BEIRUIT, HARISSA, BYBLOS & JEITA
The next stop on my Bar Trip (see Egypt post) was Lebanon. Despite all of the travel warnings to not visit, my friend and I were not discouraged to visit this fascinating Mediterranean country and were not disappointed!
We arrived in Beirut and I have to say I have never experienced a more genuinely friendly and hospitable attitude towards Americans. Everyone from the cab driver to the hotel staff to the restaurant server was not only excited to meet us because we were from America, but also very interested to learn more about us and our impressions of the world. The food was beyond delicious and everything tasted home cooked. The Le Gray hotel we were greeted with a delicious fruit and nut gift basket and made sure we were set up to see everything Lebanon had to offer. I was also surprised to see billboards everywhere for American performers like Snoop Dogg and Akon. I should not have been surprised however, because Lebanon is a multicultural, multiethnic, multi-religious mecca and a true microcosm of the world. It really is the “Paris of the Middle East.” Sadly, it has also seen a massive amount of conflict, least of which was the 15-year-long civil war. Next to the brand new, posh buildings you can still see wreckage from buildings that have been blasted or pock-marked from bullets.
Our best experience in Beirut was a night out at the SkyBar nightclub at the top of Palm Beach Hotel. The outdoor area is one of the best venues for international entertainment with its laser shows and the unbeatable backdrop of Beirut’s waterfront skyline. If you are a fan of cutting edge house music, this is also the place to go for beats from some of the best world DJs that will blow your mind.
We took a day trip up to Harissa and Byblos to get an extended experience of Lebanon’s diversity. Heading up to Harissa first, we took a gondola ride to Teleferique along the pine forests. At the top, we continued our journey to the Our Lady of Harissa statue. Harissa is crowned by Our Lady of Harissa’s statue, the nation’s patron saint, and you can climb to the top of the shrine where there is a spectacular view of the entire Beirut coast. Next, we visited one of the oldest cities in the world, Byblos. This ancient Phoenician city is a hot tourist spot for learning the cultural history of Lebanon. Touring the ruins, you can’t miss the breathtaking views of the ocean and appreciate the beauty of this part of the country. This is also my favorite food spot in all of Lebanon. I think I ate about half of the entire menu at Feniqia and I still have dreams about the Fatayer.
Saving the best for last, took a boat tour through one of the 7 Wonders of Nature, the Jeita Grotto. We took another small cable car through the forest to the upper cavern. Inside you are greeted with sparkling stalactites that hang down from the ceiling as the boat takes you through the cavern. Pictures are not allowed to protect the stalactites, but our guide made an exception. This is an absolute must see in Lebanon!
Lebanon was by far my favorite stop in our Middle East tour and my only regret was not staying longer.