Lebanon is a beautiful country and a fascinating holiday destination. Lebanon has it all (and more than it wished for): culture and tradition, mountains and ski resorts, sea and sun, exciting nightlife, great healthy food, high fashion and gorgeous women, more manicure and pedicure salons than in Hollywood, fast cars and completely nuts driving, political instability, war and pollution. Did I mention the great food ?
As Lebanon is a small and compact country, driving is a practical way to explore different regions and sites. I would avoid the car in Beirut itself though as you will pass more time in the traffic jams than you would actually be driving. Option nr. 2 in Beirut is walking , but that’s kind of suicide as sidewalks are non-existant in most areas. Lebanese people don’t walk and they will think you’re mad if you do walk. Crossing a road can be very exciting (and fatal?!). Traffic lights are a rarity.
Discovering the capital is probably best (and safest) by cab (which you can recognise by the red license plates). If you do drive, take care for the Lebanese driving style (read about the Lebanese driving license and you’ll understand why), which is all about being reckless and fast and using the horn a lot. Highways are in good state but smaller roads can be in bad shape, especially the secundary mountain roads.
When driving you will come across checkpoints every now and then. When you see one, you should slow down, open your window, take off your sunglasses and wait for a handwave from the soldier which means you can drive on. They sometimes ask for your id but that rarely happens. They are just there and you end up getting used to them.
I think Lebanon is a great and unique holiday destination if you follow some security rules. The political situation has been fine for years now but the region is not one of the most stable ones in the world so it’s wise to check the latest travel advise before booking. In principle the most fragile regions are the South of Lebanon, South of the Litani River, near the Israeli border and Tripoli in the North can be tense at times.
Libanon can be roughly divided in four regions: The coast (225 km long), the Lebanon mountains (160 km long, highest point 3,088 m) runs parallel to the coast, de Beqa’a valley in the North, the Anti-Lebanon mountains (150 km long, highest peak 2,814 m) between the Mount Lebanon and Syria.
Bustling capital on the beautiful Mediterranean. Beirut has anything you wish for on material and cultural level. As for landscapes and nature get out of this lively city and head for the countryside. It’s not exactly a beautiful city, lots of concrete and high flats, but it has a lot to offer: great museums, great entertaining, great people, great clubs and utterly great restaurants (don’t miss out on dinner at Leila’s while in Beirut. Seriously don’t, it’s so yummy!!)
Impressive archaeological treasures site in the Beqa’a valley. The temple of Bacchus is the best preserved ancient temple in the world. It is larger than the Parthenon. The most famous sight in Baalbeck is the Temple of Jupiter with six large columns.Once a year in summer the ruins of Baalbek are an open air podium for the Baalbek International Festival with interesting international artists. Baalbek is a UNESCO world heritage site. While in the Beqa’a valley, you might also want to stop by the Taanayel farms for a relaxed day out in the nature!
3. Jeita grotto
The caves are situated in the Nahr al-Kalb valley close to Beirut, about 20 km. You could combine the visit with a visit to the zoo if you’re travelling with kids. The caves have been closed for years due to the war but are fortunately open for tourists again. One part of the tour takes place by boat, en there also is a small trip by mini cable cars at the beginning of the tour to get at the entrance of the caves. There is an upper cave and a lower cave. The lower cave can only be visited by boat since it channels an underground river. One can find the world’s largest known stalactite in the upper galleries.
Byblos is one of the oldest cities in the world, if not the oldest, that has been continuously inhabited. It has an important archaeological site as well as a nice cosy little port with good restaurants. Have lunch at Bab El-Mina with wonderful views of the port. A good place to chill!
The Mzaar resort right above the village of Faraya is a large ski resort (top 2465m) with modern facilities and a luxurious Intercontinental hotel. It has 42 slopes and 80 kilometers of ski tracks. It’s about a 40 minutes drive from Beirut. So you could on the perfect day, swim in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Close to Faraya you will find the village of Faqra where you can see the ruins of a Phoenician temple and a Roman tower. Next to Faqra there also is the spectacular natural bridge of Kfardebian formed by wind and water erosion. It’s 38 m and it’s hard to believe the bridge has been made by nature, it looks so perfect.
6. Beit ed-Din
While in Lebanon absolutely do not miss the impressive palace of Beit ed-Din, built in the 19th century over a period of 30 years by Emir Bechir II. It is a gorgeous example of the Lebanese architecture in that time. It’s only about 40 km from Beirut so it’s an easy daytrip (best combined with a visit to the village of Deir el-Qamar).
Look out for the annual Beiteddine Art Festival in the summer months with art exhibitions and music and theater performances. The palace also houses an interesting museum with a collection of weapons and jewelry and that kind of stuff as well as a Byzantine mosaic museum and an archeological museum. But honestly the palace itself is far more special then the museums.
7. The cedars
The pride and symbol of Lebanon. You can see the cedars not far from Bcharre (1840 m high) in a small forest in the mountains. The trees there are called Arz el Rab, meaning the cedars of the Lord (and they are a Unesco world heritage site). The trees there are the oldest of Lebanon and a few hundred years old, some say they could be two thousand years old. Anyway the region of Bcharre and the Qadisha Valley is gorgeous and perfect for hiking. The famous writer Khalil Gibran was born in Bcharre and one can visit the house he was born in.
Visit the large archaeological areas, the Phoenician port, the Roman hippodrome and the old necropolis. Tyre was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1984.
9. Deir el-Qamar
The name Deir el-Qamar means “Monastery of the Moon”. It’s a picturesque Maronite village and also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. They might as well have added the whole country as World Heritage Site at once! Visit the beautiful and typical palaces in Deir el-Qamar. A visit to Deir el-Qamar is best combined with a visit to Beit ed-Din.
The old Phoenician streets of the Southern portuary town of Sidon are filled with history. Have a walk through the old town and the Souk. Have a look at the beautiful Sea Castle and the Khan al-Franj next to it. Also visit the soap museum, it’s pretty and fun and you can buy authentic olive oil soap for your friends back home. The Great Mosque and the archaeological sites are worthwhile too.
Some stuff you may want to know:
– The official language in Lebanon is Arabic but most people speak three languages: Arabic, French, English.
– The Lebanese population is divided in about 60-70% procent Muslims and 30-40% Christians.
– The currency in Lebanon is the Lebanese pound but prices are often in LBP and (American) Dollars. You can often pay in Dollars as well. In general there are lots of ATM’s everywhere.
– Medical care in Beirut is of high standard. There are lots of pharmacies and good doctors and hospitals.
– Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate with an average of 300 sunny days a year and mild rainy winters. In the winter there is often snow in the mountains and in summer it is cooler and dryer then on the coast.
– Diesel cars are not allowed in the country. (even if you beg, smile and cry at the border…I know…I tried)