Lebanon’s Al Jourd where silence has a sound

Sunday 04/09/2016
Bedouin tents made of wool or cotton in Al Jourd eco-village in Hermel in north-eastern Lebanon.

Hermel, Lebanon - In the shadow of Qurnat as Saw­da, Lebanon’s highest peak, is a hidden ecological sanctuary offering peace of mind, taking body and soul away from cha­otic Beirut and hectic city life. Al Jourd eco-village where visitors can hear “the sound of silence” sits on a plateau at the junction of Hermel, Donniyeh and Akkar mountains in the wild and remote north-eastern Lebanon.

Spanning an area of 900,000 sq. metres, Al Jourd is in the heart of a natural reserve known for its cente­nary juniper trees starting at 1,500 metres above sea level and culmi­nating in Qurnat as Sawda at 3,089 metres.

No power generators or sounds of machinery disturb the quiet as eve­rything there is powered with solar panels. “The place is so quiet that silence has a sound,” environmen­talist and owner Hussein Allaw said.

“From here, you can admire the hills of the Mount Lebanon chain and, on a clear day, one can see as far as the Lebanese and Syrian coastlines and even the island of Ar­wad (off Syria),” added Allaw.

Accommodations in Al Jourd are limited to 11 Bedouin tents built in a traditional way from recyclable material, including goat wool and cotton. Paths between tents are marked with ropes and the area is designed to be an entirely “durable green development” as all the mate­rials used for its construction come from the region and developed the local microeconomics, Allaw said.

“The food that is served here is 100% produced in the area of Her­mel and prepared by local people in the old-style way,” he said. “You will get qawarma (traditional meat cooked in its own fat) from sheep grazing in the nearby fields, kishk (cracked wheat and yogurt) from the milk of cattle bred in the Bekaa valley and fruits and vegetables grown locally,” Allaw boasted.

The location is a paradise for trek­kers who can choose among a num­ber of paths of different lengths and levels of difficulty. For those not willing to make the effort, all-terrain vehicles rides are available and visitors can travel around the reserve on narrow scenic tracks.

Several paths lead to the edge of one of Lebanon’s most picturesque valleys, Wadi Jahannam, Arabic for “the valley of hell”. A small forest of the country’s millennium ce­dar trees overlooks the wadi to the south.

“I would rather name it ‘the val­ley of Eden’,” said Allaw. “Even dur­ing summer you have water flowing in the course of the canyon and it is evergreen with a variety of wild flowers and plants.”

Adventurous visitors can go on a rafting trip on the nearby Al-Assi river with experienced instructors for beginners. The stretch of the river popular with rafting features three waterfalls to keep the heart racing and the adrenaline pumping. There are also calmer, smoother stretches where rafters can sit back and enjoy the scenery.

When Allaw opened his eco-vil­lage 15 years ago, he wanted to set a trend in terms of sustainable devel­opment and eco-friendly tourism. Although no government initiatives have been taken in support of this type of tourism, it has not impeded Allaw and those like him from want­ing to put Lebanon on the interna­tional scene of sustainable and re­sponsible tourism.

“I wish that the government sup­ports projects like Al Jourd. I would be thankful if the Ministry of Tour­ism helps us only in promoting our site,” he said. “For the moment we are the only ecological village in this area but a few of them are expected to open soon, hopefully.”

The backlash of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, which affected tourism in the entire region, also had a deep effect on business in Al Jourd, which is a few kilometres from the Syrian border.

“In the good seasons, we received up to 1,200 people (annually) but due to the bad security and politi­cal situation lately the number has dropped to only 400,” said Allaw with a sigh.

“The project attracts all kind of customers, especially people look­ing to live a unique experience in a fully eco-friendly environment, enjoying healthy food and admiring extraordinary scenery.”

Allaw employs six to ten people from surrounding villages depend­ing on the season and the number of visitors.

The site is equipped with showers and toilets. Hot water is provided by solar panels, and wastewater is recycled.

For $65 per day, including the rent of the tent and three gargantuan meals prepared with local produce, visitors can enjoy a unique eco-ex­perience.

They can even sip a tasty home­made arak, the traditional Lebanese alcoholic beverage distilled from anise, while enjoying a magnificent sunset near juniper trees.

The Al Jourd website is at http:// www.aljord.org/aljord_project/al­jord/aljord.htm.