79 Km away from Beirut, Aitanit is a small village at the foot of mount Niha in West Bekaa, overlooking the Qaraoun Lake.
The name “Aitanit”, as believed by the villagers, derives from “Ain” which means water source in Arabic and “Tanit” a Berber goddess, goddess of maternity and fertility, who was worshiped in the Western Mediterranean and relates to the Phoenician goddess Ishtar. The village is renowned for its historical church of St Georges, where Patriarch Kyrilos Kyrilos was buried. The church which was recently renovated, safeguarding its ancient and beautiful arches, was listed on Lebanon’s religious tourism list. The agricultural lands of Aitanit exceed its residential area, and are mainly cultivated with apple and olive trees. Aitanit is famous for its olive mill that combines both traditional and new olive pressing techniques. The beautiful mountains of Aitanit host part of the trails of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT) and its bed and breakfast is an LMT listed guesthouse.
In the framework of the Lebanese Industry Value Chain Development LIVCD project, the USAID granted The Environment and Sustainable Development Unit ESDU of the American University of Beirut AUB, funds to initiate its project aiming at establishing food trails in the regions of Higher Shouf and West Bekaa.
The project is implemented by ESDU in close collaboration with the Food Heritage Foundation FHF and the Shouf Cedar Biosphere Reserve SCBR, and the established trails will connect ten villages within the Biosphere geographical area.
The goal of the project is to increase touristic competitiveness of Higher Shouf and West Beqaa areas through the development of touristic packages based on agricultural harvesting and food processing, a kind of tourism best known as food tourism. Through the incorporation of tourism to agricultural and food processing activities, the project aims to increase and diversify the income of small farmers, producers, SMEs, local guides, and bed and breakfast operations integrated to the food trail.
To the tourist, food tourism aims to raise awareness about the history and origin of a food product or a traditional dish and its cultural and emotional ties to the destination. Similarly, this kind of tourism puts the visitor in direct contact with the farmer/ producer, who is the storyteller and the beholder of this food culture.
Saghbine town is located on the eastern slope of Western Lebanese Mountains, at the foot of Mount Niha, by the Litani River in the heart of West Bekaa.
It is sure that Saghbine is an ancient village that was, in bygone time, a central point of communication between the Chouf and the Bekaa. The mountain trails still link Saghbine with the villages of Mrosti, Jbaa, Baadaran, Aamatour and Bater. The Hanouti area (Hanoto in Syriac which means “stores”), on the eastern side Niha mountain, proves the convoys transit between the Shouf and the Bekaa through Saghbine. Old people confirm the presence of significant vestiges in the mountainous surroundings of the village and in its plain, such as Byzantine tombs and Roman vestiges.
Saghbine is limited by the village of Bab Mareh from the South and Ein Zebde from the North. Its agricultural lands expand to the other side of the Litani River to the villages of Qaraoun, Lala, Baaboul and Jeb Jannine.
Origin of the name
The origin of the name “Saghbine” is commonly related to the hardness and stubbornness of its men. However, Moufarrej, in the Lebanese Encyclopedia, states that origin of the name Saghbine is Aramaic and refers to the “rugged mountain trails”.
Agriculture and Environment
Saghbine is known for its orchards of apple, grape, fig and almonds as well as for its crop production such as wheat, pulses and onions. The village surrounding landscape consists of small forests of varieties of pine trees, cypress, cedar and oak hosting local birds like owls, partridges, Goldfinch, turtledove etc. and mammals like boars and wild rabbits coming from the Shouf Cedar Reserve, foxes and hyenas.
73 km from the capital, and on an altitude ranging from 700 to 1200 m above sea level, Saghbine is characterized by a mild weather and green landscapes. When staying at the village, don’t forget to visit its beautiful old and new churches and chapels.
Make sure you taste its various traditional recipes like zenkoul, potato and walnut kebbe, winter tabboule, fwerigh, its famous lemonade andits ice-cream made with milk goat!
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The origin of the name Qanafar is not clear. Some say it goes back to the time when the village was ruled and ruined under the reign of King Qanafar. An analysis of the name in light of ancient languages, explains that the word Qanafar is derived from the “kino far” or the house of fruits, “kino” meaning house and “far” meaning fruits.
Agriculture and Environment
The village’s landscape invites for hiking and camping. The centenary oak tree is a famous icon of Kherbet Qanafar.
Its diverse countryside is filled with vine yards, vegetable fields and fruit orchards, a true feast to the eyes. The village is mostly famous for its olives, apples, peaches, melons as well as for its tomatoes, beans, potatoes and onions.
Visiting Kherbet Qanafar
Visiting the food trail in Kherbet Qanafar, you will have an array of agriculture and gastronomic activities to involve in. From tomato picking to tomato paste making, you have the chance to interact with farmers to food producers who will tell you all what you need to know about the history of agriculture in the area and the traditional processing method of tomato concentrate in Bekaa.
The village is home to two tables d’hôte hosted by the food trail one specialized in milk cookies making and the other in mulberry products making as well as homemade local red wine and Arak. The village is also known for its winery – Chateau Qanafar – which lies on the top hill overlooking the landscape.
Last week I went to the region of West Bekaa ( Saghbine, Ain Zebde and Kherbet Anafar) whith FHF, where we met farmers, locals and producers. I was personally overwhelmed by the agricultural richness of the region, the diversity of local food and recipes, the freshness of the ingredients and above all the generosity and authenticity of the people.
1-Fattouch in Ain Zebde
3- Ice cream made with fresh goat milk in Saghbine
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