Skiing in Mzaar Kfardebian Lebanon

Skiing in Mzaar Kfardebian Lebanon

Skiing in Lebanon – the unexpected side of the Mediterranean
13
MARCH, 2018
Anastasia Pashkovetskaya

Sitting on the coast of the Mediterranean and known more for its complicated past than its charming mountain villages, Lebanon is not most people’s choice for a ski holiday.  However, given that we are currently based in Cyprus and Lebanon is a sweet 20 minutes flight away, we decided to try something new this skiing season. Here is what we have discovered.

 

Mzaar Kfardebian Ski Resort

The Mzaar Ski Resort is reportedly the best equipped and most popular resort of Lebanon, located in Kfardebian village, an hours drive from Beirut. According to the official website, there are 42 slopes and 80 kilometers of ski tracks. I’m assuming by slopes they don’t mean actual pistes, because the official map only marks 18, plus 2 private pistes which belong to the Intercontinental hotel. Regardless, there is plenty of room for skiers at all levels and beautiful unpisted runs for those looking for a bit more excitement. The peak of Mzaar is at 2465m peak of Mzaar and offers stunning views over the Bekaa valley, Mount Hermon of the Anti-Lebanon and other peaks like Laqlouq and the Cedars. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Beirut and Jounieh beneath, as well as the sparkling Mediterranean beyond. The other peak, Jabal Dib at 2296m, is home to the heighest restaurant in Lebanon “Auberge le Valais” that offers interpretations of alpine staples such as raclette, rosti, fondue and vin chaud. To make things more exciting, they also offer nargile. Needless to say, we had to have one. Here is a 360° video where you can get a good feel for a typical day skiing in Mzaar, Lebanon.

“On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Beirut and Jounieh beneath, as well as the sparkling Mediterranean beyond.”

Where to stay

We stayed at Urban Faqra Hotel, in a small village just below the ski resort. It is a small boutique hotel of 8 rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. It’s perfectly charming with plenty of rugs, cushions, mountain views to sooth you after a day of skiing. They serve a generous Lebanese breakfasts and even bring you dinner to the room at no extra charge if you don’t have the energy to get out of your bathrobe and venture out to find food. The staff is super friendly and helpful, speaking English and French. Roland, the manager had introduced us to his friends so we could rent out skis and snowmobiles. It felt like a home away from home. At the very end of our stay, we discovered the ODOM Camp, which is now at the top of my wish-list for our next visit! It is owned by the same family who run Urban Faqra, so I trust we will be in good hands.

Feeling like a James Bond girl
Skidoo in Mzaar Lebanon

Snowmobile Expeditions

Another really cool thing to do in Mzaar is to hire a snowmobile to explore the vast mountain valleys away from the main ski area. It seems that every self-respecting local entrepreneur offers skidoo tours – ranging between 100 and 150 USD for the hour. We got ours from Roland’s friend, who also happened to be the ski champion of Lebanon.  Kitted out with all the necessary gear (and feeling rather cool about ourselves), we raced our guide through the valeys, arriving at a plateau to watch the sun set behind the mountain range with noone else in sight. While it was all very romantic, patches of barbed wire on the ground and several “Caution: Mine field” signs served as a stark reminder of the country’s turbulent past. Back at the shop, decorated with photographs of the owner’s victory, we were offered tea (and cigarettes – everybody smokes, everywhere) and chatted to in French about our impressions of Lebanon and all the things we must do during our stay. Chaleureux. That’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Lebanon.

In Summary

Skiing in Lebanon is safe, fun and affordable! We found that everything (accomodation, ski passes and ski hire) is much cheaper than anywhere in Europe. The downside of this, is of course the infrastructure, which is not as modern as in some of the hot ski resorts in Europe. So forget cosy, heated capsule lifts of Courchavel. This is the old school baby. If that doesn’t bother you too much, I would highly recommend it. The resort is big enough for a solid few days of skiing, there is plenty of nice accomodation, good food, friendly people and fun things to do off-piste.

Besides, where else can you have shisha on top of a mountain, without ever taking off your ski boots?

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Why You Should Visit Akamas National Park In Cyprus

Why You Should Visit Akamas National Park In Cyprus

Visit Akamas National Park in 360°

Akamas is famed for its breath-taking beauty and precious ecology. A favourite with hikers and nature enthusiasts, this park offers several nature trails amidst the numerous species indigenous to the region. There are three official nature trails: the Adonis Trail, the Aphrodite Trail, and the Smigies Trail. We walked the Aphrodite trail in beginning of November, a time great time to visit. The summer heat has eased and the plants have had the chance to freshen up under the first few rains.

 

Steps up to the Aphrodite Nature Trail

Akamas National Park

 

The Akamas National Park lies on the west coast of Cyprus, a truly magnificent part of the island. It has an area coverage of 230 square kilometres containing valleys, gorges and wide sandy bays. The wildlife diversity is crucial for the ecology in the Mediterranean. In this spectacular environment there are 168 varieties of birds, 20 different reptiles, 16 species of butterfly and 12 different mammals not to mention its very rich variety of fauna.

Mountain-side paths

500 year old Oak

Taking in the views of the Polis Bay

Flower plains

Natural Spring

 

Hiking in Akamas National Park

 

There are various nature trails that you can explore this beautiful part of Cyprus by, varying in length, duration and difficulty. The Adonis Trail is the toughest. We took the Aphrodite Trail – 7.5 km long, medium difficulty and it took us around 3.5 hours. It starts at the Baths of Aphrodite and climbs into the hills. The scenery varies dramatically at the different sections of the trail. Green flats are replaced with vivid red-earth and intriguing limestone boulders, then switch to cooling pine forests and finally turn into dramatic cliffs overhanging the Blue Lagoon beneath. The nature trails offer stunning views of the valleys and the coastline, as well as the chance to see the iconic mountain goat in its natural element.

Akamas Beaches

 

Another iconic part of this peninsula is its beaches. You can get some fantastic views of the Blue Lagoon from the Aphrodite nature trail. Here is in fact, the last large unspoiled coastal area remaining in Cyprus. Probably because it is so hard to get to (typically the only way is by sea). It is also one of the very few important sea turtle nesting areas in the Mediterranean.

Both the Loggerhead Turtle and the rarer Green Turtle nest here. Sadly, the latter depends on the Akamas beaches for its very survival in this region. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists Loggerheads as “vulnerable” and Green Turtles as an “endangered species”.  That’s why it’s so important that if you are lucky to see them out on the beach or in the water, do not touch or disturb them, and definitely don’t try to catch them!

Views of the coastline from the hills

 The Blue Lagoon

 

The European Council has included it in its Mediterranean Protection Programme. The Cyprus Government has yet to fully declare it as a National Park, although Friends of the Earth and Green Peace are lobbying hard for it.

Aphrodite’s Bath

 

Aphrodite’s Baths are a natural cavern with a shallow pool hidden among ferns and large trees. A natural spring supplies the water to the pool. According to legend, after swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the bay, Aphrodite used to bathe in this pond, hidden in the cooling shade of the foliage and fig trees.

Way to Aphrodite’s Bath

It is here that she met her beloved Adonis for the first time. Adonis was hunting in the Akamas forest when he took a break by the spring to quench his thirst. He was struck by the sight of the naked goddess bathing in the pool. Aphrodite and Adonis fell in love, bewitched by each other’s extraordinary beauty. The waters here are said to hold special rejuvenating powers. Probably because of how cold they are!

Getting there

 

By car about 50 mins to 1 hour drive from Paphos, or 20 mins form Polis. There is a car park near the site of the Aphrodite Baths as well as amenities such as food drink and bathroom. I recommend staying overnight in Polis or one of the mountain villages such as Droushia if you’re coming in the spring or summer.

 

Book your stay in Cyprus

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10 Reasons Why You should Volunteer Abroad

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Travel has become a commodity. We often travel to visit places just because they are fashionable. Other times we go on trips because it is a “must see” (for whom?). Finally, we have impromptu trips just to get away from it all. All these are valid reasons to travel, and I personally have traveled for all of them. But earlier this year, I discovered a much deeper reason to board a plane – volunteering. This experience has left me a changed person and here are 10 reasons why.

1/ You connect to a cause you’re passionate about

How many of us go through their lives in an unfulfilling routine? We hate getting out of bed in the morning and dread going to the office. This state of being is so ubiquitous in big cities that it has become the norm. But why should this be? Every one of us has something they are passionate about, a cause larger us, than money, cars, material things and expensive nights out. Finding what that is and living your life in service of that cause will make you jump out of bed at dawn and skip to work, happy for the chance to do something you are passionate about.

2/ You meet incredible people

I spent 5 years living in London, and during that time, I have not met as many inspiring people and had as many mind-expanding conversations as I had during my 3 months volunteering in Mozambique. I met people who are fearless, adventurous, out of the ordinary and formed bonds that will last way beyond that trip.

3/ You travel cheaply

Instead of spending hundred and thousands on fancy hotels and restaurants in popular resorts, why not find an exotic location that has not yet been turned into a global holiday destination? There are plenty of beautiful places where NGOs have set up camp to protect the environment, work with the vulnerable, teach, help build. During 3 months in Mozambique, constantly eating out, having the freshest fish and lobsters on a regular basis, going on trips and even shopping has cost me around 1200 Euros. Coincidentally, that’s also how much you’d typically spend on a weekend in Verbier. There are also foundations that will provide you with accommodation, and even board in some cases, in exchange for your work. Look out for those if you’re on a budget.

4/ You immerse yourself in the country

When you volunteer abroad, you end up meeting more locals and having more local experiences than simply going on a holiday. You will have the benefit of local knowledge form your team mates who have already spent time out there, so they can give you tips on where to go and what to avoid. However, remember to explore and immerse yourself in the place to create your own experience of the country you’re visiting.

 

5/ You experience the extraordinary

We all know that saying that goes something like “magic happens outside of your comfort zone”. This couldn’t be more true of volunteering abroad. Going to volunteer with Marine Megafauna Foundation, I never appreciated what an extraordinary experience it would be. Living by the Indian ocean, swimming alongside manta rays and even bumping into a pod of dolphins during a morning swim.  These experiences were nothing short of magical, and I really wish that every person out there can experience something so profound and moving.

6/ You feel useful

To develop a high self-esteem a person needs a purpose. A key component to high self-esteem relies on how you view yourself regarding contribution. While positive contribution should be part of all of our daily lives, it can be tough when you’re living in a modern city environment. Going to volunteer abroad gives you the opportunity to focus on giving, which in turn improves your relationship with yourself.

 

7/ You discover Yourself

Do you know your limits? Physical? Mental? Emotional? Would you be able to live in – ahem – rustic conditions? I have to admit, coming to Mozambique, the 3rd poorest country in the world, from Chelsea, London was a shocker. I remember thinking on our first evening there: How are we going to last here for 3 months? A few weeks later, as my barriers started crumbling and my OCD fading, I stopped minding the absence of supermarkets, the sand that was EVERYWHERE, and even that we were sleeping under a thatched roof that would leak when it rained.

8/ You improve your CV

If you want to make a shift in your career, volunteering is a great way to do this. You can use your existing skills to find a role that is more fulfilling as a volunteer and then use this experience to transition into paid work. I used to work in Finance where I did a lot of research in my role. I applied to MMF as a researcher for the Fundraising team. A great website where you can find volunteering positions for professionals is www.escapethecity.org.

9/ You create unforgettable memories

What are you going to remember when you turn 30? 40? All those days you spent at your desk? Or all those holidays you spent by the pool in homogeneous resorts that looks like every other resort built by a multi-national conglomerate? The three months I spent in Mozambique were by far the best and most unforgettable months of my life.

I dare you to follow your passion on an adventure of a lifetime.

 

10/ You Live!

A great woman, Amelia Mary Earhart, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, once said: There is more to life than being a passenger. Sadly, so many of us are just that – passengers on a train that takes us down the well-trodden route of school, work, mortgages and family. Not that these are not valuable experiences in themselves. But if you have a hunch, that there must be more to life that this, volunteering may just prove you right.

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While a rented car and public transport, seem to be the most frequent ways for travelers to get around, I strongly believe nothing can be better than a scooter. My personal favourite is a Vespa and here are 5 reasons why you need one when traveling abroad.

1/ Avoid Traffic

 

Anyone who’s been to the South of France knows what a nightmare it is to get around. The tiny streets are choked with a mix of  buses, bumped up little french cars and your odd Rolls Royce bearing Russian number plates. Forget trying to get anywhere around rush hour, and definitely don’t try to get into or out of Monaco at the beginning or the end of an big event weekend. On a Vepsa, however, you get to zoom past all the frustrated drivers as the wind blows in your hair. Yes, haters gonna hate.

2/ Parking

 

Another frequent problem is finding parking, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. On a Vespa, you can find parking quickly and easily. Most places have a designated parking spot for bikes. Free parking is another bonus!

3/ Access Hard-to-access Areas

 

If you like to explore places off the beaten path, you will often find cars unhelpful in getting there. The beauty of being on a bike is that you can often get much closer to your destination. It’s just as true in the cities, where popular restaurants and cafes are impossible to get to by car (because of a lack of parking), which forces you to leave your car miles away and walk. On a Vespa you can arrive at the door. In style.

4/ Arrive in Style

 

Speaking of style, nothing says chique like a red vespa. If you’re a lady, you’re going to have to learn how to hop on and off that thing gracefully (takes a few tries before you nail it), but nothing should stop you from rocking heels and a dress while riding a bike. It’s all very Vanessa Paradis.

 

5/ Save on Fuel

 

When you’re traveling on a budget every little counts. While fuelling up a small car can set you back anything from 50 to 70 Euros in Europe, a full tank on a Vespa with a good engine will cost you under 10 EUR. Wouldn’t you rather spend the difference on visiting museums, trying local cuisines and eating your body weight in ice cream? I would.

 

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Swimming with Dolphins in Mozambique

Swimming with Dolphins in Mozambique

Dolphins in Tofo, Mozambique

Since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamed of swimming with dolphins in the wild. I saw them many times on TV, in Dolphinariums and I even got to swim with them at the Atlantis Hotel in Bahamas – an experience I will never forget. However, nothing beats seeing them in the wild. In the past week, I had the chance to meet them twice in the open ocean off the coast of Mozambique!

Everyone loves dolphins – they have such a great energy and the power to make you smile. Their chatter and laughter are irresistible! Often you can hear them on a dive. They communicate and hunt by emitting sounds and waiting for the resulting echo to locate their quarry. Although I heard them a few times, I never saw them on scuba.

The most common dolphin that we see here in Mozambique is the Bottlenose Dolphin. They are around 2m plus in length and have a grey back & lighter underside. This is called counter-shading and is actually a form camouflage since it makes the animal hard to distinguish from both above and below.

Tofo is also lucky enough to be called home to a much rarer and more shy species called the Humpback Dolphin. They have a very distinctive hump and the base of their dorsal fin and can often be seen joining in with larger Bottlenose pods.

Dolphins, Tofo, Mozambique

The little orange dots in the water are plankton.

Dolphins off the Coast of Mozambique

The surest way to see dolphins in Tofo, Mozambique is to go on an ocean safari. You often see them accompanying the boats and if you’re quick enough, you get to swim with them! This was the first time I saw them in the ocean. It was an amazing experience and I even caught it on a 360 video (see below).

The second time was when we snorkeled off the coast of Tofinho in the early morning. As we were at the edge of the bay, I saw a few fins popping out of the water. Before I knew it, we were swimming with a pod of about ten dolphins. A few of them were super curious and stayed with us for a while, swimming around us, just a few meters away. It was really magical!

Dolphins, Tofo, Mozambique
Dolphins, Tofo, Mozambique

A family with a baby dolphin!

Dolphins, Tofo, Mozambique
Swimming with Dolphins, Tofo, Mozambique

So happy! We just swam with dolphins!

Experience Swimming with Dolphins in VR

To watch, play this 360 video in your VR headset or Google cupboard. To enjoy the video on the screen, click and drag the mouse across.

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To see more 360 videos, check out my VR Travel page.

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From Chelsea to Tofo Beach

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Maputo to Tofo

We’re driving up from Maputo to Tofo, some 550 Km away, with the engine growling and the wind whistling through the open windows. There is a big crack across the windscreen (a totally normal occurrence here) and a dolphin key ring swinging off the rear view mirror. Our driver Marc is an expat who left Essex for Tofo seven years ago. I asked him if he goes back often – he says that he’s been back twice, and not for very long.

I take that as a good omen.  Last week, I said goodbye to my career in Finance, got on a plane and flew across the continent to volunteer for the Marine Megafauna Foundation, in Tofo on the coast of Mozambique. I’ve always loved the sea and it seemed like the perfect beginning to a new chapter.

Roadtrippin’ through Mozambique

The countryside is lush and flat, punctuated by small settlements. Small, concrete shops bear the colour schemes and logos of the main telecoms companies – red from Vodacom and orange for Movitel. People walk unhurried to their destinations on the roadside. Women carry big baskets filled with fruits, their swaying hips wrapped in traditional textiles. Children dressed in school uniforms cross the road that cuts through the rolling green landscape. The roads are full of life, so we have to maneuver carefully as we make our way.

woman inhambane
Inhambane
bus stop Inhambane
women carrying food Africa
peri peri tofo
Inhambane drive

The motorway unfolds ahead – swelling and dipping. I wonder how the next three months will be. Will I miss London? Will I settle in well? I am worried that I may have trouble adapting. Will I get Malaria? Marc’s says he had it four times.

Drive to Tofo Mozambique

Suddenly, we get pulled over by the police. A doctor in scrubs and mask comes over and informs us that there is an outbreak of cholera in Maputo and may we please step out of the vehicle. He explains that we need to wash our hands and feet to avoid bringing the disease into Inhambane. He escorts us to a tank of chlorine water where we can rid ourselves of our sins. After conducting a successful disinfection, he congratulates us and happily sends us on our way.

Life in Tofo Beach

Fast-forward 5 days. I am lying under a palm tree looking out onto the ocean and the white sand that is always, everywhere – in the bed, on the bread, and randomly crunching in your mouth. Yesterday, the Marine Megafauna team went on an ocean safari just of the coast of Tofo Beach and we swam next to two whale shark and three manta rays. My tan and Portuguese are slowly coming along… Things could definitely be worse!

It might be hard to believe, but it’s not all paradise living. In my next post, I’ll share some stories of the challenges of living in these ends!

Inhambane beach

Have you been to Mozambique? What were your first impressions? Share in the comments below.

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