Located around 40km southeast of Beirut, the Chouf Mountains are a fascinating part of Lebanon. On first glance it might seem that the main attraction here is the scenery, and being home to the largest nature reserve in Lebanon – the Shouf Biosphere Reserve – that is in part true. Hiking and trekking are popular here, and a range of walks from basic strolls to more complex hikes linking up each section of the cedar forests are all on offer.
However, dig under the skin of the Chouf and you’ll discover there is also a lot of history here, having been the heartland of the Christian and Druze communities for centuries. Visitors will find an array of Ottoman architecture as it was home to two key emirs (princes) Fakhreddine Maan II and Bashir Shihab II, whose palaces still stand today and are worth a visit to witness the lavish decor of this opulent era. Traditional mountain towns – Deir al-Qamar being the primary one – decorate the landscape with their sandstone buildings and orange roofs, so you can flit between nature and history for days on end.