Lebanon is often referred to as ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’. This is due to its relatively small size, its abundant mountains, all covered with trees and greenery, its banking system, French being the second language, its pluralistic societies and of course... snow in the winter !
As kids, the Lebanese grew up in relatively hot summers, yet many were fortunate enough to learn and enjoy skiing the good part of four months every winter. This was mostly downhill skiing, though. Later, many were to discover the amazing sport of Backcountry Skiing (or Ski Mountaineering) and as the saying goes “Once you try backcountry, you never go back!”
So much that at the turn of the century, myself and a couple of friends introduced backcountry skiing to Lebanon. Shortly after, about a decade ago, I was invited to ski the ‘Haute Route’ in Europe. We set off in Chamonix skinning up and skiing down the scenic Alps, crashing daily in cozy refuges along the way. We reached Zermatt a day earlier than planned, so the next day we decided to ski a neighbouring 4000m peak.
It was a glorious day with abundant sunshine and perfect snow conditions. When we got to the top of the 4,164 m summit of the beautiful Breithorn, we took a moment to enjoy the view on the adjacent Matterhorn and catch our breaths before the descent. All the while, I couldn’t help but notice two middle-aged men, with colorful lycra suits racing up towards us, roped. Their equipment was as light as it gets with minimal backpacks to which they had strapped their ultra-light crampons. What’s more, then had duct-taped foam tubes to their poles... As soon as they reached the top, and without removing their skis, they stripped off their sealskins in a swift single move and tucked them inside their chest pockets before locking-in their heels and skiing back down, mad-fast.
“What are these guys doing? Who are they racing against!?“ I asked mountain guide Yves standing next to me. “Oh, they’re training for the Patrouille” he replied, as if it was an obvious thing… “Patrouille!? What’s that?” I asked. He went on to explain to me what the legendary Patrouille des Glaciers is (pdg.ch), and what it means to backcountry ski enthusiasts the world over. It all sounded grand and struck a chord with me. Shortly after, while skiing back through the valley to the village of Zermatt, I had a moment to myself and I thought: “Max! Why not organise a ‘Patrouille’ in Lebanon?” The rest is history... and you're part of it!
Lebanon is a formidable ‘little’ country smack in the middle of the World map, enjoying a rich geography and a unique climate boasting four distinctly separate seasons of equal proportions.
Lebanon is also a country where 3000-meter peaks are in proximity with the shores of the Mediterranean, and where the mountains are covered with a rich vegetation and centenary trees, indeed millenary ones, especially the few remaining emblematic Cedrus Libani. During the winter months, everything above 1500 m gets covered with snow, providing not only much needed water in an otherwise dry part of the world, but also ski lovers and other winter sports enthusiasts with formidable terrain to practice their preferred activity. It is not uncommon for such winter sports to extend the season until late April.
Lebanon is one of the few places on Earth where are you can snow-ski in the morning and sea-ski in the afternoon, without a wetsuit. Naturally, between the mountains and the sea, you are welcome to take a break and sight see or indulge in fine Lebanese cuisine and exquisite sweets and fruit.
Lebanon is also a country with a rich past and important archeological sites that reveal thousands of years of history ranging, among others, from Phoenician, Roman and Ottoman times. Be it the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, the grandest and best preserved Roman temple ruins in the world, now inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage or the ancient port city of Byblos , one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world there are outstanding archaeological and artistic sites to discover.
And for those who come alive yet again after dark… Beirut is considered as the focal point of the region’s cultural life, and is renowned for its press, theaters, cultural activities and nightlife too! As a prominent Lebanese once said: “When we party, we party hard”, and we’d love YOU to party with us!
A couple of years back, I was skiing in Mount Lebanon with a group of newly appointed ambassadors and they would not believe me that the blue background we see while skiing is in fact the Mediterranean Sea… It was only later in the day when a different lighting meant we were able to distinguish tankers moored outside the Port of Beirut that they finally believed it.
A few runs later, one of them stopped and said to me: “Max, you don’t know how blessed you are to have the opportunity to ski in such proximity to Beirut and the Mediterranean coast”…
Lebanon in one paragraph:
Officially known as the Lebanese Republic (in French: République libanaise), is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and The Holy Land to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea.
Lebanon’s location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 10,452 km2 (4,036 sq. mi.), and a population of about 6 Million, it is the smallest recognized sovereign state on the mainland Asian continent
What languages are spoken in Lebanon?
Arabic is the official language. A distinction should be made between spoken Arabic (the Lebanese), and written Arabic which is common to all Arab countries. French and English are spoken by a large number of Lebanese; also Armenian is spoken by a group of Lebanese.
What is the currency in Lebanon?
The currency in Lebanon is the Lebanese Pound or ‘Lira’ (1 USD = 1500 LBP approx..), but U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere, and Euros are widely accepted in touristic places.
Where can I exchange foreign currency?
In exchange offices which are spread in main streets everywhere in Lebanon and at the airport. But again, U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere, and Euros are widely accepted in touristic places.
How much money do I need for my stay?
Lebanon is a great value destination. Although Lebanon’s best restaurants and hotels are comparable in price to Europe and North America but you can still live very well for 60$ a day staying in dorms, hostels or convents and living on Shawarma.
Is tipping mandatory?
Tipping isn’t really mandatory, but to be expected especially if service is good (which is invariably the case). 10% of the invoice is common, or anything the client wishes to offer.
Can I request reimbursement of VAT?
You can simply ask for the VAT application in all the shops that have a VAT agreement, in order to reimburse it at the airport. The minimum amount is $100.
What religions are practiced in Lebanon?
Lebanon hosts 18 “official” religious groups, including 5 Muslim groups, the most important are Sunnis, Shiites and Druze; 11 Christian denominations, representing the 3 main branches of Christianity: Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant; but the main Christian group is Maronite.
How do I telephone-call Lebanon?
All you have to do is dial the country code (+961) followed by the one-digit area code (without the zero) and followed by the 6-digit number. Ex: +961-1-123 456.
Numbers that often come handy:
Here are some useful numbers for emergency cases, but before calling any of the below numbers, please call the PdC liaison office at +961-3-148 417
-Tourist Police: 1735
-Lebanese Red Cross: 140
-Civil Defense: 125
-General Security: 1717
-Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport: 150
Where can I find the embassy or consulate of my country in Lebanon?
Check the website of the Ministry of External Affairs:
Phone: +9611333100 or: +9611333099
Or call the Tourist Information Office: +9611343 073