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 across whilst enjoying your lunch / dinner.
Mhanna sur Mer is one of the most famous addresses in Lebanon. The restaurant has a huge terrace on the bay of Amchit and a chic interior lobby. The restaurant has a wonderful view over the sea especially at sunset.
Mhanna sur Mer serves Lebanese mezze, fish and grills. You can choose your fish from a display, it is then weighted and cooked following your preferences. The food is excellent! The meal is followed by a generous variety of fruits offered by the house.
Sitting majestically on a hill surrounded by terraced gardens and orchards, Beiteddine Palace is one of the highlights of the Chouf Mountains. This restored 19th-century gem features sumptuous interiors, views over the surrounding hills and an important archaeological collection. Although conceived by Italian architects, the palace incorporates many traditional forms of Arab design and is a model of elegance. In summer, it's the venue of a well-known arts festival. The village is around 50km southeast of Beirut.
Beiteddine Palace was built over a period of 30 years in the early 19th century by Emir Bashir Chehab II, Ottoman-appointed governor of the region. Its name means ‘House of Faith’, acknowledging the older Druze hermitage that originally occupied the site. During the French mandate the palace was used for local administration, and after 1930 it was declared a historic monument. In 1943 Lebanon’s first president after independence declared it his summer residence. The palace was extensively damaged during the Israeli invasion; it’s estimated that up to 90% of the original contents were lost during this time. When fighting ended in 1984, the site was claimed by the Druze militia, and Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, ordered its restoration. In 1999 the Druze returned it to the government.
We would like to take this opportunity to share a very exciting event that is taking place at Beiteddine Festival this Summer which we are certainly attending, and if you are considering a trip to Lebanon, this would be a perfect excuse to visit!
Some of you may know of the famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. "Broken Wings", a new musical based on the life of Kahlil Gibran, will be featuring at the festival this July. You can get your tickets here.
Don't forget to let us know if you do choose to visit Beirut this Summer (or any time!) so that we can get you the very best rates and packages on your trip. You can do this by emailing us.
Now, let's move on to the food and drinks (always the main focus on holiday, right?!).
We will begin with heading into Downtown Beirut.
Exploring Downtown Beirut on foot will leave you with a panoramic view of the city’s fabulously eclectic architecture, whilst exploring some fabulous shops and stopping for a coffee, lunch, and/or shisha along the way.
Lebanon is one of the best fashion and shopping places in the region. The rise of the fashion and shopping industry in Lebanon is largely due to the local appetite for fashion and glamour as well as the influx of regional tourism.
From large department stores, malls, fashion houses, and fashion runaways to some of the best and most recognised designers in the world like Elie Saab, Lebanon has something for every shopping lover. Downtown Beirut is one of the main areas for shopping in Lebanon, as well as Achrafieh, Verdun and Kaslik.
One of our favourite restaurants nearby is Babel, based in the heart of Zeitounay Bay.
Looking for the best seafood in Beirut? Babel is what you're looking for! This Lebanese restaurant attests to the creativity of the locals, and is a very popular place. If you want to try Lebanese food with a high-end twist, Babel is definitely the place to go.
Zeitounay Bay is the perfect area to have a stroll along the sea front, whilst taking in the gorgeous views of the sea (and the yachts!).
If you're looking for more traditional, Lebanese food, we recommend visiting Liza in Achrafieh.
"It all started in Paris...Named after one of its owners, Liza Asseily, the restaurant has now stretched out and has recently opened in Lebanon. Known as a contemporary Lebanese restaurant, it is set in a beautifully renovated old 19th century Lebanese villa."
Some of our other favourite restaurants include Pacifico (perfect for the youngsters who want to enjoy cocktails and delicious Mexican food on their outdoor terrace), Kampai for those who love Japanese/Asian cuisine, and Em Sherif, "a landmark in Lebanese cuisine".
Moving on to the night life!
Firstly, we HAVE to tell you about MusicHall. MusicHall is a cabaret-style musichall theatre, specialising in live entertainment and cultural showbiz. It is located at Starco Center on Omar Daouk Street between Rue Petro Paoli and Rue Chateaubriand in the city centre of Beirut. This is one of the most Unique experiences that you will immerse yourself into when visiting Lebanon, and you really need to make time for it on your trip!
It hosts short live world fusion musical acts unveiling talents from around the globe in a series of eclectic stage performances ranging from Latin, Gipsy, French and Oriental to Opera, Rock, Reggae, and many other music genres.
If you fancy doing a bit of bar-hopping and visiting a few bars in one go, then you should head to Mar Mikhael where you can find plenty of venues to choose from!
Some of our favourites (where you can enjoy some mouth-watering and flavoursome cocktails!) include The Bohemian Bar, Stairway, Lockstock, Anise, Central Station and Rustique.
Now... where are all our skiing fans at? Did you know that you can ski in Lebanon?
You need to take a trip to Mzaar Ski Resort in Lebanon.
Lebanon is one of the only places in the world where during the ski season, you can go up to the mountains and ski, and then travel down to the beaches of Beirut and sunbathe. Sounds like a pretty ideal situation to us!
(Photos taken from @mzaarskiresort on Instagram)
"Mzaar Ski Resort is widely known as the Middle East’s largest ski resort. With a legacy of ski culture and mountain energy and a spirit of adventure, Mzaar has driven locals and tourists to call it home. Beyond it’s 25 chairlifts, 50 runs and 100km of terrain, Mzaar is home to an entertainment scene with eclectic restaurants, boisterous bars, topping the list of things to do. Everyone will find no shortage of way to create lasting memories during a day, weekend or holiday."
Lastly, we want to tell you about the The Sporting Club, a legendary Lebanese haunt!
"If you’re from Beirut, your parents are bound to have told you stories about the times they spent at Sporting in the 1960s. Since then, remarkably little has changed at this Beiruti gem. At any given time of the year you’ll find sun-lovers basking in the Lebanese sun, right in the heart of the city, hidden behind the traffic filled streets of Ras Beirut, and nestled behind Beirut’s notorious ferris wheel. You’ll find every type of Lebanese character here: from beautifully bronze Lebanese women soaked in coconut oil, to sweet old men playing backgammon with their childhood friends, to groups of young girls and boys playing basketball, to party-loving twenty-somethings drinking beers and enjoying music on their portable speakers.
The beach is renowned for its authentic Lebanese vibe, as well as for its unmatched simplicity that coincides with an equally unmatched sense of luxury. It’s nothing like the fancy beach resorts that Lebanon has so much of, it’s simple, comfortable, and unmistakably Lebanese. Unassuming as Sporting Club is, you can still treat yourself to a five star seafood meal at the Feluka Restaurant upstairs, or enjoy a more laid back Lebanese meal at the poolside restaurant which overlooks the Mediterranean sea."
...and there you have it! That's our list of must-see's of Lebanon.
If you have any questions about any of the above or need any help with your hotel bookings, flights and travel bookings in general, U&I Travel are your one stop travel shop who can deal with all of your needs! You can email us or fill out an enquiry form on our website here.
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