Mountain Drive to Baalbeck
After Beirut and Byblos, the final stretch of my Lebanese road trip was a drive from the Qadisha mountains through towards the historical city of Baalbeck. The drive involves climbing to some extreme heights, passing by forests filled with Cedar trees and lots of miles through barren land. The drive out of Qadisha followed similar terrain of large green trees, but as we drove higher and higher, the landscape changed into rocky roads and empty lands. We stopped by the side of the road just before we started the climb, to check out the views of the iconic cedar trees. There are patches of these mini forests, which is so significant to the country that they have it on their flag. This high quality wood was supposedly used for the creation of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and also the Temples of the Egyptian Pharaoh.
We knew it was getting higher and higher as more and more of the road was covered up with thick layers of fog. There were times where we couldn't see much as we made our way through the bendy roads, climbing and climbing higher. Essentially the climb is to get over this ridge with heights of around 2600 meters. This is the divide between the North and Beqqa Governorate and once you cross over, the views are incredible. It was like the one on Leith Hill, expansive, gorgeous and you can see forever!
It really made me think about last year's trip to Bulgaria where I drove up to the mountains and ended up snow hiking with a bunch of guys from Greece, after getting into a stranger's Jeep to drive up a ski slope. It was that kind of adventure where there is this strange feeling when you are doing something different and being in the middle of nowhere, with literally no one around. Very exciting and probably the best drive I have done in a very long time! (Sorry Mosselle and North Ireland!)
The main reason to drive through the intense mountain range was to get to Baalbeck, a historical city around 25km away from Syria. The main town itself was quite a busy area with lots of people coming and going. We stopped by for lunch and it just all felt a bit manic after the relaxed drive through the mountains.
During the Roman Empire, the Tell Baalbeck temple complex was highly significant with elements of Roman architecture and is extremely well preserved even to this day. There are three temples in the area and each looking very mighty with great details in the inscriptions on the walls. The complex was fortified during the Middle Ages and made out of local stone. At the entrance, you will see the fortified walls still standing strong and impressive.
A little walk around and you will see all the great large stones and just about make the shape of the used to be areas. It is a big complex that is divided into different sections. You can see the Great Court of Ancient Heliopolis's temple complex in the middle, with the whole area covering around 3 acres of land.
Make your way to the side and climb the steps to get a great view of one of the temples. It was really impressive how this was all built and preserved to this day. Make sure to head to the back and check out the columns real close!
My favourite part of it all was the Temple of Baachus, which was constructed around 150 AD to 250 AD and stands at a mighty 31m high. This closed off temple is really unique and the detail is just incredible. It all feels a bit Tomb Raider like! You really cannot describe the whole experience of walking around all these ancient Roman structures. It felt a little unreal!
My final stop of the day before finishing back at Beirut was at Château Ksara, a winery opened in 1857. The vineyards here are all near the altitude of 1000 meters and combines well with the hot and dry summers and the wintery snow waters from the mountains. What makes it even more unique is that storage of the wines are in caves that span around 2km in length! The winery tour is a pleasant one with some exploring of the caves and obviously a nice wine tasting at the end. A fantastic way to finish off a road trip!
All in All
A really incredible road trip through the coastal areas of Lebanon and into the mighty mountains, before ending with a bit of history and wine. This was a journey that provided different experiences and something I would love to go back to do again! This ends my mini Lebanon series but stay tuned for my next adventure to India's Hyderabad and Mumbai!