The favorite village of the Lebanese

Barouk, blessed by gods and men

For the fourth straight year, readers of L'Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon and around the world will have the chance to vote for the “favorite village of the Lebanese.” This year, 10 new villages are competing. L’OLJ will produce a report and video on each village to help you choose. First Amchit, now Barouk. Voting will remain open on our website until July 28.

In Barouk’s reserve one can see the centennial Cedar tree figuring on the Lebanese national flag. Photos by Johana Wehbé

An oasis of greenery, waterfalls and mountain fruits ... mostly apples. Barouk is a village in the Chouf, a favored destination among tourists all year long. The key is the cedar reserve it houses, one of the largest in Lebanon. This protected area is ever popular among lovers of the outdoors. It is also believed wood from the ancient forest was used to build the temple of Solomon. But beyond enchanting landscapes that stretch to the horizon, Barouk is, as its natives insist on repeating, a village deeply steeped in history, a place not only of holiness and hospitality, but most especially, one of coexistence and tolerance of different beliefs.

A light breeze blows over the village on this July day. The summer season has not yet started, but visitors have already begun to appear. Both the fresh air and the surrounding greenery give the surroundings a sense of serenity.

On both sides of the river banks are scattered restaurants, where the level of activity is intensifying. In addition to the traditional cuisine served by the river, an amusement park and two karting tracks attract children and lovers of the track.

The few modern buildings that have sprung up in the village haven’t ruined the picturesque landscapes. The town is replete with traditional houses whose rooves are made of red tiles, typical of the Lebanese mountains. In addition, all around you are aging, sometimes ancient, grape presses, mills, bridges and stone tombs, some of which date back to Roman and Ottoman times.

"Blessed by wise men"
The name of the village carries two meanings. ‘Barouk’ refers to "the blessed of God" or "an oasis of water near which convoys used to rest" according to Sheikh Youssef Halawi, one of the village's moukhtars; he emphasizes that "legend has it that the village’s water source that sustains more than one hundred localities was blessed by wise men”. With its millennia-old cedar forest, its churches, three of which are more than 200 years old (Saint-Elie in Fraydis, Saint-Georges and Saint-Antoine-le-Grand in Barouk), and its association with 17 ‘Sid’ (great wise men) - the last one to have attained this status being sidna el-sheikh Abu Hassan Aref Halawi- this locality has surely been blessed by God. Sheikh Halawi, who passed away in 2003, has been resting in a mausoleum that has become a "pilgrimage site for believers from all communities," says Elie Nakhle, president of the Barouk-Fraydis municipal council, pointing out that the latest ‘sid’ is "a saint from Lebanon."

Built in the house of the late, great man, at the very place where his bed used to be, the mausoleum is overlaid with verses written in Arabic calligraphy that highlight the path of the man who was regarded as being "a living sanctuary during his lifetime", says Sheikh Mohammad Halawi, the mausoleum’s keeper. He adds that "people used to visit him to ask him to mediate with God. They even came from abroad to ask him for advice. He was a modest and spiritual man.”

A strong sense of coexistence
The cedar reserve is the pride of the village. How could it be otherwise when it represents the largest of the three forests that make up the Chouf biosphere reserve, alongside the Maasser el-Chouf forest and the forest of Aïn Zhalta-Bmehray? The biosphere, a pure jewel gifted to Lebanon by Mother Nature with its stunning mix of beauty and biodiversity, stretches over 550 km2 and is the largest natural reserve in the country, covering 5% of the entire territory. Created in 1996, the reserve is home to some four million cedar trees, including two million in Barouk Forest. It also covers the swamplands of Ammiq (in West Bekaa) and the fortress of Niha or Tyron, it is home to dozens of species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians as well as “the second most important passageway for migratory birds after that of Cuba”, says Houssam Halawi, one of the reserve’s guides. “This is why the president of the reserve, Walid Jumblatt, decided to build an artificial lake so the birds can drink and rest before flying again", he added. Several activities are offered such as hiking, biking and snowshoeing in winter.

The reserve is not the only destination for hiking and walking. Those looking for a sense of peace and some easy tracks have the opportunity to follow an agricultural path that crosses fields dotted with trees - at this time of year the trees are already full of fruits, so many that they add tone and colors to a landscape worthy of a postcard. Visitors can also take the "patriotic circuit" starting from the Rachid Nakhle Cultural Center all the way to the reserve. This circuit, that was founded in 2015 following funding from the USAID, houses the tomb of Nakhle, the poet and author of the Lebanese national anthem. Visitors can also immerse themselves in his literary work.

"We have also turned the Dalboun Forest into a reserve and will soon be providing hiking trails", says Nakhle. Involved in the development of his locality, Nakhle helps to multiply activities that are likely to attract tourists. In addition, he is setting up all sorts of initiatives to help women who make ‘moune’ (pantry stores such as pickles and candied fruit) and handicrafts sell their products.

On a social level, Barouk remains the "village of hospitality" where "historically, all conflicts are resolved" says Sheikh Youssef Halawi. "It was in Barouk that Kamal Jumblatt announced the formation of the Progressive Socialist Party, " he continues. "Druze and Christians are one big family. The sanctity and holiness of the village have been stronger than any attempt at undermining its coexistence.” This is confirmed by Father Elie Kiwan, the priest of Fraydis parish, a village whose name means "paradise" and which is a part of the municipality of Barouk. "Despite what is said, Christians are not scared to remain in the Mountain," he insists. "What matters here is the dignity of man. Our Druze-Maronite coexistence enriches us, because here is where we get to know one another and learn to live together."

Fact sheet

Number of inhabitants: approximately 8000 residents in winter, nearly 12000 in summer.

President of the municipal council: Elie Nakhle.

Prominent figures from the village: Rachid Nakhle, poet and author of the Lebanese national anthem; Amine Nakhle, poet; Kassem al-Imad, Mohafez of North Lebanon assassinated in 1976 during the war; several magistrates including Ghassan Abu Alouane, Issam Abu Alouane, Ghada Abu Alouane and Assaad Gideon; several army generals; Sidna Sheikh Abu Hassan Aref Halawi, a high religious dignitary; Toni Kiwan, singer; Mona Abou Hamze, TV host; Nouhad Mahmoud, Lebanon's Ambassador to Mexico and Lebanon's Special Envoy to the United Nations Security Council when Resolution 1701 was adopted; Bishop Maroun Kiwan.

Places to stay: Hotels: al-Sa'eh (03-630056), Calmera (03-741658), Cedar Palace (03-545145) and Challalat (03-387228). B & Bs: Caesar (03- 051106), Boustany (03-633062), Akram Mahmoud (03-829102) and Adel Hakim (71-172270).

Restaurants: al-Kuz (81-612357), al-Sheikh (Sama al-Baruk 03-648922), al-Mamlaka (03-865143), Baytna (03-988538), al-Mediaf (70-443318), Best Food (03-372551), Nahla Boustany (03-447162), al-Jawal (03-344205), al-Aked (71-172270), Ghabat al-Nabeh (03-205004), Chawarma Karim (78-979892) and Casino el-Barouk (03-575525).

Culinary specialties: mezes and Lebanese dishes, kechek, hrisse and moune.

Activities: biking, hiking and snowshoeing (contact the reserve at 05-350250, 05-350150), ATV hire, karting (03-575525).

Altitude: 1,200-2,222 meters.

Climate: Mediterranean.

Not to be missed

* The cedar reserve.

* The forest of Dalboun.

* The agricultural trail.

* The patriotic circuit.

* The Rachid Nakhle Cultural Center.

* The house of Rachid Nakhle in the al-Midane district.

* The grape presses, mills and bridges dating from the Roman and Ottoman eras.

* The mausoleum of Sidna Sheikh Abu Hassan Aref Kassem.

* The mausoleum of Sid Ezzeddine.

* The churches of Saint-Elie, Saint-Georges and Saint-Antoine-le-Grand.

Getting there

* Coming from Beirut, take the highway leading to Aley. Continue to Mdeirej and then take the fork to Aïn Dara and take the road to Nabeh es-Safa, Aïn Zhalta and continue to Barouk.

Coming from South Lebanon, take the highway to Damour, turn off towards Moultaka al-Nahrein and continue to Kfarhim, Deir al-Qamar, Maasser Beiteddine, Kfarnabrakh, Batloun, and Barouk.

Coming from the Bekaa, follow the road to Dahr el-Baidar, then Mdeirej, and turn off towards Ain Dara and take the road to Nabeh es-Safa and Ain Zhalta and continue to Barouk.

An oasis of greenery, waterfalls and mountain fruits ... mostly apples. Barouk is a village in the Chouf, a favored destination among tourists all year long. The key is the cedar reserve it houses, one of the largest in Lebanon. This protected area is ever popular among lovers of the outdoors. It is also believed wood from the ancient forest was used to build the temple of Solomon. But beyond...