Lebanon is one of those places which you hear about, and many people don't know too much about it, other than what they hear about in the media (which we all know is always 100% true. Ahem!). Whenever we visit, we often get asked the question "but is it safe?". The answer to that is yes. It's no more un-safe than London today, or any other place in the world these days. In other words, don't be afraid to go there, trust us, it is one of the most beautiful, Unique countries to visit in the world.
"Condé Nast Traveler picked Beirut as 2013’s Top City in the Middle East, with nearby Byblos coming in second place over Dubai, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Where else in the world can you enjoy a first-rate oriental meze at an open-air restaurant, seated comfortably next to a burqa-clad woman on one side and a bejeweled jazz singer on the other?"
With U&I Travel founder, Natalie Naaman, being half Lebanese herself, Lebanon is where her father grew up and where many of her family members are still based. With that in mind, it's a regular travel destination for Natalie and her family and friends, so when you take a look at our recommendations below, you can be sure that these really are must-see's!
So, here we go. Please note that the below recommendations are in no particular order, they are all on our priority list!
Let's start with the history and landmarks. Lebanon has been through A LOT over the years, and it's incredible to be able to still see the remains of buildings and sites that have been there for years and years.
Lebanon is a country of karst areas rich with mountains that offer spectacular scenery and scenic views, and the mountainous caves are spread in different regions. In one of these regions in the valley of Nahr El-Kalb, at 18 km North of Beirut, Jeïta Grotto is found, one of the most marvellous natural wonders in the Middle-East.
A lower cave (temp.16°) opened to public in 1958 and where visitors will take a short dreamy cruise in a rowboat at a distance of some 400 m from the cave’s total of 7800 m, and marvel at the majestic forms of otherworldly concretions. You will discover a huge stalagmite formation leaning to one side similar to the Pisa tower. This boat ride offers a relaxing trip whilst gliding calmly into a tranquil river which reflects delicate limestone formations in a profound silence broken occasionally by the melodious sound of water drops.
An upper cave (temp.20°) inaugurated in 1969 and where visitors will have a walking tour and be staggered at the view of extraordinary stone forms of curtains, columns, draperies, and mushrooms at a distance of some 700 m from the cave’s total length of 2200 m. The cavern is so serene that it seems like an enormous cathedral. You will find one of the biggest stalactites in the world measuring 8,20 m as well as tiny stalagmites looking like candles, pillars and columns in several sizes, coral pipes, giant organs, flowing stone draperies and curtains lengthening 28 m, a giant tulip, a big mushroom heightening 26 m, autumn trees, flasks, etc.
Fun fact: Jeita Grotto was chosen as an official finalist for representing Lebanon and was selected as one of the 14 worldwide landmarks in the new 7 wonders of the world competition.
You can find out more about Jeita Grotto here.
Located just an hour from Beirut, Byblos is a popular touristic destination among those looking to escape the chaos of Beirut.
Like many of Lebanon’s coastal destinations, Byblos has witnessed the onslaught of Lebanon’s conquering armies, from the Phoenicians to the Greeks to the Crusaders. Luckily, these great civilizations left relics of their conquest behind, and ruins from ancient times abound in Byblos. For those more interested in modern times, the city also offers ample beach resorts, restaurants, cafes, and bars along the coast.
Byblos is believed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, and some scholars even say that writing was invented in ancient Byblos. Even those who are not particularly interested in archaeology will find the site incredible, given its incredible history.
Layers of civilization are literally piled on top of one another in this expansive archaeological site. There is a Persian fortress from the 5th century B.C., a Crusader castle, medieval city walls, and an Obelisk temple that dates back to the times of the ancient Egyptians. You can spend your day looking for each of these ancient relics, or meander about this garden of ruins aimlessly and simply take in the expansive history that defines Lebanon.
Lunch at Mhanna Sur Mer
After visiting the ruins and sites, we recommend going to one of our favourite restaurants in Byblos, with one of the most stunning views you will ever come ac