BEIRUT: With Lebanon enjoying its newly found political stability thanks to the election of President Michel Aoun and the quick formation of a cabinet by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the country has regained the confidence of tourists – be them international or expatriates – at a time when the snow season has begun to hit its peak.
Many have flocked to the country's mountainous region to enjoy a relaxing vacation filled with cozy nights-in at the area's many hotels, where winter sport lovers can finally relish in the white slopes after an intensely hot summer and to enjoy a little family fun, away from the city's mélange of traffic and busy nightlife it offers.
Faraya Village Club owner Jean Khalil describes the early snow as a "gift from God! The snow has attracted more tourists than we've seen in the past five years; there are people from all over Europe, Africa and the Gulf as well as expatriates who haven't visited Lebanon in 15 years which is clearly a very good sign."
Faraya sits in a wind-protected section of Mount Lebanon, and the ski terrain altitude ranges from 6,069ft to 8,087ft and is considered by many skiers to be their yearly destination, with ongoing huge popularity among the country's locals.
Khalil considers Lebanon's sudden revival of tourism this year to be related to the country's political stability, especially since "President Aoun's election as well as the fast formation of a government has rendered foreigners more at ease to come back and enjoy the many riches that Lebanon has to offer."
There are more than 50 miles of groomed skiing areas in the Mount Lebanon area, and the terrain features far-reaching views over the Bekaa Valley, with slopes mainly suited to beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders alike.
Echoing Khalil's words, Joseph Khoury, a receptionist at Le Cedrus Hotel in the area of Bsharre, finds "the early arrival of snow as the key element behind the successful start to the country's snow season."
Khoury noted that the season had officially started in December – when the snow started to fall over the area – and will continue until the end of February, while highlighting that "the hotel has been almost full every weekend since December, and witnessing an overflow of visitors especially from Lebanese expatriates, even families that just want to enjoy the fresh air and silky white snow with their children."
The positive spark lit by the snowy season is not only good for tourists arriving on Lebanon's deck, but a big plus for local businesses that are related to winter sports, even for local mechanics that serve to supply cars with a safer journey up the mountain by installing chains on their tires. "Since December, I've installed almost six to eight chains daily for people heading up to the resorts," Roger Haddad, a local mechanic based in the area of Feytroun, told Annahar.
For Issam Mubarak – founder of Maison Du Ski, a winter sports shop found on the Feytroun highway – this year "has brought many good signs for Lebanon's economy with the recent political stability and it can be seen through the number of tourists visiting our store on a daily basis; it's so nice to see so many expats coming back to the country."
Mubarak highlighted that the season is close to reaching its peak, but finds that it will go on till March, noting that "snow is falling at an alarming rate here, thus it's a good indicator that it will stay a bit longer than usual."
Since December kicked off, many Lebanese expatriate families have flocked at a markedly increased rate to their native homeland to spend holidays with their loved ones, which has been manifested with the cumbersome traffic the country witnessed during the holiday time.
Firas Dagher, a 44 year-old Lebanese expat from Dubai, feels that "the country has changed, it took a breath of fresh air and you can see it when talking to people, business owners and even when my family witnessed the heavy level of traffic during our arrival to the airport."
Dagher is visiting Lebanon with his wife and twin girls, and currently planning a snow trip to Faraya for his girls to bask in the sun-kissed sky and snow.
The snowy season is a completely different experience for Kiril Vasiliyev, a 23-year-old Russian-Lebanese student. Vasiliyev aims to visit the mountainous areas of the country "to relax with some friends over a chimney and some wine, especially since this weather makes everything so much cozier to be inside with friends."
While for winter sport lovers such as Sarah Saadeh, a 25 year-old extreme sports lover, this season is her favorite of the entire year because "there is nothing more beautiful to me than waking up to a view of a giant mountain that I'm going to ski on, the adrenaline rush when you're going down the slope at high speeds, it just marvelous to me."
Saadeh has been skiing and snowboarding since the age of 13, and has always loved winter sports more than the rest, since she considers that they're easy to learn by anyone. "I love this time of year, distant family members come back from God knows where, you enjoy the company of your friends and family; the food is amazing, it truly is a season to be jolly," she told Annahar.
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