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Introducing Bekaa Valley

The beautiful, fertile Bekaa Valley has not had an easy time of it in recent years, with visitors to the region frequently discouraged by ominous press reports of Hezbollah activity and cannabis farming. Baalbek, infamous as Hezbollah’s strategic headquarters, took a battering in the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War for this reason, with up to 20% of its buildings destroyed. Moreover, the region’s most notorious crop – its high quality cannabis or ‘Red Leb’ – bloomed prolifically before and during the civil war, a draw-card for some and a deterrent for others. Though you’ll doubtless see the yellow Hezbollah flag flying in towns and villages across the region, and while cannabis production is currently witnessing a comeback, there’s much, much more to the Bekaa Valley than this. With a diverse and friendly population encompassing a high percentage of Christians alongside its Shiite majority, fabulous food and wines, and two stunning world-class ancient sites, don’t let its erstwhile unsavoury image discourage you from travelling here.

Despite its name, the Bekaa Valley is actually a high plateau between the Mt Lebanon Range and Jebel Libnan ash-Sharqiyya (Anti-Lebanon Range). For millennia the Bekaa Valley, dubbed ‘hollow Syria’ by the Greeks and Romans, was a corridor linking the Syrian interior with the coastal cities of Phoenicia. The many invading armies and trading caravans that passed through left traces of their presence, which can be seen in a host of small sites around the valley, but most magnificently at the Umayyad city of Aanjar and the gorgeous temples at Baalbek.

The Bekaa Valley has always been an agricultural region, fed by the Nahr al-Aasi (Orontes River) and the Nahr Litani. In Roman times, this grain-producing area was one of Rome’s ‘breadbaskets’. Today, deforestation and poor crop planning may have reduced the fertility of the land, but the valley’s wines are famous throughout the region and are gaining global renown. Combining temple tours with wine tasting is the way to get the best of the Bekaa Valley.