We stayed one night in Byblos and headed off the next morning, north along the coast towards Tripoli. From there, we planned to turn inland and visit the Qadisha Valley, The Cedars ski resort and then cross over the mountains and down into the Bekaa Valley to tour the magnificent Roman ruins at Baalbek. However, the distances between significant tourist sites in Lebanon are so short that it was possible to stop along the way and visit the little places the tour buses never get to. We were already loving the freedom offered by our rented car; this was the first time we have ever rented a vehicle and drove it ourselves, outside of North America.
The tiny town of Amchit is notable for its 88 traditional houses made of local stone. The architecture was influenced by Oriental and Venetian styles, due in part to the trade between Lebanon and the Duke of Tuscany in the 19th century. Some stones bear traces of old carvings. We noted a Turkish crescent moon and star on the lintel above a door in a building where we stopped to buy some local wine and pastries. The owner assured us that his favorite, a Chateau Victor 2007, would suit us perfectly, so we bought a couple of bottles.
We drove around the village admiring the lovely homes, but we didn’t stop long enough to wander around. We knew that there were lots of places to see along the coast and we didn’t want to linger too long. I didn’t take many photos as the sky was overcast early in the day and it was hard to show the houses to their best advantage.
As we headed back towards the main highway, I noticed a small stone church overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was built of the same local stone, and looked so peaceful.
We carried on to the north to Batroun, a sweet Maronite (Christian) town just 22km north of Byblos. It has three churches of note and a tangle of old streets lined with Ottoman-era stone houses. Mention stone to me, and I’m there. The sun was just beginning to break through the morning clouds, and we were both more than ready to get out and stretch our legs. Though our guidebook mentions that Batroun is a lively place, we found it almost deserted with only a few tradesmen working on the restoration of a stone building overlooking the harbour.
Quiet suited us just fine. It was a delight to roam through the narrow streets, peeking into the churches and over the stone walls into the gardens. We walked to the harbour to view the natural sea wall that has created a large pool on the land side. There is evidence of a brick structure built by the Phoenicians, meant to reinforce this natural wall. As we returned through the empty lanes to the main thoroughfare, we found the residents beginning to open their shops and set out fresh produce.
We couldn’t resist buying a kilo of small, sweet oranges. When we hesitated over which oranges to buy, the shopkeeper quickly peeled one for us to sample. Back in the car, we headed northwards again, and on into the congested traffic of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, and the north’s mail port.