I am hoping to go to Lebanon either this year or next and looking for some advice from anybody who has done a similar trip before. Googling is just bringing me up results for companies who do day tours for general tourists - I’ve done this kind of trip before in other countries and it’s far too general and boring, I’m after the full wine geek experience but finding it hard to get much good info on how to go about organising that (although blog posts of those in the industry who’ve done it look incredible).
Wineries I want to visit are : Musar, Ksara, Kefraya, Domaine des Tourelles and Nakad.
Is it better to do it all from Beirut or stay in the Beqaa, and if so where? Is it better to book through a company or contact the wineries direct for a tour and then try and hire transport?
Any tips on best time of year to visit? Now everything is covered in snow so I was thinking Summer but I’m flexible with that - not sure if its worth going during harvest as a tourist for instance.
If any of the society’s buyers have been out there would love to hear any tips from them too.
I did Lebanon in 2010. Crazy country and very interesting. We flew into Beruit (on their coastal airport - worst landing I’ve ever experienced!) and did most things in the country from Beruit as a base - Beqaa valley, Balbeck, Sidon, Tyre etc. It was all quite cheap and we used a sort of shared taxi minibus thing to get up to the Beqaa valley. We stayed in a hostel which was grim but as we were student we didn’t mind. I seem to remember hotels being expensive but we were on a proper budget.
Words of caution:
Roads are extremely dangerous and traffic in Beruit is a joke.
Hezbollah have a big presence in the country which isn’t a problem at all but just be aware there are a few different factions (I went as a part of a study between Israel / Hezbollah / Palestinian refugees so I understood things as they were). However I knew of people who were stopped and temporarily detained by the ‘Party of God’
We stayed about a week and then went into Syria by bus. Damascus is only a couple of hours From Beruit if I remember correctly. Syria was lovely - shame about what’s happened.
Overall a very interesting country and worth while visiting - just a bit full on compared to neighbouring Syria / Jordan and dare I say it, Israel. Enjoy!
You should definitely do this and make me very jealous - I haven’t been back to Lebanon since I left just over seven years ago and I miss the energy. I lived and worked in Beirut for about 18 months and it’s a mind-bender of a city, not to mention a stunningly beautiful country.
Excuse the long and waffling post, and forgive me if you already know some of this - I’ve gone for the scattergun approach here!
I’m afraid I can’t give a whole lot of concrete advice on wine tourism, as I didn’t do very much of that while I was there, although I made a couple of visits to Ksara, which is very well equipped for visitors. I just turned up on spec and got a 15-minute video, a guided tour of the cellars and a tasting, all free and with no obligation to buy. But they do have a little shop with some older vintages than you’d find in the supermarkets.
Speaking of which, local grocery stores and supermarkets (Fahed, Spinneys, TSC Plus etc) are probably the best place for browsing local wines at a variety of price points. There are some lovely proper wine shops in Beirut, but they mostly focus on overtaxed European wines, although they do stock a few high-end Lebanese wines too.
Oh, and Domaine des Tourelles has a nice little outlet shop at the top end of Rue Monot if you’re in that part of town.
Lebanon’s small enough that you can go pretty much anywhere on a day trip from Beirut, but to save backing-and-forthing you could probably do most of your winery visits across a couple of days based in Zahlé (زحلة), the biggest town in that part of the Bekaa. It’s a nice little town, functional rather than a destination in its own right, although I don’t know how (or if) it’s been affected by the refugee situation. Ksara’s certainly walkable from Zahlé. I only overnighted there once; I stayed in Hotel Akl, near the top end of town, and it was basic but decent and well situated, and it must have been cheap if I stayed there on my salary. I’m sure there are plenty of options in Zahlé, mind, as it’s a bit of a hub for that corner of the country.
If you’re not already aware, bear in mind that although Musar uses Bekaa fruit, the winery is based (I believe) in Ghazir, a town on the coastal plain between Beirut and Byblos (which you must also visit!), so it would probably require a separate day trip. Maybe pair it up with a visit to Jeita Grotto, a spectacular cave complex. But I digress…
Now I suspect this all depends on how intrepid you are. You could negotiate a fee from a local taxi driver to hire him for the day as you winery-hop. You could just wing it and use passing cabs on the main roads (see below) to get about in the Bekaa and elsewhere. A lot of it might be doable on foot, I’m not sure. Or, if you have nerves of steel and excellent travel insurance in terms of body repatriation cover, you could hire a car yourself and do all the driving. As @Rich29 mentioned, you can also get up to the Bekaa dirt cheap by minibus, depending on how lightly you travel. They leave from the interchange in Beirut known locally as Cola, just north of the stadium.
Some other general, everyday advice should you go for it:
Lebanon is, de facto, a dual currency country: the US dollar is freely in circulation and accepted (as far as I can tell) everywhere - from the local bakery to the Virgin Megastore - at a street rate of $1=LL1,500. Transactions can be mixed currency, no problem - if something costs, say, LL50,000, you could pay for it with LL20,000 and a $20 bill. You might also receive dollar bills in your change.
The main form of public transport in Beirut is the taxi. But if you or the driver calls it a ‘taxi’, you’re charged a full LL10,000 to ride as a private passenger. Much cheaper (and a more authentic experience!) to declare the ride ‘service’ (pronounced serVEECE), which means it’s potentially a shared ride with small detours for other passengers, but only costs LL2,000. For the avoidance of doubt and/or arguments at the destination, pay the driver LL2,000 as soon as you get in, assuming he’s going in the direction of your destination. If you tries to get more out of you because you look like a tourist (what I called ‘skinflation’), walk away - there’ll be another taxi along in 30 seconds.
This doesn’t apply to taxis to and from the airport, mind, which have their own prices and are probably around the LL20,000 mark.
Having said that, it’s not a country in which people are always trying to rip you off - western tourists are a novelty rather than a major source of income, and people are far more likely to bombard you with curious-but-friendly questions about you and where you’re from and what on earth you’re doing in their country.
Weather-wise, most of the rainfall in Beirut (and when it rains, it rains) happens in late winter and early spring. In summertime, the Bekaa’s pleasantly mild, as long as you can put up with the stifling heat and smog for the days you’re in Beirut.
I don’t know how thorough or well maintained the winery websites are, so here are some details taken from Michael Karam’s book Lebanese Wines, for the ones you mentioned in your post. It was published in 2013, so should hopefully be useful even if it’s not 100% up to date:
Tasting: by appointment
Contact: Fadia Kadamany
Winery: (+961) 9925127 / 9926217
Office: (+961) 1328111 / 1328211
Thanks for the great info @Herbster - really appreciated!
I’m tempted to stay in Beirut then and do them as day trips, and I think I might just organise the tours myself direct with the wineries.
I definitely want to do it but money of course is the deciding factor between this year and next, I shouldn’t really be over spending right now but your post makes me want to go even more!
I’ve spent time in India and SE Asia so I’m used to crazy traffic and extreme heat and feel safe and confident in vastly different cultures but there is no way I’m driving myself! I’ve done the whole dual currency thing in some of those countries too, might even have some USD somewhere!
This rings a bell. Did you stay in a hostel called Talal? A few of us in that hostel went out drinking together a few times - end of June / start of July I believe - including some students who were doing some kind of conflict resolution thing, and I remember it sounded really interesting.