27 July 2009
BATROUN: If the unbearable summer heat, traffic and noise of the capital are getting to you, then head for Batroun, where the locals are confident that you might not want to ever leave, after sampling what the northern town has to offer. Some of the country’s best-kept secrets may be hard to find when flipping through a tourist guidebook. And while Greater Beirut certainly has a handle on the fast-paced, high-end side of tourism, Batroun’s more relaxed feel is proving to be a magnet for foreign tourists as well as local day-trippers.
The Thoum region of Batroun’s coast offers an irresistible array of what’s needed for a relaxing weekend: rich historical sites, beautiful stretches of coast, and water sports opportunities with friendly residents. Batroun is the region to be for beginners and experts, whether it’s windsurfing, scuba diving or sailing.
Located 53 kilometers north of Beirut, Batroun is home to many old landmarks, ranging from the Phoenician wall that stretches along the coast to the old fortress, built by the Crusaders. At the old port one can find fantastic fish restaurants, such as favorites Chez Maggie and Le Marin, while the restaurant Jammal’s features a rocky cove, where the tables and the bar are lined up on the water. Rent out this back cove for a private party or fundraiser and it’s the perfect atmosphere for an evening of eating, swimming and dancing.
Heading to Batroun’s beaches means a break from the typical bar and pub scene. During the daytime, the crystal clear water and light breeze make for a perfect setting for windsurfing, a popular sport among the Batrounis. At the acclaimed Pierre and Friends, the bar lies only a few meters from the rocky beach, where windsurfing courses are offered by a friendly crew of locals.
Stick around for the early evening hours and you can catch the sunset while watching the daytime beach crowd head out, and the nighttime party-goers stream in. This summer, Pierre and Friends has been a hotspot for a night of dancing and swimming, as Beirutis have been increasing in number to get a break from the bustle of Hamra and Gemmayzeh.
The night hours are quite busy at this beach bar, as reservations are a must for dinnertime. But it’s easy to stroll in and grab a seat at the bar or take up some lounge chairs and a table with friends on the rocky beach as the sea waves stroll in beneath your feet. With great tunes traveling from the dance floor to the water where some people swim, it’s a great spot to host a birthday party.
“Batroun has become a major destination,” says Maurice Ghosn, a regular at Pierre and Friends, describing how easily visitors are captured by the spirit of the town and decide to settle down after only a few days spent at the region’s calming coast.
“We have a different culture,” Ghosn boasts, “everybody is on the same level.”
“Like the foreigners who visit Beirut … they stay for a while and decide to move in. It’s the same for Batroun, within the borders of Lebanon. Once they see the beauty of our coasts, they pack their bags and come to settle down here,” he adds, smiling proudly.
The water and waves are one attraction, and the summer establishments located only a few steps from the main road are another.
“I live in Beirut because of my work, but every break I get with enough time for the trip, I straight head to Batroun,” says Lara Ghosn, 25, a doctor and native of the northern town.
There’s plenty of fresh and tasty Lebanese cuisine on offer, as well as the “in” drink this summer, the mojito. It’s not a big jump for Batroun, whose citrus groves are the reason why the town is known for its lemonade.
Kicking back with a fresh mojito, enjoying Lebanese cuisine, and mingling with the friendly locals is the right atmosphere for trying another specialty of Batroun, windsurfing.
The “Pierre” of Pierre and Friends is famous for his windsurfing exploits, and has passed the tradition down to his 16-year old son, Jad, who began the sport at the age of six, and now gives lessons.
“Although windsurfing is quite new for Lebanon, there is a significant growth in interest,” says Dany Faddoul, a 20-year old windsurf instructor, before showing his impressive movements on the board.
While windsurfing may be the most popular activity in the area, you can also head out to the Lebanese Yacht Club. There, you’ll find fantastic sailing courses on lasers, the smaller boats, and catamarans, the lighter, faster, but larger sailboats. The courses involve ten hours of instruction: three hours of theory and seven of actual sailing.
Last week, the Lebanese Yacht Club held the 20th Lebanese Sailing Championship. With the government’s help, the club is promoting a sailing day for next summer, in the hope of attractive participants from sailing schools from all around the world. They’re also working on a project to launch a modern-day Phoenician boat, which will sail to Europe.
Jean Louis Zabbal, manager of the Lebanese Yacht Club of Batroun, cites Batroun’s well-preserved historical sites as yet another draw. “A lot of people are moving to Batroun, a lot of people are settling here,” he says, emphasizing that the town offers more than a few hours of getting a tan or swimming. Zabbal compares Batroun to the beach resorts found in the south: “You can stay in Batroun after a day at the beaches, there’s a day life and a nightlife here.”
Another popular activity is scuba diving. At the Pure Tech Diving Facility in Batroun, a wide variety of lessons are offered. This diving center hosts three separate organizations for instruction, all of which are recognized worldwide. The lessons begin with open water certification, followed by advanced open water, and rescue diver. The center also offers instructor training, to certify instructors for the open water courses. The Pure Tech Diving Facility is located at the San Stephano hotel and beach resort.
Batroun seems to have it all – calm and less crowded coastal areas, natural beauty, historical sites, water sports and a vibrant nightlife. And things are scheduled to pick up in August, when a series of events will be offered as part of the region’s local —summer festival. August 23rd is a must for windsurfing enthusiasts, who can catch the Quiksilver Windsurfing Team’s show in al-Bahsa area of Batroun.
Batroun Festival launched with city tour
BEIRUT: The Batroun Festival Committee launched this year’s festival with a tour of the city’s monuments for journalists and a news conference held Sunday at the coastal city’s San Stephano Resort.
Following the morning tour, journalists and committee members headed to San Stephano Resort for a press conference. The Tourism Ministry’s Director General Nada Sardouk and Batroun Mayor Marcelino al-Hark attended the conference along with the head of the Batroun Festival Committee, Fares Jammal, and an array of political, social and religious figures.
Speakers at the conference thanked the media for their efforts in making the festival a success. “The media play a big role in emphasizing the city’s historical legacy and tourist importance” Jammal said.
Mayor Hark also mentioned the media’s important role adding that the festival’s success depends on the efforts of the organizing committee and the Ministry of Tourism.
As for Sardouk she said the spirit of the festival expressed “the joy of living of the Lebanese.”
She added that Lebanon has long suffered from conflicts but that “we should always focus on the beautiful things and the festival will do just so.”
The Batroun Municipality first organized the festival in summer 2005 in order to “give the city of Batroun the recognition it deserves,” the Batroun Festival’s official website says.
In addition to concerts by singers Wael Kfouri, Massari, and George Wassouf, this year’s festival will include a performance by a Chinese dancing troop and other activities. – The Daily Star
© Copyright The Daily Star 2009.
Source: The Daily Star 27-Jul-09