Not quite Eden, but still an amazing Middle East landscape
Three main valleys punctuate the Lebanese countryside. One, the Adonis Valley, takes its name from the story that this is where the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite, met and nurtured the astonishingly handsome youth Adonis. It's extremely beautiful, and with the help of the Lebanese mountain trail maps, easy to make a short expedition out there.
The Afqa Spring is supposed to be the place where Adonis died. In Greek mythology, Adonis, born from Myrrha (who had by then been turned into a myrrh tree) bled to death at the foot of the spring, ravaged by a wild boar sent by Ares, who was jealous of Aphrodite's affection for the youth.
In summer the waterfall isn't as powerful as after the spring melt, but it's still a stunning grotto and a powerful water jet, making it one of the most splendid mountain waterfalls in the Middle East. The water continues through the valley as the Adonis River.
If you walk through the valley, with help of the new trail maps, you discover a landscape which mixes an element of the effects of barren heat with cultivated greenery in this fertile area. Generations of farmers have sculpted the hillside into terraces to make their work easier, and you find a host of plants growing.
The valley is resonant with the religious life of the centuries. There remain the ruins of the temple of Aphrodite Aphakitis, a site for ritual prostitution until the time of Constantine - this has been a sacred area for millennia, as people sense the immense power and beauty of the natural surroundings. Aligned centrally between Byblos and Baalbek (a major Roman religious site), Afqa also points to the summer solstice sunset, looking out over the Mediterranean.
Blocks of Syenite granite mark out where the site was, although it's now destroyed. It's the epitome of a Romantic Ruin, the echo of the mighty culture which once was there. As ever, the life-giving water is important, and there are also the remains of a Roman aqueduct demonstrating the Romans' ability to tame and dominate nature.
The local people mainly speak Arabic, with little or no French or English. You'll therefore need language skills, or a guide, if you're expecting to get any support. Hezbollah flags fly along the main road, so women would be sensible to dress modestly in order to feel more comfortable and be more respectful. There aren't very many amenities (if any, depending on the season), so you need to go prepared for a day out. It's in the middle of nowhere, but with such fantastic mythological history and such superb countryside to explore, it really is worth making the trip out there.
It's quite hard to get lost on a mountain-side with limited tracks, so if you're careful with a map then this is an accessible hike for general tourist walkers. Make sure you do take plenty of water - the altitude makes it feel slightly cooler, but in summer there is still a fierce sun.
It should only take just over an hour to get there from Jbeil (Byblos) or Beirut, but it might well take longer if the roads are bad, or you find yourself in that ever-amusing tourist plight of being stuck behind a herdsman with his flocks. Going out into the countryside is an excellent way to see the country proper, as it were, away from the tourist sites and big cities. In winter it might not be accessible, as snow closes mountain passes.