FAR FROM CRISIS-STRICKEN BEIRUT, LEBANON PROMOTES 470KM MOUNTAIN HIKING TRAIL
A great example of its people’s resilience and hopes, Lebanon’s Mountain Trail Association is promoting a 470 km long path from the north to the south of the country, well beyond its economic and social turmoil. The trail is helping to sustain Lebanon’s environmental heritage and rural communities.
Lebanon has been plunged into a dramatic economic and social crisis, exacerbated by the massive explosion in August 2020 on the port of Beirut and the Covid-19 pandemic. But above all, it is a country that is striving to live and to return to a certain normalcy.
Far from the turmoil of Beirut, the Lebanon is a country of ragged mountains, with its hidden monasteries, small rural communities, farmers and shepherds, snow-covered plateaux, and valleys, where visitors are able to breathe-in the heady scents of almonds and apple orchards. A 470-km trail wends from the north to the south of the country along 27 sections which cover all that Lebanon has to offer for nature lovers.
The trail is promoted by a private organisation, the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association. The LMT was spawned 14 years ago and pioneered the establishment of Lebanon’s first national long-distance hiking trail.
Discovering another Lebanon – far away from Beirut
The aim of the trail connecting Lebanon’s high-mountain villages was that of promoting ecotourism activities in a country traumatised by years of conflicts. The LMTA developed a workable concept and a proposal for such a trail and finally obtained grant funding from UISAID – the US Development Agency for implementation. A €2.8m budget helped establish the trail in record time between 2006 and 2008.
The association has been working in close partnership with all stakeholders involved in agriculture, tourism and social fields. It includes community-based organisations, local tour operators, trail municipalities, and government agencies (in particular the Ministries of Tourism and Environment and the Lebanese Army’s Directorate of Geographic Affairs).
The result is a trail stretching from Andqet in the north of Lebanon to Marjaayoun in the south. Its 27 sections pass through 76 towns and villages at altitudes ranging from 570m to 2,073m. Among the highlights of the trail is a UNESCO World Heritage site – the Qadisha Valley. It has been listed since 1998 as the site of some of the earliest Christian monastic settlements in the world.
The LMT has two biosphere reserves – Jabal Moussa and Shouf, four nature reserves including the famed cedar forest of Tannourine, five protected nature areas and six protected birds areas. The trail is best suited for professional hikers, as most sections are designated as challenging, difficult or very difficult.
The LMT website is an efficient tool for professionals, as it helps select themes – botanical, geological or literary; the type of sport – hiking, mountain biking or trail running; as well as the degree of difficulty. Another section provides information on sleeping possibilities in guest houses, hotels and even in a convent.
Last year will remain as the most challenging year to date since the establishment of the LMT. However, the association managed to organise a virtual trail visit last November with some 65 hikers following the trail during 12 days. This May and June, the LMT was back with its spring hike, which has just been completed on June 10. The association is now preparing to host further trail hikes in autumn and again during the first winter days.
Lebanese people never give up in adversity and this appears also to be true for tourism.