Lebanon is a fascinating place. Steeped in history, it is a meeting point of the Middle East and the West; of Christianity and Islam; of traditional and modern living. Often referred to as the Paris of the East, the Mediterranean country is famed for its food, history, hospitality, vibrant nightlife, and did I say food?! So when some good friends invited us to visit the country for their wedding, we jumped at the opportunity.
A week of exploring and eating our way through Lebanon felt like we had barely scratched the surface. Read on to discover some of our favourite places in this exciting part of the world.
Beirut is an atmospheric city that thrums with energy. Parts of the capital are still under repair after the port explosion which shocked the country in August 2020. Yet, restaurants and bars pump with people. Modern architecture sits alongside colonial French and Ottoman buildings. Bright pink bougainvillea spills onto pavements. Its soul and diversity are palpable.
We found that Beirut was best explored on foot. We stayed in the neighbourhood of Gemmayzeh, the ‘SoHo’ of Beirut, which is known as one of the city’s trendiest districts. There is no shortage of Airbnbs and hotels in this vibrant part of the city, which is filled with great restaurants and bars. For a whistle-stop tour of Beirut, visit:
Offering the full gamut of authentic Lebanese fare in the beautiful setting of a traditional Lebanese villa. It was our first meal in Beirut and we happily chowed down tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, hummus with falafel, Lebanese stuffed grape leaves, grilled meat with pomegranate molasses, and fresh pita. All of which were delicious.
A rooftop bar with panoramic views across the city, Clap Bar offers one of the most picturesque dining experiences in Beirut. It is great for watching the sunset over the city and port whilst enjoying great cocktails and Japanese dining.
It is hard to believe that BEYt Mar Mikhael is set off the bustling main strip of Armenia Street. Wander up the steps to discover a peaceful garden space and café set in a beautiful old Lebanese home from the early 20th century. Well worth a visit for breakfast or lunch. The homemade cake selection is delightful. It also offers rooms in its guesthouse.
Beit Beirut Museum
A museum and urban cultural centre, Beit Beirut is set in the restored ruins of the Barakat building which was once an architectural landmark. It is a powerful and confronting place to see the painful impacts that the civil war has had on the country.
Walk up the famous Saint Nicolas Stairs – the longest staircase in the Middle East – to find the Sursock Museum. Situated in a wealthy and leafy neighbourhood, the Sursock Museum was the home of prominent aristocrat Nicolas Sursock which was willed to the Lebanese people as a contemporary art museum. It features powerful modern art and shares stories of Lebanon’s chequered history pre- and post-civil war.
Lebanon is a teeny tiny country where it is possible to go from ski fields to swimming in the sea in just a few hours. For an off-the-beaten-track experience, around one hour outside of Beirut are the foothills of the mountain range of Mount Lebanon. This is a nature-lovers paradise, with snow-capped mountains, cedar forests, and freshwater rivers. There are no shortage of hikes to explore in the area but a highlight was the Chouane Lake trail from Chouane Village. In the sunlight, the freshwater lake glows a luminous blue and the swim at the end of the moderately steep 2km hike down was glorious.
BYBLOS, BATROUN AND ANFEH
The villages of Byblos, Batroun and Anfeh are dotted along Lebanon’s northern coastline, located approximately 15 minutes from each other. The town of Byblos is known to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. One of the most iconic cities in Lebanon, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to old souks, castle ruins and a traditional fishing harbour. Just down the road is Batroun, a beautiful old town, home to pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, charming streets and souks. Batroun is known as one of Lebanon’s favourite holiday destinations, attracting tourists from all over the world. It is easily explored on foot or by one of the town’s many tuk-tuks. And just a little further down the road is Anfeh, a relaxed fishing village known locally as ‘Little Greece’ because of the blue and white chalets that dot its coastline. For eating and drinking, visit:
Pool to beach, beach to pool, you get the gist. Ocean Blue is a beachfront resort perfect for a day of swimming and lounging.
Kina Bar offers epic sunset tikki bar vibes. The venue is perched up high, with panoramic views over the beach below.
Sit overlooking the sea and nip in for a swim between entrée and mains. Feast on the seafood and enjoy the view.
It’s not hard to experience a good sunset in Lebanon, but one of the best places to do so is from Pierre and Friends. Ranked as one of the best beach bars in the world, it has a casual atmosphere overlooking the beach with great traditional Lebanese food and seafood.
A garden by the sea nestled in the middle of Batroun Bay. The food menu is limited but you can’t find a more scenic spot to relax on a lounge for a sunset gin basil.
Nestled in the heart of the old souks in Batroun, this is a chilled Lebanese café known for its tasty tapas and shisha. Go for lunch, sit outside in the shade and enjoy people-watching in this central part of Batroun.
Word: Ruby Kingsmill
Imagery: Ruby Kingsmill
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