War and piste ...

Now the bullets have stopped flying, Lebanon's sun, surf, snow and Phoenician ruins are becoming a tourist draw.

Nobody knows when the snow will fall. And nobody can say exactly when Ramadan will end. The first big snowfalls on Mount Lebanon were expected in December, but they didn't come until the beginning of last week. Ramadan is more reliable than that: the month-long Muslim fast ends when the first sighting of the new moon has been officially confirmed in Mecca. Everyone who needed to know was aware that Fitr, the three-day holiday at the end of the fast, would probably start last weekend. Everyone, that is, except me.

I had long wanted to go skiing in Lebanon. Partly because it seemed a loopy idea, partly because the country's main resort, Faraya-Mzaar, is only about 25km from the Mediterranean, meaning that you can ski and swim on the same day, and partly because I love Lebanese food. The special offer on Middle East Airlines flights to Beirut - cut to pounds 250 including taxes for departures in February - provided an irresistible opportunity. I did check that there was snow at Faraya-Mzaar before booking my ticket. But I didn't inquire about national holidays. If I had, I would not only have found out about Fitr but also about last Sunday's feast day for the patron saint of the other major religious group in Lebanon, the Maronite Christians.

Travelling to the Lebanon for a skiing trip last weekend was as wise as going for a quiet stroll in Pamplona on the day of the Bull Run. The whole country was on holiday. And the Lebanese who had been waiting months for the chance to go skiing were all heading for the slopes.

According to the guidebooks, Faraya-Mzaar is an hour's drive from Beirut. Not last Friday afternoon it wasn't. The journey took me three-and-a-half hours - most of that time spent edging out of Beirut in a traffic jam of epic proportions. When I finally arrived at Faraya-Mzaar, it was full, of course. But the resort's director took pity on me, and put me up in the basement beneath his office, with the chef from the restaurant at the foot of the ski lifts as my flatmate.

The following morning I was woken by the rumble of Range Rovers and Jeep Cherokees as wealthy Beirut headed up the hill for the season's first skiing weekend. I followed them, and took two chair-lifts from the 1,850m base to the Dome Jabal Dib at 2,296m. A gentle blue traverse led me to the chair-lift up to the Dome du Mzaar, the top of the resort at 2,465m.

The snow was superb - a metre had fallen early in the week - but the views were even better. On a clear day, the brochure promised, you can see Beirut jutting out into the sea; this was a crystal clear day, and from the two peaks I could see almost the whole of Lebanon (which is only half the size of Wales), from Mount Hermon in the south to the Tripoli coastline in the north, and inland to the mountains on the other side of the Bekaa Valley.

By Alpine standards, Faraya-Mzaar is a very small resort, with pleasant but unchallenging skiing. For US$26 a day at weekends (ski and boot hire cost US$6.50) the ski-pass gives access to 12 main pistes serviced by eight lifts; six of them are easy reds, and there are no blacks. Even the off-piste area ("between-piste" would be more accurate) is suitable for intermediates. The nursery slopes were the most difficult: the high proportion of beginners in the bank holiday crowd made it hard work to pick your way through the accidents that were about to happen, and those that already had. By mid-morning, the queue at the bottom of the lifts was 25 minutes long; by late afternoon, the resort estimated that 4,500 people had been on the slopes; by the evening the exhausted chef (he had processed 1,300 orders during the day) added another 1,000 to the estimate.

Near Faraya-Mzaar is another of Lebanon's handful of resorts, the much quieter Faqra. It has the unusual attraction (for a ski resort) of extensive ancient ruins - and the Phoenician temple turned out to be a lot more interesting than the skiing. Faqra is quiet because it is a private club, where only the villa owners normally have access to the slope, but a letter of introduction from the Ministry of Tourism saw me past the gatepost and into the set for a high-altitude Lebanese Dallas, where even the Cadillacs wear chains - steel snow-chains rather than the gold ones hanging off most of the residents.

The ski area made Faraya-Mzaar seem huge. No piste map was available, I was told, since what could be seen from the bottom - a sort of extended nursery slope - was all the skiing there was. Rather than putting on my skis, I headed back down to the coast. I had hoped to visit Lebanon's oldest resort, The Cedars, but the main road was still full of bank holiday traffic, and I wasn't confident that I had time for a "three-hour" journey. So I went down to the sea instead.

You can ski and swim on the same day in the Lebanon. But despite the beautifully warm weather, the Mediterranean was chilly, so I contented myself with paddling. I'd never paddled in thermal underwear before: I recommend it. And the Lebanese food? The menus in the resorts were disappointingly international, but I'm not stupid - I didn't share my evenings in Faraya- Mzaar with a chef without asking a few pertinent questions. He directed me to the Jdoudna restaurant on Beit Meri, one of the hills overlooking Beirut. For an exquisite Lebanese meal (in surroundings like a mock-baronial Beverly Hills folly), I can recommend Jdoudna. And after lunch, relieved to be a pedestrian again, I took a stroll - all the way across Beirut. If you are looking for the experience of a lifetime, I recommend that.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam