What to see
Beirut’s downtown is in the process of undergoing a complete renovation, restoring the buildings to their former glory and creating a bustling city centre to try to regain its former title of the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. Mosques, churches, offices and shops are all being reopened and it has given the centre a new bustling lease of life. A coffee in a café on one of the street corners of the Solidere district is a definite must-do. There is also beautiful corniche along the waterfront, perfect for an evening stroll watching the sunset.
Just 30 minutes outside of Beirut is the ancient fishing village of Byblos. Highlights of Byblos include the ruins of a 12th century crusader castle, Egyptian temples and a Roman amphitheatre. The busy harbour with its small cafes makes an ideal lunch stop to enjoy fresh seafood mezzes. In the small markets the Memoire de Temps shop sells perfectly fossilised fish ranging in size from 5cm to almost 1m.
En route to Byblos a stop should definitely be made at Jeita Grotto. The enormous caverns were only discovered in the 19th century and there are thousands of ancient stalactites and stalagmites covering the walls, floor and ceilings. The lower cavern is partially flooded throughout the year and is visited on a small electric boat.
The mountains surrounding the Bekka Valley provide an excellent water source for the fertile plains and there are some world-class wineries that are open for visits and wine tasting including the very well established Ksara Vineyard.
Lebanon’s real showpiece are the spectacular ruins at Baalbeck. The site isn’t as large as Palmyra in Syria, or Jerash in Jordan, but the ruins are far more intact and there are almost no visitors. The temple of Bacchus is larger than the Parthenon and the 6 remaining columns of the Temple of Jupiter are the tallest in the world.