In a country overwhelmed by a chaotic real estate frenzy which, too often, gnaws at the soul of villages, turning them into crowded miniature cities, the village of Qobayat in the heights of Akkar stood its ground (or is an exception?).
If this village is listed among the top three in Lebanon in terms of surface area, it is largely due to its dominant open spaces. The buildings that are scattered within this locality do not exceed three storeys in height. It is also dotted with charming neighborhoods, -amongst which the “West Neighborhood” is the oldest, and is entirely built out of black volcanic rocks-, and intertwined with beautiful flowery houses.
The village is striking by its significant greenery. Beyond the residential areas, its nature comprising of Mediterranean forests stretching as far as the eyes can see is still unspoiled. Surrounding Qobayat, winding mountain roads hidden in flora and vegetation lead to charming pine forests. A bit higher up, one can reach a splendid reserve of cedars, fir trees of Cilicia, junipers… All this foliage and splendor allow the visitor to become one with Mother Nature and with oneself.
Nothing can describe this rich region that is Qobayat, better than the words of the president of its municipality Abdo Abdo: "This village has the assets of a city, all the while holding on to the soul of a village”. Qobayat has its own marketplace, a strong tourism sector comprising of several restaurants and lodging options, as well as a hospital that serves this side of Akkar. And yet, as the municipality’s president points out, nothing seems to have altered the hospitality and kindness of its inhabitants.
With its many convents and churches each bringing its piece to the historical puzzle of the locality, Qobayat is also a village of history and religious heritage.
One of the reasons the history of this village is so rich is partly due to the fact that it has always been a place of passage between inland Syria and the Lebanese coast (previously known as Phoenicia): a land crisscrossed by the Hittites, the Franks and many others.
It is in Mar Doumit, an 183 years old convent built out of stone and belonging to the Carmelite order, that the first school of the village was born under a magnificent oak tree (as was customary in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Father Cesar Mourany, a true living encyclopedia, is inexhaustible when talking about Qobayat’s history. According to Mourany, author of the book “Cobiath under the Crusades”, the richness of the religious heritage is explained by the fact that the region was a place of pagan pilgrimage since the time of the Phoenicians, as evidenced by many vestiges, on which were built later on the churches of Mar Challita, Saydet el-Ghassale (site of the temple of the goddess Morgane), Our Lady of Chahlo (with its ancient altar still standing in the church’s courtyard), and Mar Doumit ... all archaeological remains that attest to 6,000 years of history.
From Father Cesar Mourany, we learn that the Christian’s presence in this region is very old, and that the churches of the village which were subjected to restrictions during a turbulent phase in history, were destroyed and rebuilt several times. The oldest -and probably millennial- one still standing is that of Chwita, a magnificent square-shaped stone church. With its double altar, it is not the only church in Qobayat to have this characteristic. This church has witnessed a time when men were praying on one side, and women and children on another.
Today, the attachment to religion is alive and well in the village, as evidenced by the jovial sisters of Notre-Dame des Dons (from the Saint-Georges convent), who are putting their talents into their workshop specialized in traditional food and crafts, and mostly renowned for their delicious chocolate.
Mar Challita is another example of this attachment. Its keeper Laurice Kodeih (nicknamed Oum Walid) is a living legend. This cheerful woman has vowed to rebuild (through her own means) the church, which back then was in ruins, following a falling accident that happened to her son in France, where he was studying. Today, people visit the church as much to pray as for the pleasure of a quick conversation with Laurice.
The forests, a living treasure
The treasures of Qobayat are not only of a religious type. The imposing Cilician firs, cedars, oaks or juniper trees of the Karm Chbat Nature Reserve, which stretches out as far as the eyes can see, are a vision of profound serenity and calm.
In the village, respect for the environment is a priority, mostly thanks to the Environmental Committee of Qobayat, a civil group headed by an ecologist, the tireless and highly respected Antoine Daher. Due to the motivation and hard work of this group, ecotourism has been growing in the village for more than twenty five years, with the involvement of the majority of committed residents.
An outstanding guide, Antoine Daher lead us on the muddy roads of Mount Morgana the largest pine forest in the locality, on which stands an elegant watchtower, the oldest one in Lebanon. It is thanks to this unspoiled nature that so many ecotourism activities are practiced all year round in Qobayat: hiking with local guides in the beautiful luxuriant areas, climbing, abseiling (or rappel), cross-country skiing ...
The village is also proud of some of its residents who are realizing their dreams and fulfilling their passions: from Rizkallah Meaike, who founded a charming little animal shelter that offers free visits, to Maurice Kodeih, who with his sharp vision can track down and find fossils of prehistoric marine animals which are in abundance in the area. Kodeih has built a unique collection of fossils dating back to between 5 to 160 million years. Finally, Michel Sarkis who collects and renovates old cars to perfection
To take full advantage of all that Qobayat has to offer be it from its religious heritage or its rich and well-preserved natural environment, one can chose many lodging facilities including cottages -often in the middle of nowhere- for rent, as well as an eco lodge.
Respectful of nature to the end!
Fact sheet :
Number of inhabitants : 15 000 local residents of which about 4 500 are permanent residents (summer and winter).
Altitude : from 600 to 2,000 meters.
President of the city council : Abdo Abdo.
Main personnalities : former deputy Mikhail Daher, who was a candidate for the presidency of the Republic; current MP Hadi Hobeiche; General Ibrahim Tannous, former commander-in-chief of the army; Abdallah Daher, one of the men of independence; Elie Hakme, former president of the World Cultural Union.
Possibility to stay : Mansion (06-350991); Granero Verde (70-473347); Kobayat Green Hills (70-103400); Jabalna Ecolodge (first fully ecological project created in the village, 03-542935).
Restaurants : Alma del Bosque (03-318937); Zahrtoni (Italian and Lebanese, 03-914717); Diwan al-Wadi (03-488519); Morgana (03-324403); Chalal el-Samak (71-8861770); Fares restaurant (family business, 71-151514); Haikal restaurant (03-329650); Semaan Saud (76-577854); Hatbe w Nar (tannour bread, manoushes and very special chawarmas, 03-758798); Monteverde (73-310193).
Culinary specialties : all the specialties of the North are perfectly executed such as like the raw kebbe for example, and some certain specialties unknown elsewhere like the "madfoune", a dish based on yogurt and wheat, or the "blile" which is made of crushed wheat with tomato paste and boiled cabbage.
Activities : religious and cultural tourism, hiking all year long, snowshoeing in winter, cross-country skiing, cycling, ATV, horse riding, swimming, booster, climbing and zip line, various sports, annual Arabic music festival in summer, film festival about the rural world (REEF) organized by the Qobayat Environment Committee.
Climate : Mediterranean, cold in winter, snow on high altitudes.
Not to be missed
- The museum of butterflies in the Mar Doumit convent, an institution with a scientific purpose, managed in cooperation with Saint Joseph University: many specimens from the world and the region can be seen as part of this project that started in the 1960s and was restored after the war and after the loss of the main collection.
- The millenary church of Chwita, with its double altar.
- The renovated mill of the early twentieth century, with its ready to host events esplanade.
- The huge partially renovated silkworm factory , perfect for hosting cultural activities.
- The renovated church of Mar Challita.
- Karm Chbat Nature Reserve and Mount Morgana Pine Forest.
- The Mar Doumit convent and its iconic oak.
How to access it?
You can reach Qobayat mainly by the road that goes through Tripoli, then Halba, before heading up to the village. You can also take the Akkar coastline until reaching the coast, to Abde, then take the road to Abboudiye. Finally, it is possible to go down to Qobayat from the Bekaa. Qobeyate is 140 kilometers away from Beirut, and it takes between two hours to two and a half hours to reach it from the capital.
In a country overwhelmed by a chaotic real estate frenzy which, too often, gnaws at the soul of villages, turning them into crowded miniature cities, the village of Qobayat in the heights of Akkar stood its ground (or is an exception?).If this village is listed among the top three in Lebanon in terms of surface area, it is largely due to its dominant open spaces. The buildings that are scattered...