Lebanon's Bekaa Valley is arguably one of the most beautiful and picturesque places in the Middle East. But it's also one of the biggest swathes of land in the country, and it's hard to know just where to start. In a lot of ways, it functions as its own little country. So here's a small travel guide to take you through it.

Bekaa Itinerary
Source: Instagram

Serving as the country's primary agricultural district with lush vineyards and all manner of crops dotting the valleys landscape, Bekaa is surrounded by expansive mountains featuring breathtaking views.

If you're visiting Lebanon, your trip won't be complete without immersing yourself in the rich culture and heritage of this fertile region. And if you're Lebanese? Well, its about time you planned a weekend getaway to this incredible region. Here's a handy guide to what to do and see and where to stay.

Start in the city of Zahleh

Source: Jason Lemon
Source: Jason Lemon

Start your adventure in Zahleh.

If you're in Beirut, you can catch a van at Cola, possibly with a brief stop in Chtoura on the way. Tell the driver where you want to go, and he'll advise you. Overall, the price should be 7,000 Lebanese lira ($4.67). The drive from Beirut to Zahleh should take about 90 minutes, depending on traffic. Of course, if you can rent a car, ride with friends or hire a taxi for the day, these options are all more comfortable.

Zahleh is Lebanon's fourth largest city, with the downtown nestled perfectly in a gentle mountain valley. On the outskirts of the city, you can visit the Lady of Bekaa Shrine, a statue of the Virgin Mary poised high above the valley below. If you make it to the top, the valley lays out beautifully below you.

Source: Jason Lemon
Source: Jason Lemon

It's definitely worthwhile to take a casual stroll down Zahleh's main drag, along the Berdawni river that runs through the city. You can grab coffee, lunch or a cold beer at one of the local shops.

Visit farms and wineries

Source: Jason Lemon
Source: Jason Lemon

Perfect for a leisurely walk through the woods, Taanayel is located a short drive from Zahleh. You can see the farm animals, eat tasty baladi labneh or jebneh sandwiches and stroll around the picturesque lake surrounded by mountains and vineyards. For more information about the Taanayel farm call +961-8-543622 or +961-3-941004.

During the afternoon, you can swing by one of the Bekaa Valley's top-notch wineries. Chateau Ksara has been ageing wine since 1857. Located just outside of Zahleh, the historic winery gets the most attention but Chateau Kefraya, Massaya and Domaines des Tourelles are also great spots to taste award-winning Lebanese wine .

Immerse yourself in history

Source: Jason Lemon
Source: Jason Lemon

It goes without saying that anyone coming to Lebanon should pass by the ancient Roman ruins of Baalbek, which date back to the first century A.D. Located less than an hour away from Zahleh, the impressive monuments have weathered the test of time, standing as a testament to ancient engineering and ingenuity. The entrance fee is 15,000 Lebanese lira for tourists, reduced to 10,000 Lebanese lira for Lebanese and students.

While the Baalbek ruins are a must-see, there are several other impressive historic sites to visit in the Bekaa as well. The ruins in Anjar, which are much more recent and date to the 8th century A.D., stand as a unique architectural example of the Umayyad period . Located further north on the outskirts of Hermel, you will find the Kamouh El Hermel (Hermel Pyramid). The origins of this unique monument are unclear but it is believed to date to the first or second century B.C.

Ruins of Anjar Source: WikiMedia
Source: WikiMedia

Another intriguing, albeit more modern, historic site is the Rashaya Citadel, located near the Syrian border. This national monument was built in the 1700s and served as the temporary prison of independent Lebanon's first leaders. Bechara El Khoury, who became Lebanon's first president, and Riad El-Solh, who became Lebanon's first prime minister, were held in the citadel by the French along with several other prominent early Lebanese politicians.

Part of the Souk El Tayeb organization, Tawlet Ammiq is not only situated in an incredible location but also offers an succulent buffet consisting of farm-to-plate cuisine all cooked up by local Bekaa women. The buffet will cost you $44, but it is well worth the bill. It offers you some of the freshest and most delicious Lebanese cuisine you've ever had with unlimited drinks and desert included. You'll be feeling more than satisfied after spending the afternoon relaxing as you overlook the fertile valley below.

Souk El Tayeb's Tawlet branch located in Beirut has been ranked as the eighth best restaurant in the world, so you know it has to be good!

Day trips to the Bekaa from Beirut are definitely doable, depending on how much you want to see. However, if you have the time, why not spend a night or two to gain the full Bekaa experience?

Located across from the iconic ruins of Baalbek, the Grand Hotel Palmyra is one of Lebanon’s oldest hotels. Built in 1874, the hotel has maintained its now antique style for more than a century. In its prime, the hotel hosted royalty and the high society guests that journeyed to see the well-preserved Roman ruins.

And if you want to wake up each morning to an incredible view of the Bekaa Valley stretching out below you? Well, make it reality and stay at the Beit El Kroum boutique hotel. Perfect in summertime, the hotel features a patio and pool area, hosting regular barbecue events.

So, as you can see, whether you want to relax, explore or wow your taste buds, the Bekaa Valley is definitely the place to go. Perhaps this weekend?