BEIRUT: Michel Moufarege goes on dozens of hikes every year and has been on hundreds of trips since he became a professional guide in 1997. But there is something particularly special about a trek he makes high up in the mountains.
At around 3,000 meters the trail goes in a horseshoe on a plateau around a grove of old cedar trees.
“The atmosphere and the air are very special, the color of the soil, the forms of the dunes and the hills, and the eternall snow that still hang here and there,” says Moufarege who is a guide for Liban Trek.
Lebanon is full of trails and treks that offer an escape from the oppressive heat of summer, from the nation-spanning Lebanon Mountain Trail to dozens of smaller day trips that traverse high-altitude trails overlooking sweeping vistas.
For people looking to give trekking a go for the first time, hiking companies offer guides to ease your way into exploring the country’s higher altitudes.
Lise-Lotte Sulukdjian, who works with Moufarege and has been a mountain guide for years, finds a particular beauty in being able to experience a wide spectrum of nature’s offerings in Lebanon by foot.
Up north, trails cover wide vistas of trees and brush and often lead to forts and castles. Trails in the east track ancient groves of bristling juniper trees, and those in the south’s rolling hills overlook groves of olive trees.
“Every region is so different in this country,” Sulukdjian said. “It’s such a small country but you have everything. Of course we have a lot of valleys and rivers and springs ... But not one valley is the same.”
One of Sulukdjian’s favorite trails follows a tree-covered mountain path winding up the north Lebanon mountains, revealing Qornet Sawda, the highest point in the country, and nothing else.
“It’s beautiful up there because it has nothing; it is the beauty of nothing,” Sulukdjian says.
Most hiking groups, such as Liban Trek, offer weekend trips that depart early in the morning Saturday or Sunday from Beirut for around four hours of hiking.
For less adventurous hikers or families, a number of municipalities and organizations offer shorter hikes that don’t venture quite as deep into the wilderness as most other treks.
Places like the Hammana municipality, known for its cherry groves, are gearing up this summer for families looking to escape the heat and spend a day or weekend in the mountains.
Local coordinator Laura Hatem says afternoons are a great time for walks: “It’s always nice and cool [as] we have fog in the afternoon.”
There are guest houses available in the municipality known for its cherry harvest, and knowledgeable guides are available. They “talk about the historical information of Hammana and lead the way,” Hatem says. Other activities including canyoning, mountain climbing and paragliding.
Whether on a family-friendly short hike or a multi-day trek through the mountains, coming prepared is critical. Guides recommend sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, a good pair of shoes and one or two pairs of socks.
Wearing the right clothes is also important. Tight jeans will only stick to your legs and collect sweat, making you heavier and hiking more difficult. Shorts can also be a liability when visiting monasteries or conservative areas.
A hiking stick is also a standby for many hikers. It makes for easier navigation down slopes covered with small round stones that can roll easily.
Finally, trail choice is important. Beginner hikers are advised to choose a short trail with only limited amounts of climbing to get a sense of how much they enjoy the activity.