There is a small rough parking area at Nahr el-Kalb - you need to make a swift exit to the right off the freeway as soon as you come out of the tunnel.
To see all the stelae involves time and a bit of effort - you'll need to cross over to the other side of the road via some steps and a bridge and there is one as far down as the Mameluke bridge you will see a few hundred yards down the valley
There's an open-air restaurant by the Mameluke bridge and, if you're not in a hurry, the drive (or hike) up the steep, narrow valley is very scenic.
The steep and winding road that takes you deep into the Qadisha Valley to the Maronite Monastery of St Anthony of the Desert ends at the gatehouse and from there it's a short walk down to the monastery itself. The church is built right into the cliff-face, the beautiful facade leading into a vaulted stone church where the cave itself foms part of the roof and walls. The shackles in th grotto next to the chuch were used to restrain the mad who were left in thcave overnight in the hopes of a miracle.
This monastery housed the first printing press in the Middle East, though the press in the museum now is a 19th century replacement.
There are lovely views from the terrace and if you are able to come on a weekday you may well have the place to yourself, in which case you will be struck by the peace and beauty of the setting. Weekends are somewhat different!
15 km north of Beirut, the highway passes through a tunnel and over a small river before heading on to Byblos and the north.
The narrow defile through which the Dog River runs, so narrow men could only pass in single file, was for centuries the only way through the mountains from the coast. A tradition that began with Rameses II's Egyptian army has seen stelae left on the cliff face to mark successful crossings.
Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans all left their markers as have more modern armies such as the the Allies of WW1 and 2 right through to the Phalange in the Civil War.
The importance of this site has been recognised by an application for it to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Australian troops in Lebaanon during the war built the railway line that runs along the coast. If you leave the main Tripoli-Beirut highway a few kilometres north of Byblos and come right down to the coast you wil see the old line still there. The Rising Sun badge of the Australian Army can be seen on the stone pylons of one of the bridges.
The Syrian soldiers at the army post by the bridge weren't all that happy to see us taking photographs. The Syrians have withdrawn fromLebanon since we were there, so you shouldn't have any problems these days.
The acres of vineyards around Zahle give you the first indication that you are in wine country here. The local winemakers are Ksara, and they've been making wine here for centuries.
A tour of the winery includes a short video explaining the history and the process of wine-making at Ksara and a walk through some of the ancient tunnels dug into the mountain and dating back to Roman times,
where the wine is maturing in rows of wooden barrels.
Of course there is a shop where you can buy both the wines and a small range of related items. Tours are free.
The Bekaa Valley is a huge fertile plain lying between the Anti-Lebanon mountains to the east and the Lebanon range to the west. Orchards and farms cover the flat land, with small villages here and there, before the road starts to rise into the mountains. Here the land becomes rougher and wildflowers and scrubby trees take over from cultivation.
The valley is generally Shi'ite territory and you will see Hzbollah flags and charity collection boxes in all the villages. When we were there, there were several Syrian checkpoints to be passed through - the check was always very perfunctory and accompanied by a bored wave.
The road continues to rise steadily right to the top, offering spectacular views all the way.
You do need your own transport if you want to take this route over the mountains.
The wine made by Chateau Musar is undoubtedly the best of Lebanese wine. Most of the grapes are grown in the Bekaa but the wine (and arak) is made at the winery just north of Beirut.
Free tours of the winery are available but must be booked at least 24 hours in advance and a time will be given for your arrival. It is worth this extra effort. We had a very comprehensive tour of the winery with the winemaker himself - over an hour - and ended by sharing a bottle of a serious vintage!
There's no shop selling souvenirs but you can buy wine after the tour from the office.
In Tripoli we had the chance to visit an old Hammam, just thank to a local gentleman that we met in a mosque and drove us through the most hidden streets of souks and in this great old place.
This is really an off the beaten path as, to enter it you have to pass through something like a shop that noone would ever imagine could hide this jewel.
As the road rises to the top of the mountain, the snow piles higher and higher. Even in late May, it was still as high as the roof of the bus in places.
Where else in this part of the world could you have a snowball fight in the morning and be sitting in an outdoor cafe by the sea for lunch?
Once across the watershed the road descends in a series of hairpin bends to the Cedars and on to the coast with views of the sea coming and going as the road twists and turns.
On our way from Jbail to Tripoli, 3 KM beyond Batroun, we saw at the east side of the highway this castle. You can take a sideroad for a visit, like we did. The castle was used to defend the only land route between Beirut and Tripoli. It stands on a rock and it's built on the top in such a way as to look like a part of the rock itself.
Moussalayha Castle is a legacy of Lebanon's Ayyubid princess of the 16th century. It could be an abondoned ancient site, probably Gigarta.
Aanjar is the only significant Umayyad site in Lebanon, situated in the southern part of the Beeka Valley, 58 KM east of Beirut.
The excavations started in the 1950s.
Positioned at the long distance east-west trading route, Aanjar seemed to be a major trading place with hundreds of shops.
The fortified rectangular layout of Aanjar with two crossing mainstreets gives the place a Roman outlook.
Most interesting things to see in Aanjar are the tetrastyle, part of a Roman triumph arch and the elegant remains of the Umayyad palace, built in the 8th century.
For more pictures and information see my Anjar-page.
The Afqa Grotto, 45 KM east of Byblos (Jbail), is the sacred source of the Nahr Ibrahim.
According to the legend it was the place where Adonis (or Tammuz in Phoenician), while hunting, is killed by a wild boar. In the area around the grotto are ancient shrines and caves dedicated to Adonis. His story became a symbol for life, death and rebirth.
Each spring the river runs red, supposed to be the blood of Adonis. In reality the stream picks up ferruginous minerals from the soil.
From the side of the grotto we had a nice view at the Roman looking bridge. Under the bridge we discovered a second bow.
On a raised plateau at the riverbank are ruins of a Roman temple, dedicated to Venus (or Astarte). In the foundations is the entrance of a sort tunnel, from where, is thought, the water came in a sacred pool in the temple for healing or ablution of devotees. For the local people the place still have healing powers and they tie pieces of cloth in the nearby fig tree.
In Afqa the roaring stream rages down 200 M from the grotto above. It's possible to walk up to the cave. Watch out, it's steep and slippery. When you reach the top and enter the first part of the cave, you can see how the freezing water surges out of an unseen underground source. You can also see how enormous the cave is, the largest part of the several KMs long cave is not accessible.
Going back you have a good sight at the bridge at the foot of the main fall.
From Beitedinne we drove deeper into the Chouf Mountaints to the south east and reached Moukhtara. Moukthara is the residential area of the known Joumblatt family. In Moukhtara this family has a beautiful palace, built in the 19th century at the ruins of a former palace. It's a private propery, so not be visited.
But we didn't came to Moukhtara for this family, but for the Moukhtara falls. We saw the falls at a poster in our hotel, looking really beautiful.
Surprise, it was a tiny mini fall at a garden restaurant !!!!
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