It's hard to believe that less than two hours from our sun-drenched UAE shores, lies perfectly powdered slopes, ripe for skiing. Though renowned for its nightlife and beautiful Mediterranean coast, Lebanon offers so much more: a scenic mountain range, stunning ski resorts and perfect pistes (comparable with those offered in the Alps) for four months of the year, from mid-December.
And the best news is that even the highest-set resorts are just a short drive from the coast, and from the party capital Beirut, making it possible to alpine ski in the morning and waterski in the afternoon. As well as six ski resorts with a plethora of stunning slopes that cater to skiers and snowboarders of all levels, ski-in, ski-out hotels, and apres-ski activities, there's also a vast expanse of snowy high plateaus, ideal for cross-country skiing.
Ideal for serious skiiers: Mzaar Ski Resort
Where? Located in the Kfardebian village, Mzaar is the closest resort to Beirut, just 46km (one hour drive) from Beirut airport.
What it offers? Lebanon's biggest and most well-equipped ski resort, it offers world-class facilities, including 42 slopes, 18 chairlifts and 80km of ski tracks, for all levels, up to 2,465m, where you can enjoy breathtaking views over the Bekaa Valley, and even Beirut on a clear day. An ideal resort for beginners, the lower slopes are wide and gentle, though intermediate and experienced skiiers, as well as snowboarders, snowmobilers and cross-country enthusiasts, are well-catered for.
Highlights: You can hire a guide from the ski school to show you other exciting alpine areas. For dining, Faraya and its neighbouring Faqra Village offer amazing apres-ski dining, entertainment and nightlife (even Beirutis come up here to dine), with everything from Lebanese and French Alpine cuisine to Japanese and Italian.
Extras: Take the Cheers On The Top tour (Dh480 for two people), which takes you on a skidoo tour of the Mzaar hills, before setting you up on one of the most scenic spots on the mountain with wine and snacks for a snowy picnic.
Stay at... Families on a budget will love the dorm-like Les Elfes Mzaar hotel. Great value for money, this ski-in, ski-out hotel also has its own in-house instructors for kids. Alternatively, blow your budget at the only five-star resort in the region, the Intercontinental Mzaar Lebanon Mountain Resort & Spa. With direct access to the slopes and the safari centre (which offers skidoo tours and other outdoor activities), this hotel offers plenty of dining options and boasts the highest spa in Lebanon.
When you're not skiing...Visit the stunning 30m natural bridge of Kfardebian, formed by wind and water erosion, and the ruins of a Phoenician temple or Roman tower.
Details: For more information, visit www.skimzaar.com.
Ideal for apres-ski activities: The Cedars
Where? Located in Lebanon's highest range at 2,000m within a forest of cedars, it's just two hours from Beirut.
What it offers? Fusing quality of snow with stunning scenery, the pistes form a natural amphitheatre, while its high elevation means it offers a longer season - from early November. Five chairlifts take you to the top of the mountain for off-piste skiing or down-hill thrills, while four baby slopes are ideal for beginners. Cross country skiing is unmatched here, mainly because of the stunning surroundings.
Highlights: The scenery is amazing, so take a skidoo trip to take it all in. Or, just 30 minutes down the mountain lies a plethora of rivers, springs, waterfalls and caves, as well as monasteries and interesting villages well worth a visit.
Extras: The Cedars Village, as well as Bsharre - just 15 minutes away - is the perfect spot for dining and shopping.
Stay at... Ideal for families and just minutes from the slopes, Cedrus Hotel boasts breathtaking views of the northern mountains and the Cedars nature reserve. It offers one of the finest gourmet restaurants in the region, Le Pichet, and extra activities like hiking and paragliding. For a cosier option, try the highest hotel in the Middle East, La Cabane. This ski-in, ski-out hotel provides a warm, rustic feel, with traditional Lebanese cuisine and panoramic views of the coast, and even of Cyprus on a clear day.
When you're not skiing... As well as exploring the Cedars forest, visit various sites of interest: the neighbouring village Bsharre is the birthplace and resting place of Lebanon's most famous poet, artist and novelist, Gibran Khalil Gibran. Here, you can visit the Gibran museum, or explore a number of Maronite churches and monasteries scattered throughout the mystic Kadisha valley.
Details: For more information, check out www.skileb.com.
Ideal for families: Laklouk Village
Where? Situated on a plateau at an altitude of 1,750m-2,000m and encircled by jagged ridges and terraces with thousands of trees, Laklouk Village stands between Faraya-Mzaar and The Cedars and is 62km from Beirut (1 hour 15 minutes).
What it offers? One of the best resorts for cross-country and alpine skiing, Laklouk Village is great for both families and adventurers, offering beautiful scenery, dramatic views and a busy pedestrian village, as well as loads of action-packed outdoor activities. For skiing, the village offers six slopes - two beginners, one intermediate and three advanced - up to 1,914m.
Highlights: The outdoor activities you can sign up to here are unlimited - try rock climbing, biking, archery, shooting and tennis.
Extras: It boasts a professional ski school for both skiing and snowboarding lessons at all levels, in private or in larger groups.
Stay at... Laklouk offers three different properties, including the five-star luxury Shangri-La, which sits just one minute from the slopes with ski-out options and a children's playground. Or try The Hotel Nirvana, also a minute from the slopes, with 30 cosy rooms.
When you're not skiing... There are tonnes of places of interest nearby, including the legendary cave of Afqa (15 minutes drive away) and the abyss at Balou. The latter is one of the most remarkable of Lebanon's beauty spots with its natural arches and a stunning waterfall.
Details: For more information, visit www.lakloukresort.com.
And the others...
Qanat Bakish Just 47km from Beirut (1 hour 30 minute drive) this old village - located in the Kfardebian area, near Faqra and Mzaar ski resorts - is one of the best preserved towns in Lebanon and its ski resort is well-known for the quality of its snow and its lack of crowds, though for the moment it has only one chairlift. The three-star Snowland Hotel is the only hotel with direct access to the ski slopes - including two beginners ski lifts.
Zarrour Just 54km from Beirut and one of the smallest, this private club ski resort and country club offers a good quality of snow, lots of winter outdoor activities and a panoramic view of the famous Valley of the Skulls. It's also well-known for excellent cross-country skiing over 4km on the Sannine mountain.
Faqra Club One of the world's first private ski clubs, this resort is located in the village of Kfardebian (45km from Beirut) and offers lovely chalets in beautiful gardens with tons of facilities at the club's hotel: L'Auberge de Faqra, including a heated swimming pool, squash, sauna, tennis courts and a fitness club.
Fly from Dubai to Beirut daily - 1 hour 40 minutes - with Emirates, flydubai, Gulf Air and MEA.
Emirates Holidays (www.emiratesholidays.com) and Dnata (firstname.lastname@example.org) both organise skiing packages to Lebanon, mainly to Mzaar. Staying at the InterContinental Mountain Resort & Spa, Emirates Holiday packages start from Dh4,480 per person for three nights half-board. Or build your own all-inclusive skiing packages to Mzaar, Cedars or Laklouk by visiting www.skileb.com. Simply choose your dates, select your hotel or chalets and add extra services.
Buy ski passes before you go through www.skileb.com, via your hotel, or simply when you're there. A full-day slope access ranges from $23-$57 (Dh85-210), while half-day access will set you back $17-$23 (Dh65-85). Resorts are open from 8am to 3-4pm daily, and all offer ski rental stores, with equipment for hire, from $5-12 (Dh20-45) daily.