Beirut Journals

Lebanon: Playground of the Middle East

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A January 2005 trip to Beirut by HobWahid

Chateau des Oliviers Photo, Beirut, Lebanon More Photos
Quote: Throw all your preconceptions out the window. It has been 14 years since the Civil War ended, and Lebanon is well on its way to becoming the Middle East's hottest destination. With beaches, nightclubs, skiing, and world-class shopping, Lebanon truly is the playground of the Middle East.

Lebanon: Playground of the Middle East

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Overview

Sidon Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
In terms of historical sights, Lebanon has surprisingly little remaining of its historical past, and the stuff that does remain pales in comparison to what's in nearby Syria, Israel, and Turkey, but there is still plenty to see, as well as Lebanon's more open atmosphere and beautiful location to make it a worthwhile visit.Beirut is the capital and the heart of Lebanon. You don't come to Beirut for historical sights, but rather, you come to enoy the world-class shopping and cuisine, hot nightclubs, and gorgeous beaches. It also has the best hotels, and most of Lebanon is accessible from there.Baalbek is Lebanon's greatest historical sight, a set of towering Roman t...Read More

Chateau des Oliviers

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Hotel | "Chateau des Oliviers (Villa Nadia)"

Chateau des Oliviers Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Located just about 4km to the south of Tripoli and set among a set of olive trees, Chateau des Oliviers is more than just a hotel, it is an experience and its owner, the decidedly rotund Nadia, is the main act. The "Chateau," designed and decorated by Nadia herself about 30 years ago, is a large house decorated with some of the most eccentric pieces possible. Suits of armor, Mameluke-style chimneys, and paintings of naked women smoking water pipes are just a few of the things that adorn her walls. As you walk around, although the place does have a certain charm to it, looking at the pieces on display, you may be surprised when Nadia tells you that sh...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Chateau des Oliviers
4km south of Tripoli
Beirut, Lebanon

Byblos Archaeological Site

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Attraction | "Byblos (Jbail)"

Byblos Archaeological Site Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Byblos (Jbail) is another one of Lebanon’s costal cities that is booming with history but has surprisingly little to show for it all. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Lebanese government and tourist board haven’t put all their efforts into developing the site and turning it into the most tourist-aimed place in all of Lebanon. Having been another major coastal city for the Phoenicians, Byblos subsequently fell into the hands of the Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, and Ottomans. Today a large portion of the city has been excavated, and remains from the long history of Byblos have been found, restored, and put on display for all the tourists to see. Although the government, in its effort to preser...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Byblos Archaeological Site
Old Town
Beirut, Lebanon

Jeita Grotto

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Attraction

Jeita Grotto Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
The Jeita Grotto is a little piece of Disneyland inside Lebanon. A series of spectacular gaves that cut deep into the mountains north of Beirut, Lebanon, has put all its effort into turning this natural wonder into the sort of tourist haven you imagine you would have found back on old Route 66. Still, besides all the cheese and pomp pumped into the site, it is well worth a visit because the caves truly are fantastic.Just a 30-minute drive from Beirut, the Jeita Grotto is easily accessible as the start of a longer day trip to the north. You must keep in mind, though, that the site gets absolutely packed with tourists in the summer months, and your best bet is to show up just at opening (aro...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Jeita Grotto
Jeita
Beirut, Lebanon

Our Lady of Harissa

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Attraction

Our Lady of Harissa Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Just north of Beirut in the happening suburb of Jouneih, home to thumping nightclubs and the Casino of Lebanon, lies Harissa, a towering hill that overlooks the whole bay of Jounieh and Beirut. And on top of this hill, keeping watch over Lebanon, stands a large statue of the Virgin Mary entitled Our Lady of Harissa. While the statue and sanctuary around it are lovely places, the real reason to come to Harissa is for some of the best views in Lebanon and for the cheesy ride up to the top.In truth, you can drive up to the top of Harissa, but that really isn’t any fun at all; to do it the Lebanese way, you have to take the gondola (or téléphérique) up to the top and then ride the funic...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Our Lady of Harissa
Harissa
Beirut, Lebanon

Baalbek Roman Ruins

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Attraction | "Baalbek"

Baalbek Roman Ruins Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
The Temples of Baalbek are the pride of Lebanon and are Lebanon’s most impressive, and noteworthy historical sights. In general, the sad story of Lebanon is that all of its historical sights pale in comparison to similar ones that can be found in nearby Turkey, Syria, or Jordan, but Baalbek is the one sight that Lebanon can claim as a unique and unlike anything else in the world.Ture, the complex of Baalbek, consists of numerous Roman temples and monuments (nothing unique in that), but what makes the sight outstanding is not only the scale of the temples but their level of preservation. They, above all other Roman era temples, give you an absolute picture of how grand these temples, and th...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Baalbek Roman Ruins
Baalbek
Beirut, Lebanon

Birthplace of Gibran

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Attraction | "Bcharré: Birthplace of Gibran"

Birthplace of Gibran Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Bcharré is easily the most beautiful town in all of Lebanon, and that is saying a lot. Set high up in the Lebanon mountains, the town is cool and green in summer and covered serenely in snow during winter. This Maronite town, sandwiched between the slopes of the mountain towering above and the cliffs of the Qadisha Valley below, provides some of the most dramatic views in the whole country and is the perfect place to stop on the way from Tripoli to Baalbek, except in the winter, when the road over the mountain is covered by 2m of snow. Bcharré is most famously known as the birthplace of Gibran Khalil Gibran, the author, poet, and painter who penned such masterpieces as The Prophet. ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Birthplace of Gibran
Bcharré
Beirut, Lebanon

Sidon (Saida)

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Attraction

Sidon (Saida) Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Sidon (Saida) was once one of the great Phoenician cities, a port from which the Phoenicians set out exploring the vast Mediterranean Sea. Today, however, the only remnant of that era is a temple outside of town that was expanded by the Romans and eventually turned into a church. Sidon did become an important name in history again, though, when the Crusaders rolled into town in 1110 and built their famous "Sea Castle" out on an island in the harbor. The Sea Castle, coupled with the Phoenician temple, makes up the most important sight in Sidon itself, but when you throw in Sidon’s small section of winding souks and the chance for some fresh seafood, a trip to Sidon is well worth your time....Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Sidon (Saida)
Corniche
Beirut, Lebanon

Beit ed-Dine Palace

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Attraction

Beit ed-Dine Palace Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Set dramatically in the Druze heartland of the Chouf Mountains, Beit ed-Dine is a beautiful 18th-century palace constructed by the rebel ruler Emir Bashir Shihab II. It is now a large monument to Druze culture and one of the singularly most impressive historical monuments in Lebanon, a must-see for all visitors to Lebanon.The palace, while not as impressive as other palaces throughout the region, is unique in that is was established by such an eccentric character as Emir Bashir, a ruthless man who backstabbed about everyone he met until the Ottomans deemed him too much of a threat and exiled him. Beit ed-Dine is a palace as eccentric as its builder and took over 30 years to be fully...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

Beit ed-Dine Palace
Beit ed-Dine
Beirut, Lebanon

Tripoli: Souks and Castles

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Story/Tip

Tripoli Photo, Tripoli, Libya
Quote:
Tripoli is the historic main city of Lebanon, the city that, until the French period, was the main port of Lebanon and one of the largest in Greater Syria. That all changed, though, during the French Mandate. The French, wanting to establish a majority Christian state, overlooked Tripoli for Beirut as a candidate for the new capitol because of its majority Sunni Muslim population. Today, though, Tripoli maintains much of its spirit and is the most historically interesting city in Lebanon. With old souks, mosques, a Crusader castle, and a friendly atmosphere, Tripoli is perhaps my favorite city in Lebanon.Because of its position far to the north and because of its majority Muslim pop...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

BO18: Beiruti Hedonism

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Attraction

Quote:
Beirut is the thumping heart of Middle Eastern nightlife, and BO18 is the center of this chaotic scene. Located in a makeshift bunker in the middle of an abandoned parking lot 2m north of central Beirut, BO18 has come to symbolize everything Beirutis want their city to be. Any Beiruti will brag to you about how BO18 is the equivalent of any club in New York, London, or Berlin, both in terms of style and hedonism. A trip to BO18 is a must for any young and wild visitor who wants to experience Beirut lifestyle to the fullest.The club itself, although it opens at 9pm, doesn’t even get started until about 1am, and if you show up at 1am, don’t be surprised if you are the only one there. Beirut’...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 3, 2005

BO18: Beiruti Hedonism
Near the Forum
Beirut, Lebanon

Taxicab Confessions: Beirut

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Story/Tip

Baalbek Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
There is no other way of saying it—Beirut has the most irritating, frustrating, and annoying taxi system of any other city in the world that I have visited, and that includes Cairo. Nowhere else have I seen a taxi system so unfriendly to tourists and so complicated that even locals are constantly frustrated by its inefficiency. That is why I have created this entry: to warn you of the absolute ridiculousness of the system and to give you the benefit of my Beirut knowledge so that you may come armed, and I do mean armed, since I actually have had a Beirut cabbie get violent with me. On the surface, the system seems rather straightforward. When taking a taxi in Beirut, you have two options:...Read More

Skiing in the Middle East?

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Story/Tip

Faraya Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
“Skiing? In the Middle East? But isn’t it all desert?”That is usually the response I get when I tell people about my ski weekend in Lebanon. Yes, Lebanon is in the Middle East, but the fact is that it is a mountainous country that boasts a couple of world-class ski areas that will entertain even the most experienced skiers. Faraya is the gem of the burgeoning Lebanese ski area, with the most lifts and best terrain. While not the equivalent of most areas you will find in the US or Europe, Faraya still has a unique feel that will impress even the most hardened skier.Faraya is just a 1-hour drive from Beirut, making it a perfectly reasonable day trip if you have a car, and it is its locat...Read More

The Beirut Experience

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Story/Tip

Beirut Photo, Beirut, Lebanon
Quote:
Beirut is more than just a historical site; it is an experience, a city like any other on earth. For most of history, Beirut was just a small fishing village on the Lebanese coast, overshadowed by more important ports to the north and the south, but during the French mandate period, Beirut became the symbol of an independent Lebanon. With independence in 1946, Beirut flourished and symbolized the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people. With a world-class casino, a fashionable downtown, and sunny beaches, Beirut was a world-class city until the civil war that broke out in 1975 left the once named "Paris of the Middle East" in rubble. Nowadays, sadly the word "Beirut" only conjures up images of ru...Read More

Talking with the Lebanese

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Story/Tip

Quote:
On the surface, Lebanon seems to be a country full of people who have completely forgotten their troubled past, a country that has decided to move towards the future as a united country. On the surface, it is a country that seems to be swimming in wealth and prosperity. Upon arrival in Beirut, you would be forgiven for not even realizing that there was ever a civil war here because the city has recovered so well and the people seem to be living in such harmony. Sadly, this is just all on the surface.If you are not familiar with the region, it might be hard to recognize all the divisions that still exist in the country. If you aren’t familiar with the history of Lebanon, then you might not ...Read More