Some say that more than a century ago when British voyagers arrived there by train for a relaxing layover on their way to visiting the majestic ruins of Baalbek, they exclaimed that it was ‘so far!’ Others attribute its name to the whistling of the train arriving at the station, ‘sawfar el tren’. We wanted to catch spring early and decided to roam around the green streets of scenic Sofar, once the vacationing spot of Beirut socialites and foreign celebrities.
The village came into the spotlight after the construction of the Ain Sofar train station in the late 1800s and the nearby Grand Hotel. A small pathway from the station leads to the Grand Hotel, which was originally envisioned as a spa retreat due to the presence of a water source, or ‘ain’, and the cool and dry climate in summertime. The next few decades, Sofar became the theatre of a bustling lifestyle. The Grand Hotel was home to Lebanon’s first Casino. The hotel’s night club hosted international music stars and on the outdoor terrace, where an impressive cedar tree stands, socialites gathered to dance the night away.
We wandered around the train station which stands still, waiting to hear the whistle blow someday, and tried to take a peek at the Grand Hotel’s timeless yet wounded façade, behind which were held diplomatic conferences and grand balls. We then took a walk around the village stumbling upon iconic hotels and villas, and ended our tour down at the corniche, lined with beautiful old houses and a view over Lamartine valley.