Did you know that in Lebanon, it’s possible for you to ski down the mountains in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean sea in the same afternoon? The beautiful geography of this country means that most destinations are no more than a two-hour drive away from each other due to how close the mountains are to the coast. So, after living in Lebanon for ten years, I have curated an ultimate guide for the top 5 things to do as a tourist in Lebanon in the winter season.
Skiing in Lebanon is a cultural experience in itself. For one thing, it can be cheaper than skiing in Europe once ski passes, rentals, transport and accommodation are taken into account. And because of how small the country is, you don’t have to travel for any length of time to get from the slopes to the city centre, opening up a range of possibilities for accommodation.
If you are a first-time skier, Lebanese mountains are perfect to learn on because they are not as dramatic as European slopes. The weather is a lot milder, and the mountains tend to be smaller, so learning is a lot less daunting. But if you are an experienced skier, there are several impressive slopes, especially in the Mzaar resort.
The Beirut party vibe also extends to ski culture, so you will constantly be meeting interesting people and finding things to do after a long day on the slopes. Learning to ski in Lebanon spoiled me because I’ve gotten used to going down the slopes in a t-shirt and coming home by dinnertime. It is a must for tourists in the winter!
There are several cedar reserves to choose from in Lebanon, but all of them are stunning, especially in the winter months. Snow covers the walking paths to create some of the most magical scenery in the region. The Chouf cedar reserve specifically my family’s favourite, with trees still living up to two thousand years and growing alongside freshly planted saplings.
Lebanon is famous for its cedars – King Solomon used them to build his temple in ancient times, the Bible mentions them as a symbol of strength and they are pictured on the Lebanese flag itself. Unfortunately, cedar trees only cover a very tiny proportion of Lebanese mountains when they used to cover over half of the country’s forests because of the exploitation of Lebanon’s resources by other countries throughout history and general deforestation.
The reserves are committed to replanting the lost forests and slowly bringing Lebanon back to its original glory. Tourists can walk through the forests, take pictures and play in the snow if they visit in the wintertime – a perfect activity for all ages.
Coastal Christmas lights
The city Jbeil, or Byblos in English, is rich in culture all year round with its beautiful markets, beaches and traditional Lebanese architecture. But when the Christmas lights come out in December, Jbeil is transformed into a winter wonderland. Every year, an enormous tree is set up at the entrance of the city and its design is different each Christmas. However, it is consistently creative and impressive.
After seeing the tree, the walk around the city in the evening is stunning, especially along the shoreline. Hundreds of little colourful boats are anchored in the bay, and the ancient citadel is another fascinating tourist spot that looks out over the city and the sea. It is very well preserved and contains a mini-museum of artefacts from the citadel for those who are interested in history.
The opportunity to buy Christmas gifts at the little market stalls after walking through a garden of Christmas lights is a uniquely Lebanese experience considering the religious diversity of the country and the freedom for Christians to celebrate their holidays in the Middle East. Overall, Jbeil is the perfect destination for encouraging your Christmas spirit.
When the Christmas lights come out in December, Jbeil is transformed into a winter wonderland.
Lebanon’s natural beauty never fails to amaze, and the Tannourine waterfall during the winter is no exception. It is located in the Baatara Gorge sinkhole in Chatine and has a natural land bridge that people can walk across to see the waterfall closeup. It is a limestone gorge, but in the winter months, it is covered with snow.
When I was younger, it looked to me like something out of CS Lewis’ Narnia world. You cannot swim in the gorge and the drop-down is very dangerous, but watching the powerful waterfall gush down into the pool is truly magical. Adding to that, the hike to get to the waterfall is challenging but great fun, especially when you stop for a snowball fight.
When I was younger, it looked to me like something out of CS Lewis’ Narnia world.
Some of the coolest pictures in my camera roll were taken on that landbridge, and in my opinion, winter is the best time to go and see it because of the snow and how quiet the area around it is. I firmly believe that when visiting Lebanon, tourists must see the depth of beauty in the country’s geography as well as the urban life of Beirut, Tripoli and Tyre.
The cable car and Harissa
Finally, one of my favourite activities to do in winter that is perfect for tourists is the ride up the cable car from Jounieh to Harissa and the jaw-dropping view you get at the top of the mountain. The cable car, or Téléphérique as it is better known, starts at coastal level in the city of Jounieh and travels up the steep slope of the mountain to get to Harissa, where an impressive statue of Mary surveys the city and music echoes from the church built into the base of the statue. Looking out onto Jounieh from here is unbelievable because in the wintertime, due to heavy rainfall, the skyline is crystal clear.
A short walk away from the statue is another church, St Paul’s, which has interesting architecture on the outside with its domes and tall spire. What is completely unexpected, however, is what you find when you walk into the church. Every surface on the inside walls and ceilings is covered with glittering mosaics. They are especially beautiful at dusk when the fading light shines on the golden tiles.
To sum up, from skiing to swimming, Lebanon is an excellent tourist destination for winter travels: extensive cultural experiences and natural sights to see on solo travel, with friends, or as a family!