Reset all of your expectations. Home to both skiing and sun, a mostly liberal population, and bars and nightclubs that rival those found in Europe, Lebanon is the antithesis of what most people imagine the Middle East to be like. Coolly combining everything the ancient and new world has to offer, Lebanon is a country that startles as much as it amazes.
Hugging a long coastline on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, this small country of just 3.7 millions has far more things to see and do than its size and population might suggest. Lebanon’s capital of cool, Beirut, is most likely to be your first port of call. Labelled everything from “The Paris of the Middle East” to “the party capital of the Arab world” and the “the adrenalin sports capital of the Middle East”, it won’t be long before you realise why Beirut was once one of the world’s most fashionable travel destinations.
Seafront delights like Pigeon Rock and the kilometre long Corniche all nod towards a luxurious summer destination but while sites like the awe-inspiring Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque remain in perfect condition, sadly political instability means Lebanon’s tourism market is showing signs of wear and tear.
Those that do visit will rejoice in the fact that the country’s relatively small size means that from Beirut it’s less than two hours to most of Lebanon’s main attractions. These include the Jeita Grotto, an awe-inspiring cave system that’s been nominated to be one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and the impressive Roman sites of Baalbek and Aanjar, two more of Lebanon’s not to be missed attractions.
Add to your itinerary the historic, picturesque port of Byblos. Home to Roman remains, a Crusader castle and a beautifully restored souk, Byblos is a true microcosm of the civilisations that have inhabited Lebanon over the past centuries.
Head south of Beirut and you’ll find Tyre, a pretty city by the bay, which is home to the world’s largest Roman hippodrome. An easy drive north will take you to Jounieh, a coastal city known for its seaside resorts and busy nightlife. Jounieh is where you can visit The Our Lady of Lebanon statue and enjoy its sweeping views of the city.
A Middle-Eastern ski holiday? It's no mirage!
A few hours driver further north and you might think you’ve gone too far and arrived in Switzerland. No it’s just the ski fields at Mt Lebanon and you don’t even need chocolate to feel like you’re in Switzerland because nearby is Lebanon’s capital of sweets. Famous for its Mamluk architecture, critics agree that Tripoli is home to both the best Baklava and the best souk in the country.
Of course you don’t have to travel as far north as Tripoli to enjoy outstanding food in Lebanon and the country’s cuisine is one of its biggest cultural exports. It might even be an idea to pack a larger sized pair of pants because it’s hard to dine like a king in Lebanon. From fresh fish to mouthwatering lamb, the food in Lebanon is widely considered to be the richest in the region with local staples enjoyed as delicacies throughout the world.
On a sombre note, many Lebanese land border crossing have been highly publicised as unsafe to cross and at the time of writing this remains the case. While getting to Lebanon can be tricky by land, thankfully it’s easier now than ever to fly and Beirut International Airport is well connected to many European and Middle Eastern airports.
Located only a few kilometres south of the city, Beirut International Airport is further accessible to North America, Asia and Australia travelers via a stopover and increasing numbers of code-sharing agreements means that if the political situation stabilises, both the tourism industry and travelers might once again have their time in the sun.