Sideways in Lebanon

on 02/04/11 at 11:11 am

Wine

Harvest at Chateau Ksara

The media promote only Hezbollah,” says my driver Nrem as he hurtles up Lebanon’s west coast, weaving with what seems like a death wish through vintage 1970s white Mercs and heavy trucks. “But there’s so much more.”

There certainly is – beaches, nightlife, ski resorts, luxury hotels and, perhaps least familiar to those who only know Lebanon from news reports, lots of vineyards. The country has 30 or more wineries, some well-known, such as Château Ksara with its Roman cellars spread through 2km of caves, others little-visited. Many of those clustered around the Batroun region and the Bekaa Valley are opening new restaurants and tasting rooms – making them all the more appealing for a tasting tour.

An hour out of Beirut, I arrive at Byblos, often referred to as the “oldest continuously inhabited town in the world” and a beautiful, albeit beachless, seaside resort at the start of the Batroun wine circuit. My plan is to stay in a converted shepherd’s cottage at the Coteaux de Botrys winery further up the coast, but bad news comes via a text message: “Botrys has just burnt down!” So, instead, I stay at the sumptuous new Byblos sur Mer, which has the remnants of a Roman ruin visible through a glass floor in its restaurant and lovely views across the port from which the Phoenicians first started exporting wine in 3,000 BC.

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