BEIRUT: With temperatures repeatedly breaking 30 degrees Celsius of late, there have been days when one could be forgiven for thinking Lebanon has skipped spring and moved directly to its soupy summer season this year.
But if the weather forecast is to be believed, this three-day weekend – although sandwiched on either side by hotter days – offers a return to fresh, bright low 20s weather ideal for a range of outdoor pursuits, which become increasingly unappealing, or indeed impossible, when temperatures climb.
Firmly in the soon-to-be-impossible category is skiing. Many may well believe it is already there, but Ronald Sayegh of skileb.com assures The Daily Star that snow remains on the slopes, particularly at The Cedars.
Asked if this was the ideal weekend to attempt one of Lebanon’s most oft touted virtues, the old ski and swim in one day adventure, Sayegh wasn’t immediately enthusiastic. “The temperature is still quite low for swimming,” he cautioned; although he did add that the weather was expected to be fairly good for suntanning.
Even if total immersion in the Mediterranean induces more teeth-chattering than pleasure this weekend, the climate is ideal for a range of other, wetsuit-clad coastal pursuits – although Bassam Oud of Calypso Diving Center in Beirut says that the weather looks more suited to surface than underwater sports.
Unless the weather changes, Oud says, underwater visibility is likely to be murky which isn’t ideal for diving, but that sailing and surfing should be pleasant.
Indeed, Makek Daou of Batroun Water Sports says that conditions should be good this weekend for windsurfing, particularly in the afternoon. “The high season for windsurfing is always in the winter,” he says, noting that this bright weekend should offer some good opportunities for taking pictures.
For those keen to keep their feet on dry ground, either by the coast or further inland, hiking, cycling or picnicking are all likely to make for pleasant pastimes.
With temperatures low and Lebanon’s fields and valleys blossoming with wildflowers, hiking looks set to be a fresh and healthy experience this weekend. (Later in the year it will become a far less enjoyable exercise, turning from a refreshing excursion to a desperate race to intake as much fluid as you’re sweating out.)
Sunday or Monday are probably better days for hitting the trails than Saturday, as rain showers are forecast for the first day of the long weekend.
If you want to get aboard an already arranged trip, several well-known organizations have scheduled treks. Vamos Todos is hiking at Arbet Kozhaya near Zghorta Sunday, while Blue Carrot Adventures heads to the Sannine Mountains where they expect fresh snow on high ground to make for a fun day of mostly snowshoeing.
For people who would rather spend the weekend in an urban setting but would still like to get out in the fresh air for the afternoon, this might be the perfect Sunday to sign up for the Walk Beirut tour.
For longtime Beirutis, it may sound overly touristy, but if in the rush of daily life it’s been a while since you’ve considered the capital’s history, or stopped to think about how it has changed and evolved over the years, this four-hour-long stroll (fear not, there are coffee and snack breaks) with accompanying narrative will reawaken you to the city’s intriguingly layered history.
Cycling is another option this sunny but cool weekend. Rent bikes and safety gear (from either Beirut by Bike or Cyclosport) and take either a coastal or inland trip Sunday when traffic is light and there are few heavy trucks on the road.
An easy family route is the sea road from Dbayeh to Jounieh. By driving your bikes to Dbayeh, you avoid having to cycle along the rather unpleasant and fume-filled highway out of Beirut. Moreover, the route from Dbayeh to Jounieh is mostly flat so isn’t overly taxing on unfit or very young legs. Set out in the early morning, lunch outdoors at one of the seafront cafes in Jounieh’s Old Souk, take a spring dip in the sea if you’re game enough, then leisurely pedal back to where you’ve parked your car at Dbayeh.
Another, less taxing, option is to hire bikes at the Beirut Waterfront and make the short cycle along the Corniche to lunch at any of the eateries overlooking the Pigeon Rocks.
Alternatively, pack a picnic. Just as it lacks an abundance of public parks, Lebanon isn’t rife with designated picnic spots, but there are a few potential sites. The Dalieh outcrop of land just beyond the Pigeon Rocks is one such location. The Sanayeh Gardens, which is currently at its most green, is another option.
Indeed, the relatively low temperatures this weekend are on side for keen picnickers – food is less likely to turn fetid and potentially poisonous during transportation at this time of year than it is in the sweltering summer. So make sandwiches, pick up some in-season strawberries en route from a roadside vendor and head for the open planes of the Bekaa Valley.
You’ll find a great shady green space next to the Ammiq wetlands ideal for spreading out a picnic blanket, although be sure to gather up all your trash before departing – those trying to protect the neighboring wetlands won’t thank you for littering.
If neither physical activity nor lunching on the ground are appealing this weekend, then consider a visit to Massaya’s vineyard where you can relax in their rustic Bekaa Valley restaurant, warmed by an open fire, as you spend the afternoon sipping wine and dining on a buffet of salads and grilled quail.
Useful contact information:
Calypso Diving Center (03-805-054) Batroun Water Sports (03-156-402) Vamos Todos (03-561-174)
Blue Carrot Adventures (03-553-007) Walk Beirut (bebeirut.org/walk.html) Beirut by Bike (03-435-524)