Most people are aware that the Bekaa Valley is the place for wineries yet there is one winery that is much closer to Beirut than the Bekaa. Just 18km away from the capital and conveniently situated off the Damascus Road at Ras el Harf, Bhamdoun, Clos de Cana Winery is owned by Upper Metn local Fadi Gerges and has been in operation for 12 years.This hidden treasure is great for wine tasting tours and lunches for large groups if booked in advance. Currently, free accommodation is on offer and in the near future, building individual chalets is on plan.
With panoramic views across the Lamartine Valley, so named after French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, who once visited the area, Clos de Cana produces a whopping 200 to 300 thousand bottles of wine per year. “We sell it to the UK, France and further afield,” said Gerges. “We even produce wine for other grape growers too.”
Fadi Gerges is fully engaged in the local community and works towards bringing people back to the land and the villages that are spread throughout the Upper Metn. In a unique and eco-friendly project, Gerges supplies villagers with vines to plant on their own land and at harvest time he buys the grapes from the landowners at market prices. Currently, 32 villages have participated in the project and this has allowed the villagers to put roots back in villages that were once virtually empty.
“It is pretty foolproof. I offer the vines and an agriculture engineer explains to villagers how to care for the vines. It’s ecological and a reason to stay in the village,” said Gerges. His vision for the area doesn’t end there. He has his eyes on a hundred-year-old silk factory which currently stands in ruins, and which Gerges wants to renew and have working again. Also in the pipeline are walking and driving tours throughout Upper Metn.
Hammana is seen in all of its red-roof glory from the road that winds down from Bhamdoun. This picturesque village is just one of 28 that make up Upper Metn and which are all working on creating a map marked with the towns and touristic attractions.The Hammana Summer Festival is well known throughout Lebanon, as is the Hammana Cherry Festival, which is run in collaboration with Souk el Tayeb, an organic farmers’ market. The festival offers venue for local villagers to sell their homemade produce, such as jams and pickles..
The 2011 Cherry Festival included ecotourism projects supported by the Spanish organization Cercs Bergueda. “There are hiking groups, rock climbing activities and rappelling, as well as four hiking trails – the longest being for five hours – that lead to nearby villages such as Chbanier and Falougha,” explains Hatem. Other activities are run by the Touristic Club, Sports Club and Shallal Club, all supported by the municipality.
This year sees the first Balcons et Maisons Fleuris Competition. The winner will be awarded a trophy and have their taxes reduced for creating a more beautiful Hammana. And in conjunction with Ibsar Associations many trees are being planted with the aim of securing a place on the Google Green maps for local towns.
There are ample opportunities to actually ‘live’ the Hammana life. Contact the municipality to see how you can lodge with a local family and consequently get to taste a Hamannian dish: Loubieh Badrieh is cooked in Mjadret Loubieh. The Good Shepherd Convent offers private rooms, as does the House of Moukadem Mezher, where poet Lamartine stayed during the 1800s. Currently the municipality is organizing cultural exchanges between the village of Lamartine in France, Macon and Hammana.
The drive to Bzebdine is spectacular as it passes through lush forests and handsome Lebanese villages. At the end of the village is the Hidden Valley Resort run by Tony Germany. The all-year-round resort has plenty to offer for families and accommodation is available for small and large groups who wish to stay and explore the area around Bzebdine. Activities on the ranch are horse riding, rappelling and a plethora of other activities. There is a Sunday buffet every week and booking is recommended. Group caving, hiking and special events allow you to discover Bzebdine’s countryside. Though the Ranch appears pretty much isolated, it is in fact at the outskirt of Bzebdine and makes for a pleasant walk into the village’s downtown, bzebdinehiddenvalleyranch.com