Day 1: Arrive Beirut. You will be met and transferred to your hotel. This evening there is a group meeting with the guide after which you will have the chance to experience your first taste of this vibrant city. Take an evening walk along the Corniche (sea front) and enjoy a beer looking out over Pigeon Rocks at sundown, or head downtown to modern Beirut where you will find live music and a thriving nightlife.
Day 2: Day in Beirut. This former international resort to the jet set experienced a troubled period of civil war in the 1970's. Today Beirut is a thriving capital, rich with history and boasts a vibrant, lively community. Visit the national museum for a fascinating insight into Lebanese history. Situated on the city's Green Line, the former divide between the city's Christian and Muslim communities. Then walk to the Place d'Etoile, home to the Lebanese parliament and buzzing with pavement cafes and unique shops. There will be time to sort out any bike issues today.
Day 3: Beirut to Beit Al Dine. We leave the bustling cosmopolitan atmosphere of Beirut behind, and head out into the countryside of the Chouff district. Today we ride 50 km south-east along twisting roads to Beit Al Dine, passing the costal city of Damour then heading up into the mountains. Initially as we leave Beirut and ride along the caost the roads will be busy. Once we leave the coast we head into a 1000 m climb into the mountains. This will be a long and steep ride.
Masser Beit Al Dine is in the heart of the Mannasef area and overlooks the Alley Mountains. A small town in the Chouff, it is home to the imposing Beiteddine Palace which hosts the Beiteddine Festival every summer. Typically for the 19th C the palace has oriental architecture; it took thirty years to build and is a myriad of endless rooms with multicoloured mosaic floors and a wealth of features.
Day 4: To Baalbek. We set off today continuing along the Bekaa valley to Baalbek. The area is traditionally agricultural and was known as the 'breadbasket' of the Roman Empire. Today the region's wines are gaining recognition throughout the world notably Ksara and Kefraya. We cycle through wheat fields and vineyards between snow-capped mountains. The valley is home to Hezbollah and their distinctive yellow flags can be seen everywhere, more and more so as we reach Baalbek. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984 the city boasts fine examples of Roman architecture.
Day 5: The Temple of Jupiter and ride to Bcharre. This morning we will visit the Temple of Jupiter. The largest temple to be found in the Roman Empire, its 6 Corinthian columns tower over their surroundings at a height of 22 m. A museum is housed in underground tunnels. After lunch we head towards the small town of Bcharre, nestling on the side of the steep Qadisha Valley at 1650m. With distinctive red-tiled roofs and olive groves, the town has a Mediterranean feel.
This road is only open during the summer months. Bcharre is the birthplace of Khalil Gibran Lebanon's most famous author The community of Bcharre is known to be highly courageous and tribal by nature. They speak with a distinctive accent, being the only area of Lebanon where Aramaic was spoken into the 1800's. Just a few miles beyond the town are the ancient Cedars of Lebanon now a modest grove of trees where once vast cedar forests populated the land. Several of the older trees are 1000 years old some are believed to be over 1500 years of age.
Day 6: Bcharre to Tripoli. Departing the picturesque surroundings of Bcharre, with it's idle air, we head towards the coast and our destination, Lebanon's 'second city', the major sea port of Tripoli. The road to Tripoli is one of the most stunning in Lebanon. You will want to stop and enjoy the lovely views along this route. Tripoli is a prosperous and lively city with modern and old towns. The Crusader Castle of Raymond de Saint-Giles (the Tripoli Citadel) is a fortress dating back to 1102. The city also boasts an array of mosques from the Marmeluke era. Tripoli is renowned for its olive oil based soap-making, one of its oldest industries. Hand made soaps are still produced and sold in the souqs.
Day 7: Cross border to Krak des Chevaliers. This morning we leave Tripoli and ride out of the lush green Qadisha valley, with its roaming banana tree fields, through the Akkar district, towards the Syrian border. Entering into Syria will take up a chunk of the day, but we will be rewarded once we cross over the border and head towards Krak des Chevaliers. Your first impressions of Syria will be lasting ones. You will see the castle from afar and feel its imposing presence as you approach. The castle occupies a strategic position between Tripoli and Homs, up on a cliff high above sea level and is a model medieval fortress.
Day 8: Rest day Krak des Chevaliers. Described by T E Lawrence as 'the finest castle in the world' Qala'al-Hosn or Krak des Chevaliers is an unmissable feature of Syria. It is the best preserved and most imposing of the Crusader castles in the Middle East, and on such a grand and complex scale it is spell bounding. As we are staying the night here you will have the opportunity to enjoy sunset with picturesque light and shadows cast over the fortress, or sunrise when the castle is often shrouded in mist. The area is known locally as 'The valley of the Christians'; the St George Monastery is nearby and there is also a well preserved Roman amphitheatre.
Day 9: Krak des Chevaliers to Homs. Today we cycle the 40 km through rolling hills to Homs. The town rose to prominence during the Roman era as an important regional centre with close trading ties to Palmyra. Hiding within the dull industrial outskirts is a relaxed friendly city boasting a maze of alleyways, home to the Homs souqs. The traders are as happy to spend time chatting with visitors as selling their wares. In both the souqs and the Christian quarter you will see examples of Malmuk architecture in the numerous and often dilapidated buildings.
Day 10: Homs to Palmyra. Today we head south. Away from the city the fields are loaded with crops of cotton, wheat and sugar beet; there are remains of ancient buildings, reflecting the area's rich history. Leaving the lush rolling countryside behind us we enter the desert, with a suddenadn dramatic change from greenery to barren terrain. We cycle around 130 km along the flat desert road to Palmyra we will see hills in the distance. There is one short stop along the way. Sandstorms do blow up from time to time. Palmyra (the Roman name) or Tadmor ( the Syrain) both mean date palm. Located on the old silk Road and known as 'bride of the desert' Palmyra is an ancient caravan town beside Syria's only oasis, with lush green palms in an arid setting. It is a hub of tourist activity and undoubtedly Syria's leading attraction. There are frequent minibuses ferrying tourists along the roads, which will pass us as we travel. This strategic location was an ideal stopping point for traders travelling from Iraq to Syria trading silk from China to the Mediterranean.
Day 11: Rest day in Palmyra. This morning you will be free to venture into the town. The main bazaar street of Palmyra has just about everything on offer. After lunch you will want to join the locals in finding welcome shade as an overwhelming heat descends over the area. It is best to make your visit to the town's stunning ruins at sunrise or sunset when the buildings are bathed in beautiful light. The Temple of Bel, the colonnade, the funerary towers, the hypogeum of 3 brothers, and the Arab castle are all in close proximity of one other.
Day 12: Palmyra to Al Qaryatayn. Today we cycle to the village of Al Qaryatan, which is located in the desert on the Damascus to Palmyra trade route, on the Roman limes (border line of the empire). This oasis settlement has been occupied for centuries. Located to the west of the village is the Dayr Mar Elian esh Sharqi (the monastery of St. Julian of the East), the site is used by both Christians and Muslims. Christians call the saint Mar Elian, to Muslims he is known as Ahmed Hauri. A festival of Mar Elian on the 9th of September each year attracts coach loads from the nearby villages as well as Christian and Muslim participants from Qaryatayn. Local people regularly sleep in the monastery believing this will cure illness. We will spend the night here.
Day 13: Al Qaryatayn to Malula. This morning we travel to the unique isolated village of Malula, located in the barren Qalamun Mountains with a population of just 5000. Ancient houses cling dramatically to this cleft in the mountains; the area is the one of the few remaining places where the ancient Aramaic, the language of Jesus' is still spoken. There are several holy sites to visit here in a place that has long been a haven to Christians, including one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. Modern roads now connect this unique town to the outside world.
Day 14: Malula to Damascus. This morning we will make an early start on the final leg of our journey. We will ride along winding roads through rocky hills leaving behind this ancient community, heading to Damascus, the enchantingly beautiful Syrian Capital. As we approach the city the roads become busy and congested.
Day 15: Damascus. After a leisurely breakfast you will have the day to take in some of the wonders of Damascus. Enclosed within ancient walls is the Old City, and at the heart of it is the Umayyad Mosque, with huge dome and minarets rising splendidly above its surroundings. The narrow alleys and ancient buildings of old Damascus are filled with sightseers and bargain hunters finding their way around the souq. If you venture out into the Modern Town you will find plenty of restaurants and European-style cafes to stop for a break before visiting the national museum. A farewell evening stroll through the winding streets of the old town will give you the flavour of a still traditional way of life as backgammon boards are dusted off and play commences.
Day 16: Transfer to the airport for the flight home.
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