Baskinta, home of Serenity
For the fourth straight year, readers of L'Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon and around the world will have the chance to vote for the “favorite village of the Lebanese.” This year, 10 new villages are competing. L’OLJ will produce a report and video on each village to help you choose. After Amchit and Barouk, here is Baskinta. Voting will remain open on our website until July 28.
After meandering along the deep Valley of Skulls (wadi el-Jamejim) with its huge pine forest, a large village made of houses with red tile roofs comes into view. In Syriac, Baskinta means House of Serenity. In fact, visitors quickly feel at peace and at home in the village just by contemplating the old stone houses–some with freshly painted shutters–that are scattered between the oaks. Why serenity? Because standing in the village, the visitor’s gaze rests on a soothing landscape of orchards where pink and white apple and cherry blossoms bring on dreams and nostalgia.
Very often, one hears: "Lebanon is 10,452 square kilometers and Baskinta accounts for the last 52 square kilometers." The pride of belonging to this village can be seen in the eyes of every inhabitant when talking about their town, which has hosted a succession of different civilizations since ancient times. Baskinta first sheltered the Phoenicians, who built temples and cemeteries here. Then came the Romans and Greeks, who left their imprints through written vestiges, coins and jewelry.
Baskinta is also an essential destination for religious tourism because it’s home to around 20 convents and churches, each with its own story to tell. The Mar Sassine convent (built around 1729) which belongs to the nuns (headed by the order of the Lebanese monks), is characterized by its giant cross, its picturesque view and its peacefulness. Two Mar Roukoz churches are located near each other. The story of their proximity is part of local mythology, and is a tale that the ladies of the village take pleasure in narrating: “A long time ago, a new church was to be built at the site of the older one. The municipality tried many times to start the demolition work. But every time the vehicles and machines switched on, they stopped for no reason, as if they were prevented by some force. It's as if God wanted this little chapel to remain intact," they say.
The literary journey
Baskinta is also a literary journey. There is a 9 km hike that passes through the most important cultural sites of the village, following in the footsteps of the writers who found inspiration in the area. The journey starts at a memorial garden dedicated to Mikhail Neaimy, where his mausoleum and tomb are located. The Lebanese poet, writer and philosopher is an illustrious figure in modern Arabic literature. The memorial garden pays homage to him, and there is an imposing sculpture of him at the end of a path lined by dense trees. The villagers say that Neaimy wrote most of his work in a hut built between the rocks. "The love I have for Baskinta and Chakhroub cannot be limited or defined. I hence dedicate to them these words, as ephemeral as they might be,” he wrote.
Wild orchids, anemones, asphodels and dandelions line the trail leading to Neaimy's summer home where he wrote his autobiography, “Sab’oun”, under an old oak tree.
The route then leads to Roman inscriptions dating from the time of Emperor Hadrian. Further along path stands the home of the writer Suleiman Kettaneh who lived here between 1935 and 1965. Halfway through the valley, there’s the grotto of Sayf al-Dawla, the 10th century Arab leader who protected poets and encouraged education. On the way, a small cedar forest adds a touch of charm to this Valley of Skulls. This forest, named Cedars of Baskinta Forever, consists of forty six young cedar plants, each named after a martyr from the army. The literary route also passes through Abdallah Ghanem’s cultural center, built in homage to the poet, philosopher and journalist who was born in Baskinta in 1895. Ghanem drew inspiration for most of his poems from the surrounding countryside. The last stop on the trail is the house of the writer Suleiman Kettaneh who lived here between 1965 and 2004.
Culinary specialties of Baskinta
Baskinta is famous for its slightly tart apples, and the village has hosted an apple festival for some years now aiming to encourage local trade. For lovers of natural products, Mymoune, a family factory co-founded in 1989 by two sisters, Youmna Goraieb and Leila Maalouf, in the village of Ain el-Qabou (five minutes from Baskinta), offers guided tours for those interested in the manufacturing of preserves, or moune, including jams, syrups and other delicacies.
A stop at the Krikor Furn (bakery), famous beyond the village’s borders for its delicious manouche, is also a must. Aammo Krikor has been in business for 58 year and says love is the most important ingredient. Visitors can taste the most succulent combinations, sweet or salty. The furn opens at dawn, from 3 am until 5 pm.
The Cross of Bakiche
Qanat Bakiche, which can be visited after Baskinta, is known today as a destination for outdoor sports, including skiing in the winter. The area has become increasingly popular in both the winter and the summer and is home to various hotels and inns that attract a large number of tourists. On the highest peak of Qanat Bakiche, there is a massive cross named "the cross of all people". This site overlooks a breathtaking landscape, especially at sunset. The cross is made of 170 tons of imported iron from France and is 73.8 meters high. One thousand eight hundred projectors illuminate the structure, as if to "claim the Christian’s presence in the Middle East," according to the villagers.
Number of inhabitants: 15,000, of which about 8,000 are permanent residents.
President of the Municipal Council: Elias Karam.
Celebrities from the village: writers, poets and philosophers Mikhail Neaimy, Abdallah Ghanem, Suleiman Kettaneh, Rachid Ayoub, Georges Ghanem and Robert Ghanem. Ghaleb Ghanem is a former president of the Supreme Judiciary Council.
Where to stay: Hotel Monte Sannine (04-251122), Mountazah Sannine (03-299208), Hotel Snow Land (03-345300). There are also two guest houses: Tebechrani (71-950500) and the Mar Sassine Monastery (03-601891).
Restaurants: The majority of restaurants in Baskinta offer Lebanese menus: Chwar el-Jreid (03-795064), al-Nassim (03-819274), Abu Mounir (70-915888), Jar el-Amar (03-470056), Issam Abu Haidar (70-112474), Sakhret el-Kaysar (03-116738), Jawz el-Namel (03-731458), Erzal Sannine (70-376306), Nour el-Amar (03-490304), Jisr el Nahr (70-288858), al-Nahr (03-096499). The Krikor bakery is the main destination for the best manouche (04-280293).
Activities: hiking throughout the year (literary route, religious and cultural tourism, which includes more than 25 sites, Darb al-Jabal course that crosses the Metn), bicycle, ATV, toboggan and ski in winter in Sannine and at Snow Land ski school, camping at Marj Baskinta all year round, annual apple festival in summer.
Altitude: 1,350 meters.
Climate: Mediterranean, moderate in winter as in summer, snow on the heights.
Not to miss:
* The memorial garden, the sculpture and the tomb of Mikhail Neaimy.
* The summer house of Mikhail Neaimy.
* The family home of the writer Suleiman Kettaneh.
* The cave of Sayf al-Dawla.
* Abdallah Ghanem Cultural Center.
* Mar Roukoz churches.
* Mar Sassine convent.
* The cross of Bakiche.
How to access it?
To go to Baskinta, it is possible to take the route of Antelias, Bickfaya, Bteghrine, Baskinta, or the route passing by Kfardebiane, Bqaatouta, Baskinta. Or, at Nahr el-Mott, take the Emile Lahoud highway, which leads to Baabdat, then to Dhour Choueir, and from there to Baskinta. Forty five km from Beirut, this village is perched at an altitude of 1,350 meters and peacefully rests at the foot of the iconic Sannine Mountain, majestic and white in winter.