Last week Lebanon celebrated Eid-al-Adha, which (according to Wikipedia) honors the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his young son as an act of submission to God’s command and his son’s acceptance to being sacrificed, before God intervened to provide Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice instead. It’s one of the most important Muslim holidays of the year. My husband only had one day off from work, but my kids had four (!) off from school, so I was determined to make the most of it.
(Wikipedia also revealed that Eid-al-Adha lasts four days – I guess that’s why the school break stretched out so long.)
Anyway, the official day off for Eid was last Tuesday, so I convinced my husband to leave work early on Monday, and we packed the kids into the car and drove north to the town of Ehden. It’s only about 90 minutes away, but when you live in a postage-stamp country, 90 minutes seems farther than one can manage in a day trip, so we had decided to stay the night.
We turned east off the highway just a few miles before Tripoli – a city we have yet to visit because of the on and off fighting that takes place there as a spillover from the war in Syria. We could see Tripoli from the highway as we drove up into the mountains. From a distance it looked calm and lovely.
We reached Ehden, which could pass for a mountain town in Italy or Croatia – narrow winding streets, little businesses around a main plaza, a chapel reputed to be the oldest Maronite church in Lebanon
There are an inordinate number of hotels for such a tiny town, reflecting its popularity as a summer destination to escape from the heat. It was “only” in the 80s when we left Beirut, but escape from the heat we did – it was downright cold when we reached Ehden, and we were all happy to have taken sweaters along at the last minute.
The hotel seemed outrageously overpriced by American/European standards, but it’s par for the course in Lebanon (apparently dramatically declining numbers of wealthy Gulf tourists over the past year and a half don’t lead hoteliers to lower prices by much). It was charming though, a traditional Lebanese home renovated into a boutique hotel right on the square. (The location wasn’t so fun at 3am when the last of the Eid revelers were shouting to one another across the square, but it was nice when we went for a walk in the evening.)
Because it was now off-season, the hotel’s restaurant was closed. The lovely staff instead walked us over to a tiny, two-table hole-in-the-wall called Abou Simon’s. Abou Simon (Simon’s Father) is a single older guy (widower? divorcée? it seemed impertinent to ask) who makes his own pickles and jams, and barbecues up any number of kebabs over coals lit outside the shop, without ever removing his plaid tweed blazer. We were all slightly strained as the hotel staff dropped us off, because his English was as limited as our French. Then we discovered that he had lived for more than a decade in Venezuela. With relief we all switched to Spanish, and by the end of the meal (comprised of vegetables, cheeses, skewers of chicken, mutton and meatballs, all ultra-fresh and ultra-delicious), we were fast friends.
The next day we headed to Horsh Ehden, a nature reserve, for a hike. Being that we were in the mountains, the first hour or so was tortuously uphill (if you’re thinking about going and won’t be hiking with a reluctant eight-year-old, note that the first part takes half the time to hike). Our efforts were rewarded with beautiful scenery of deciduous trees that had turned golden with the season, with a forest of Lebanon’s famed cedars as the backdrop.
After all that hiking we were famished, but wanted to start towards home. We descended from the mountains to the sea, and got as far as the seaside town of Batroun. At first I wished that I’d packed my kids’ swim suits, but I shouldn’t have worried. My daughter wasn’t about to let anything stop her, and after eating decided to take a dip in the sea just as she was, sneakers and all. Sweaters in the evening, and swimmers the next day. A glorious day.