars are not untouched by history. The grove we see today descends from an immense primeval forest of cedars and other trees such as cypress, pine and oak that once covered most of Mount Lebanon including part of its east facing slopes.
The Cedar is an historical entity mentioned often in the Bible and other ancient texts and it played an important part in the culture, trade and religious observances of the ancient Middle East. Serious exploitation of these forests began in the third millennium B.C., coastal towns such as Byblos.
Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians made expedition to Mount Lebanon for timber or extracted tributes of wood from the coastal cities of Canaan-Phoenicia. The Phoenicians themselves made use of the cedar, especially for their merchant fleets. Solomon requested large supplies of cedar wood, along with architects and builders from King Hiram of Tyre to build his temple. Nebuchadnezzar boasted on a cuneiform, inscription: "I brought for building, mighty cedars, which I cut down with my pure hands on Mount Lebanon". Prized for its fragrance and durability, the length of the great logs made cedar wood especially desirable. Cedar was important for shipbuilding and was used for the roofs of the temples, to construct tombs and other major buildings.
The Egyptians used cedar resin for mummification, and pitch was extracted from these trees for waterproofing and caulking.
In the second century A.D., the Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to protect the forest with boundary markers, most carved into living rock, others in the form of separate engraved stones. Today over 200 such markers have been recorded, allowing scholars to make an approximate reconstruction of the ancient forest boundaries. Two of these markers, carved in abbreviated Latin, can be seen at the American University of Beirut Museum. In the centuries after Hadrian, Lebanon's trees were used extensively as fuel, especially for lime burning kilns. In the Middle Ages mountain villagers cleared forests for farmland, using the wood for fuel and construction. The Ottomans in the 19th century destroyed much of the forest cover and during World War II British troops used the wood to build railroad between Tripoli and Haifa.
The Cedar Tree Itself
Of the immense forests of history only isolated patches of cedars are found in Lebanon today. Growing at high elevations, often in craggy difficult-to-reach locations, these majestic trees still stir the imagination.
In the north of the country, stands of cedars grow in the Horsh Ehden Nature Preserve. More inaccessible are the trees near Hadeth al-Jubbeh, whose shape has been changed by trimming, and the cedars near Tannourine.
In Jaj near Laqlouq isolated specimens of cedars are still scattered on the rocky peaks above the town. Deep in the Shouf district on top of Mount Barouk, cedars some 350 years old grow in an enclosed grove. These trees, which are in pristine condition, can be easily admired from outside the protective wall. Above the town of Maaser esh-Shouf, there is another cedar forest, which has an extended view of the Beqaa valley.
Cedar trees also grow in nearby Ain Zhalta.
The most famous cedars, known as Arz el Rab or Cedars of the Lord, are those of Bsharre. Only in this grove, the oldest in Lebanon, gives an accurate idea of the stature and magnificence these trees attained in antiquity. About 375 cedars of great age stand in a sheltered glacial pocket of Mount Makmel.
Four of them, many hundreds of years old, have reached a height of 35 meters and their trunks are between 12 and 14 meters around. They have straight trunks and strong branches that spread their regular horizontal boughs like fans. Also among the inhabitants of the forests are some thousand young trees, planted in recent decades to ensure the future of this national resource. The slow-growing cedar, with its long life span, requires at least 40 years before it can even produce fertile seeds.
Like any other treasure of great antiquity, the Bsharre cedar grove requires special care and protection. Concern for this modern remnant of historic cedars goes back to 1876 when the 102-hectare grove was surrounded by a high stone wall.
Financed by Great Britain's Queen Victoria, the wall protects against one of the cedar's natural enemies, the goats who enjoy feasting on young saplings.
More recently, a "Committee of the Friends of the Cedar Forest", organized in 1985, is attempting to deal with the damage and disease - brought by both man and nature - that afflicts the trees. To improve the general health and appearance of the forest, the Committee has removed tons of dead wood and fertilized the soil. Various pests and diseases are being treated and lightning rods have been installed for further protection.
Three thousand meters of attractive pathways have been built so visitors can enjoy the grove without causing damage.
Also due for attention is a Maronite chapel in the center of the forest. Built in 1843 when these cedars were under the protection of the Patriarchate, the chapel is the scene of a special annual celebration on the 6th of August.
The Cedars forest may be visited daily except Monday.
A moderate entrance fee is charged. Guides are available for the pleasant walk through the grove.
Skiing in The Cedars
The scenery and the quality of the snow make The Cedars an exceptional skiing venue. The pistes form a natural amphitheater, and the high elevation means the season usually lasts from December through April.
A French army ski school opened here in the 1930's and the handsome building, which now belongs to the Lebanese army, can still be seen near the cedar grove. The chair lift, installed in 1953, is no longer in use but the main runs are equipped with five T-bar lifts. There are also four baby slopes with lifts. Ski rentals are available from local shops, which also arrange ski lessons with qualified instructors. Snack bars, hotels and restaurants service the ski area. More facilities are available at The Cedars "village" and in Bsharre, 15 minutes down the mountain.
The Cedars Ski Resort
The Cedars resort is set in an area of unusual natural and historical interest. In only 30 minutes you can drive from the crest of the mountain which soars nearly 3,000 meters above the resort, down to the bottom of the steep-sided Qadisha gorge at less than 1,000 meters. Within this area are rivers, springs, waterfalls, caves and other natural formations as well as rock-cut churches, monasteries and interesting villages to visit. There is always the promise of a friendly welcome from the hospitable people who live there.
If you have time
An interesting tour can be made of the villages around the horseshoe-shaped rim of the Qadisha valley. if you are driving to The Cedars via the village of Qnat, the first village you come to on the south side of the gorge is Hadeth al-Jubbeh, a town which goes back to at least the early 6th century A.D. A stop here is recommended for the wonderful view of Qadisha.
Next comes Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite Patriarch since the 19th century. The sites overlooks the Monastery of Qannoubin, an early seat of the Patriarchy. From Diman a steep path takes you down to the gorge.
Not far from Diman is Hasroun, a red-roofed town that hugs the edge of the Qadisha valley. This village is known for its picturesque dwellings, old churches and gardens.
A pleasant pathway descends from here past several ancient churches into Qadisha valley. Bqaa Kafra, reached via a turnoff from Bqorqacha, is the highest village in the country at 1,600 meters.
This picturesque town is also the birthplace of Lebanon's Saint Charbel, born in 1828.
At the head of the gorge is Bsharre the hometown of Gibran Khalil Gibran.
The Gibran Museum in the monastery of Mar Sarkis is open in winter from 9 am to 5 pm daily, except Monday, and everyday in summer.
Leaving Bsharre you go around the horseshoe to Hadchit, dramatically perched on a ledge over the gorge. If you get off the main road and into the older part of town you'll find traditional houses and streets, the typical town square and some old churches.
A path starting from the lower town level, goes to bottom of the valley. Anyone looking for souvenirs of cedar wood would do well to stop at the workshops of Blawza before heading up to The Cedars resort. This small town not far from Hadchit, is also the starting point for walks to Diman or the Qannoubin Monastery in the valley.
On the old road between The Cedars and Bsharre a long path on the side of the cliff leads to the small Qadisha Grotto. Below the cave gushes out a powerful waterfall, especially full in the spring months. It is possible to visit the limestone formations.
Climb Lebanon's Highest Peak
You can ascend the 3088-meter high Qornet es-Sawda (or Black Horn), by foot or take advantage of a rough track suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles.
Allow a whole day if you want to make the entire ascent and return by foot. The initial climb, following the path of the chair lift, takes you about two hours and brings you to a small hut at the end of the lift. From here you hike north along the top for another hour. Look for patches of last's winter snow and porcupine quills along the way.
An easier way to the top is to take a road suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles that starts at Dahr el-Qadib on the highest point on the road between the Cedars and Yammouneh in the Beqaa. From the summit, which is marked by a large metallic tripod, you have a panoramic view of the coast of Lebanon towards the west. It is said that on a clear day the island of Cyprus can be seen.
From the Cedars, a summer excursion takes you east over the mountain towards the Beqaa valley to Ouyoun Orghoch. Here tented restaurants cluster around a large spring fed wetland where trout are farmed. Cold waters keep drinks chilled on the warmest days. In the spring an dearly summer expect to be presented with snow instead of ice for your arak.
Hotels in The Cedars