From the Blog “ notes of a traveler” www.notesofatraveler.com
By : Krystel Riachi Beirut-based travel blogger
Wadi Qadisha was another weekend escape in the beautiful Lebanese mountains that made me realize the historical wealth and universal value of our country. One of the deepest and most stunning valleys in Lebanon, Qadisha lies between the Bsharreh and Zgharta districts in North Lebanon, West of the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el Rab) and traversed by the Qadisha River or Holy River.
Why is Qadisha Valley named the Holy Valley?
“Qadisha” comes from a Semitic root meaning “holy” and was attributed to the valley for bearing unique witness to the first Christian monasteries in the world. Filled with cave chapels, hermitages and monasteries cut from the rock, the Valley has offered shelter for generations of monks and monastic communities since Early Middle ages and the beginnings of Christianity. Classified as a Unesco World Heritage site, Qadisha counts over 100 caves, many monasteries, and is home to the Maronite Order of Lebanese Monks founded in 1695.
What are the main landmarks to visit in Qadisha?
I personally hired a guide to show me the best of Qadisha and Annoubine, and here’s my advice to you:
1- Start with Deir Lichaa دير مار ليشع
Take the car and head down to this monastery in the Valley dedicated to Father Antonio Tarabay. Here, the Abouna spent 32 years of his hermitic life and his body was buried in a grotto adjacent to the monastery. Take your time to soak in the beauty of the monastery with its naturally carved rock ceiling, its small chapel, and the amazing view it has over the valley.
2- Our Lady of Hawqa سيّدة حوقا
Take the car again for your next stop: Our Lady of Hawqa. To reach this monastery, you will have to park your car and trek down a short trail consisting mainly of stairs. This small monastery, probably dating to the 13th century, is composed of a chapel and a few monks’ cells. For the last 16 years, it has been the home of Colombian hermit Padre Dario, which I was lucky enough to meet and chat with. His humour will definitely put a smile on your face!
3- Deir Mar Antonios Qozhayya دير مار أنطونيوس قزحيّا
Meaning “treasure of life” in the Syriac language, “Qozhayya” is another monastery (and one of the oldest) beautifully nestled amidst the green wilderness of Wadi Qadisha, where monks used to consecrate themselves to poverty and prayer as early as the 5th century. The monastery is also site to the first printing press in the Middle East imported circa 1585. Do not miss the cave of Saint Anthony the Great, for which the monastery is dedicated, and which is said to be used to shelter and cure the possessed by the saint himself. Visiting the cave today, one feels overtaken by an enthralling feeling of peace and serenity. It was definitely the most serene moment of the day for me.
4- Qadisha Grotto مغارة قديشة
Take a refreshing break and head to this small grotto that’s 7km drive from Bcharre on the road to the Cedars. Follow the signs to “L’Aiglon Hotel”, stop your car at the entrance sign and walk the concrete footpath that leads you to the grotto (around 10 min). Make sure to take a jacket with you as the temperature considerably drops due to the freezing water that rushes down from Lebanon’s highest peaks’ snow-fed springs to irrigate the whole caza of Bsharre. During spring and summer, the water of the cave culminates into a beautiful waterfall where an outdoor café and restaurant awaits the visitors and tourists. Apart from the refreshing water, the cave unveils a beautiful work of nature with its impressive limestone formations that recall the Jeita Grotto.
5- Museum of Gebran Khalil Gebran متحف جبران خليل جبران
End your tour with a visit to the historic and timeless Gibran Museum. Entering what was a monastery and transformed into a museum in 1975, you can truly feel, exactly like the projection reads on one of the wall’s museum, that Gebran is “alive like you and standing beside you”. Tracing the stages of his life through his paintings and his belongings, which are exhibited in 16 rooms divided in three floors, feels like a walk in the artist’s mind, a voyage into his immortal philosophy, and an inhaling of his beautiful soul. Gebran’s Museum will always be my favorite museum of all.
Hiking Wadi Qadisha
You can imagine how beautiful it must be to hike in the Holy Valley and discover up close its monasteries and caves. Although there are several hiking trails, the most common one takes you from Wadi Announbine to Wadi Qadisha, passing by “Bain an-Nahrain” (meaning the two rivers, where both rivers meet), with a total hiking duration of 6 hours. Try to avoid hiking the Wadi in summer as it tends to be very hot in the Valley; the ideal time for hiking would be in the Spring or Fall.
If you wish to organize your own hike, you can check Lebanon Mountain Trail’s website and pick your own guide!
Where to stay?
In Qadisha, all roads lead to Jacqueline. She’s Hasroun’s fervent ambassador, she’s the jam maker, the Arabic physician, the affectionate mother, and the struggling woman. Jacqueline welcomes you warmly in her red-tiled humble house, offering you a dear place in her haven of tranquility, and a whiff of her homemade delicious jams.
Surrounded by a vegetable garden planted with love and a shaded terrace that welcomes you with a swing, “Dar Qadisha” is a call to basics, to where life is about working the soil with your hands and eating from your own harvest, about finding happiness in nature’s givings, waking up to the sound of the wilderness and the fresh breeze of the mountains, and reconnecting to the simple pleasures of life.
The Dar’s main terrace
If you’re one of Jacqueline’s lucky guests, you’ll get to have a great taste of Hasroun, not only in every bite of her exquisite homemade cooking, but mainly through the passion she carries for her hometown, which she’ll make sure to inject in you before you leave.
Dar Qadisha is another lovely member of L’Hote Libanais’ family of guesthouses. To book your room, click here!
Some pictures of my escape with Jacqueline in the Jerd of Hasroun, which I totally recommend you to check out!
How to get there
From Chekka, take the road up to Amioun and Tourza. Keep on driving until you reach the village of “Dimane”, which is the last one before Hasroun. When in Hasroun, you just need to pronounce the word “Jacqueline” and you’ll be directed to her guesthouse. Bsharre and Wadi Qadisha are minutes away from there.