Last summer was the first time I ever visited the village of Kobayat in Akkar, Northern Lebanon. An adept of nature and of the outdoors, I had toured many regions and villages in Lebanon from North to South. Kobayat, nevertheless, seemed like foreign territory to me owing to the little I knew about it, and its far and remote location in the north. I would have had no real intentions of visiting the area if it weren’t for a group of friends who insisted heavily, and repeatedly, promising a day of adventure and new discoveries.
After finally deciding to chaperon my friends in this trip I took some time to read about the village, its natural sceneries and its heritage, seemingly grounded in history. While I did still feel a little misinformed about the region, admittedly, my friends’ stories and my own readings did contribute in shaping higher expectations of the area.
On D day, we set out from Beirut, drove past Tripoli and inland in the Akkar region for a road trip that lasted almost three hours. I still recall my firsthand reaction once we reached the village— a total change of décor from the neighboring villages— and the first signs of amazement I wielded as we were driving through: a rural village, characteristically Lebanese, nested in the mountains, exuding quietude and peace, enhanced by noble nature and serene sceneries.
A beacon of civilization
As we were walking around the area, I recall thinking that Kobayat’s label of “fertile valley” and its original Aramaic name, “big pool of water”, were indeed well deserved. Endowed with generous natural resources, Kobayat remained for a long time a cradle of agriculture and civilization. Strategically located on the Silk Road, between East and West Asia through the Mediterranean, towards Rome, it was also a center of attraction for community settlements and stability.
Along our way we were able to clearly witness the Phoenician and Roman influences. Kobayat’s ruins are the remains of its ancient people, of centuries old civilizations from the age of iron and copper (3000 years BC). We also visited the old olive press in Akroum, the ancient silk plant and the old mills’ remains—a reminiscence of our ancestors’ presence and domestication of this land.
An abundant nature
The nature was astounding. Bright green, soaring trees, rich and diverse flora, the forests of Kobayat – the largest in Lebanon– appeared to be a true haven of peace, a meditative environment, an area where nature was still safeguarded and had retained its sacred and immutable place.
We visited one of Kobayat’s protected natural sites, Karm-Chbat, one of the finest preserved reserves of Cedars in Lebanon and the stunning Audeen Valley. I also learned that for the trekking, hiking or mountain biking aficionados, Kobayat offers some of the most beautiful trails.
Also unknown to me was the scientific museum for birds, butterflies and animals. The museum’s 4,000 butterfly collection from around the world housed in an old school building within the St. Doumit Monastery was built in 1852 by Carmelite fathers in traditional Italian architecture—another testament to the local’s will to protect, respect and promote our natural heritage.
Arts and Entertainment: Kobayat’s Summer Festival
In an attempt to invigorate the area, attract visitors and shed light on this beautiful region of our country, Kobayat hosts a yearly international summer festival of music and culture. This year, the “Kobayat International Festivals 2016” will take place from August 5 till 14 under the slogan: “Kobayat International Festivals bringing this year and every year Akkar’s heritage to you!” The event aims at promoting eco-tourism and attracting visitors to the area through arts, culture and entertainment. This year’s focus is mostly on local famous celebrities such as Lebanese singers Najwa Karam and Wael Kfoury. The selection also includes a disco night performance by the international band Boney M featuring the star Maize Williams and a pure “Rahbaniyat” night. Beyond the planned musical shows, the village is organizing sightseeing events and guided walks to discover the region. Pleasant and enjoyable 10 km day walks in nature are scheduled throughout the festival’s duration.
I was really pleased to learn about this festival—not that I am personally particularly fan of this year’s musical genre—but for all the other things it represents: a celebration of life, of nature and heritage. It is always heartwarming to know that such events are happening in Lebanon, against all odds. The fact that Kobayat is able to rally famous celebrities and receive generous contributions from large Lebanese corporations and institutions among them— SGBL’s Antoun Sehnaoui, Bank Med’s Mohammed Hariri, Touch’s senior leadership, and the Ministry of Tourism—is to me a testament to the willingness of the Lebanese people to make it no matter what.