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Time Out discovers that a weekend on the pistes is within your reach Discuss this article
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As winter-ravaged holidaymakers flock to the Middle East to lap up the sun, those already living here dream of swapping the yellow stuff for a bit of white. But can you leave your desk on a Thursday evening and be on the ski lifts by morning? Read on, book your seats and don’t forget your scarf.
Think ‘Middle East’, think desert, camels and palm trees. But who thinks deep powder snow? Once the winter arrives, the region’s wealthy young things have little else on their minds. With flying times from Bahrain as short as one hour 50 minutes, you can be on the pistes before dinner is served.
Just over an hour’s drive from Beirut lies Mzaar, a ski resort established in 1957 that now boasts 80km of ski tracks and over 42 trails ranging from 1,850m-2,465m. The highest point offers one of the most spectacular views you’ll find in Lebanon – on a clear day you’ll spot the Bekaa Valley, Laqlouq, the Cedars and the coast, all from one point. The Mzaar’s wide laidback blue and red runs are perfect for beginners and intermediates and even the absolutely inept will be cruising by the end of the week. The runs may prove a little tame for the more advanced, but there are challenges to be found off-piste or on the peaks of Mzaar, Jabal Dib and Warde. It is always advisable to hire a guide from one of the ski schools to show you new tracks and offbeat areas; don’t get overconfident – pride comes before a neck-breaking fall.
For the non-skiers in pursuit of a more cosmopolitan atmosphere in the snow, Mzaar is famous for its goings on, après-ski and sometimes hedonistic New Year parties. The clientele – mostly Lebanese and Arabs, many of them fabulously wealthy – seem to save their energy for the après-ski on the terrace of La Refuge restaurant, located within the InterContinental Mzaar, which backs onto the slopes. And for those of you that love to pose, people watch and enjoy the sunshine, it’s the place to come for the day, weekend or season; you’ll almost forget that you have a job to get back to.
The InterContinental Mzaar (www.ichotels-group.com) is the most luxurious hotel in the area, with real ski-in and ski-out services and a direct connection to the slopes. The views of the mountains are jaw-to-the-floor stunning and there are all the bells and whistles (gym, pool, restaurants etc) you’d expect from a five star, plus a fair few surprises, including a bowling alley, game zone, cinema and hair salon. Standard rooms start at around US$230 (BD84.5) a night.
A far cannier alternative is a small, intimately run chalet, bed and breakfast or self-catering option, but these tend to get booked up well in advance. Of these, the Merab (www.merabhotel.com) is an attractive and intimate three-star family-run chalet hotel situated in the heart of Mzaar. Recently refurbished, the place offers singles, doubles and suites with a kitchenette. Doubles start from around US$110 (BD40.5) per night.
Eat & Drink
There is a diverse range of cuisine: Lebanese, French, Italian, international and various ‘alpine specialities’ are all well represented. If you’re eating on the mountain then you are limited to the InterContinental’s offerings (and the associated price tag), but eating in the village tends to be a more informal affair. If you’re feeling trendy, try Igloo, which serves grilled meats, salads and appetisers during the day and transforms into a club after midnight. For something more seasonal, La Fondue does exactly what it says on the tin.
The season runs from the end of December to mid-April.
Bahrain Air flies from Manama to Beirut for BD112. Visas can be bought at Beirut airport. Lift passes start at US$31 (BD11.4), US$56 (BD20.5) at weekends. Gear rental shops are scattered along the highway as you ascend to the resort, with plenty more concentrated around Faraya village and Mzaar itself.
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