A red-roofed town set among
the eastern foothills of Mount Sannine, Zahle enjoys a prime location in the
Beqaa valley. Snowcapped mountains tower above it in winter, while in summer its
945 meter elevation keeps the air light and dry.
The city center spreads
along both banks of the Berdawni River, with the older section of the upper
elevations of the west bank. At the northern end of town is the Bardouni river
valley known as Wadi el-Aarayesh (Grape Vine Valley) - the site of Zahle’s
famous outdoor restaurants.
Zahle styles itself “The
city of Wine and poetry”, and with good reason. In this century alone some 50
poets and writers were born here and almost as many excellent wines and araks
have been produced in the area.
The romance of wine and
poetry is balanced by Zahle’s more business like position as the administrative
and commercial capital of the Beqaa valley (42.27% of Lebanon’s territory) as
well as its rank as the country’s third largest city (population 150,000). Zahle
is also an agricultural town which produces vegetables, fruit, grains and most
Wine And Arak in Zahle
association with the grape is pervasive, for it lies at the heart of an area
that has been making wine since early antiquity. At the city’s southern
entrance the statue of a graceful female personifies wine and poetry, but you
don’t have to look far to see evidence of the real thing. The hills north of
town with names like Wadi Hadi, Harqat, Bir Ghazour and Tell Zeina are covered
with the neat rows of vineyards that supply Zahle’s wine and arak industries.
Many of the
wines have been formally recognized abroad for their fine quality - equal to
some of the best in Europe.
A tour of
Zahle’s Ksara winery is a good way to see how wine and arak are made. Of special
interest here are the extensive underground caves built around a natural grotto
known and enlarged by the Romans.