Ecotourism in Lebanon: A Trip to Nahr Baakline
One of the banes of living in a major city is you seldom venture beyond it to discover new ground. When I was living in the US and visited Lebanon during summers off, my parents planned daily trips to every corner of the country. We didn’t leave a stone unturned, from the mountains of Hamana to the sandy shores of Tyr and the jam-packed chaos that is Tripoli. In fact, our relatives often joked that we knew Lebanon better than they did.
|Nahr Baakline in the Chouf|
And it’s true. We were more passionate about discovering the Lebanese terrain than tourists are, let alone yearlong residents. Anywhere my parents had even a remote contact or connection, we paid homage to, and I soaked up the Lebanese topography with thirsty zeal.
But since I moved to Lebanon and work full-time in Beirut, I rarely have leisure or leave to stray far beyond my daily trajectory. Weekends are usually reserved for R&R, and once in a great while we might make a trip to Byblos or Sidon, but that’s the extent of it.
|Lush vegetation surrounds the calm Baakline River|
Imagine my excitement when a group of friends organized a trip to Nahr Baakline, in the Chouf area just below Beiteddine, for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant. If you’re driving from Beirut, take the Damour exit and begin your snake-like ascent through Mechref up to Kfar Him.
Branch off in the direction of Deir Dourit until you arrive to Baakline, where there are visible signs leading to Nahr Baakline. The road is a bit winding and riddled with potholes in some stretches, but it’s worth the descent down into the valley where majestic waterfalls await you.
Shallalat al Zarka is an expansive restaurant situated right on the river of Baakline, where the therapeutic sounds of crashing waterfalls lull you into lethargic euphoria. The venue features a play area suitable for kids, an organic soap shop in the style of Tripoli and Sidon’s Khan el Saboun, and of course numerous wooden tables to accommodate groups large and small.
|Shallalat al Zarka (Arabic for "blue waterfalls") is a restaurant that sits on the Baakline River|
Even if you were simply to nibble on carrots and pumpkin seeds while sipping an ice cold beer, you’d find satisfaction in enjoying the pristine state of Lebanon’s hidden natural wonders. Who knew there was a tree-covered sanctuary where fresh, clean air and clear waters form a veritable oasis?
But the trip home is a long one, so you’ll want to forage for food. Luckily, the restaurant’s fare is decent, from the creamy hummus to a colorful beetroot-arugula salad. The roasted eggplant mash, aka "mtabbal", seems like it emerged from a home kitchen, and the kafta karaz is rich with stewed cherries of the season.
|An artful vegetable platter|
|An impeccable baba ghannouj, or roasted eggplant with tahini|
|Beetroot with arugula|
Service is doting and unusually efficient. Soiled napkins are plucked in no time, and glasses are refilled without notice. The deep-seated tradition of hospitality is alive and thriving at Shallalat al Zarka, and though some of the mezza items could use a tiny tweak, you’ll happily overlook them because nature makes amends in its own way.
|Seasonal fresh fruit|
Next time you yearn for a touristic voyage outside the capital, steer your wheels to Baakline and relish in a lush landscape at Shallalat al Zarka. Lebanon sure is pretty.
Shallalat al Zarka
+961 3 560 301