In light of the tragedies that have unfolded in Beirut – the lives that have been lost and the city that has once again been rocked by terror – I thought it was time to shine the spotlight on all the beauty Lebanon has to offer its visitors and why Beirut is the perfect holiday destination.
I’m not suggesting that you should jump on a plane and visit Beirut right now, but don’t rule it out altogether. Eventually, the time will come when the Australian Government believes that Lebanon is safe for tourists to visit again. And when that time comes, I hope that my experience in this great country will inspire you to think outside the box with your next escape and experience a culture very different to our own. I promise that the beauty of the country, the people and the food will blow you away.
I’ve recently settled back in Brisbane after living in Dubai and traveling the world as a flight attendant for one of the world’s best airlines. My absolute favourite part of the job was the opportunity to visit destinations I never would have considered on my own. Well, that and the cheap airfares.
A girlfriend of mine, Vida, mentioned she was thinking of going home to Beirut for a few days to visit her family, I jumped at the chance to go with her. (I actually thought she was talking about Bahrain but shhh, that’s just between us.)
Two weeks later, flights were booked, bags were packed (here's what I packed in my carry on) and I was off for a three-day adventure in-between work trips.
The descent to Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport was one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. The city is built along the coastline so as you fly in to land you see the skyscrapers and beach meet one another.
There was no standing in the taxi queue for us; Vida’s cousin picked us up, whisked us home for a quick shower and then it was off to her grandparents’ for the traditional Sunday family lunch. Together, we enjoyed more food than you can imagine and I felt right at home listening in on the family banter in Arabic, French and English. Strong familial relationships are a really special aspect of Lebanese culture and it’s beautiful to see people put such an emphasis on what it means to be family and value the time they spend together.
The first afternoon was an indication of what was to come on the three-day adventure: great company, superb food and unique experiences. Three days is not nearly enough time to see everything that the city of Beirut (let alone Lebanon as a whole) has to offer and I would go back in a heartbeat.
I highly recommend travelling with a local, or at least someone who can speak Arabic. English is becoming more commonly spoken throughout the region but there will definitely be times when you will need to be able to communicate in Arabic (or French). Having a local with you also makes getting around a lot easier as you will need to hire a car (it’s a small country but places are quite spread out) and the roads are not like the ones we are used to here in Oz.
Here are the touristy highlights of my trip that I recommend ticking off the list when you visit:
OUR LADY OF LEBANON, HARISSA
You can, of course, take in the view of this monumental statue of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, from a distance. But it’s well worth battling locals and fellow tourists as you wind your way up the narrow stairs to the top. Once you’ve caught your breath, you’ll have a full view of Beirut to enjoy.
JEITA GROTTO, KESERWAN
A trip to the Jeita Grotto will honestly leave you in awe of nature with a total of nine kilometres of limestone caves. Take a walk around the upper grotto and enjoy the boat trip through the lower grotto. The water is pure enough to drink right from your cupped hands. So fresh!
BYBLOS (MOUNT LEBANON), JBEIL
A trip to Byblos is like taking a step back in time. Wander through the old fort and the alleyways of restaurants and souvenir shops in one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities (dating back to around 5000BC!).
For lunch, you cannot go past Laconda! I enjoyed one of the best meals of my life at this Lebanese and Italian restaurant. I highly recommend the fattoush salad and barbecued meats.
MAR MIKHAEL STAIRS, MAR MIHKAEL
Voted one of the nine top staircases in the world by Vogue, no trip to Beirut is complete without a photo on the rainbow staircase of Mar Mikhael. Located in Beirut’s equivalent of the Brisbane Fortitude Valley, The Daily Star says the artwork is the “brainchild of Dihzahyners (pronounced “Designers”), a group of 12 graphic design students from Lebanese American University”.
PIGEONS’ ROCK, RAOUCHÉ
Make sure you get down to the coastline at least once to watch dusk roll in over these incredible rocks. I’ll let the photos do the talking…
IRIS, AL-NAHAR BUILDING, DOWNTOWN BEIRUT
Finish off a day of sightseeing with sunset rooftop drinks at Iris, one of Beirut’s best venues. Join all the pretty people of the city for delicious cocktails and a stunning view.
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