Mention Lebanon and images of war-torn cities still come to mind – the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War the most recent outbreak of long-running tensions in the area. But for now, Lebanon is at peace, and its traditional charms are one again welcoming travellers.
In a country where ancient meets ultramodern you can find some of the best skiing in the area, stunning Mediterranean beaches and metropolitan cities. With cities such as Beirut becoming party capitals beloved of the style crowd, Lebanon is once again becoming the ‘Paris of the Middle East’.
Travellers should be aware that the country is divided between a Christian and Muslim population and should take care to observe religious customs. If diving, do not touch or damage the coral. Do not give to beggars.
Winter (November-February) can be cold but making excellent weather for skiers. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September-October) are best for hiking or sightseeing, with moderate temperatures. Summer (June-August) can be unbearably hot, especially inland.
Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (BEY) 5km from Beirut
With nowhere more than a few hours’ drive from anywhere else, there are no internal flights or railways. Roads are good; regular buses and minibuses connect the main towns, and more-expensive servées (shared taxis) run regular routes. Car hire is easily arranged, but insurance is expensive so many visitors prefer to hire a car with driver and/or guide.
Lebanon has a range of accommodation from deluxe hotels – most of them in Beirut – to reasonable mid-range hotels and hostels. Notable hotels outside Beirut include the famous, luxurious Palmyra opposite the ruins in Baalbek, and the Grand Hotel Kadri in Zahlé. Chbat Hotel in Bcharré is a comfortable three-star option, perfect for exploring the Qadisha Valley.
Eating is one of the delights of Lebanon. No visit to the country is complete without at least one full mezze meal – an array of dishes to share, usually starting with hummus, olives, aubergine, labneh cheese and tabbouleh salad. Typically, next might come fried squid, fish baked with almonds, meat grilled on skewers, stuffed vine leaves and balls of spicy lamb. Remember to leave room for baklava (sickly sweet pistachio filo treats). Fish is the choice in coastal towns, though generally much more expensive than meat. For delicious budget snacks try manaeesh – a kind of Lebanese pizza with various toppings.
Excellent Lebanese wines, both reds and whites, are found everywhere in Beirut and Christian-dominated areas, and found occasionally in some hotels – ditto the locally brewed pilsner-style Almaza beer.
Stick to bottled water. Make sure you’re up to date with your vaccinations: check with your GP before travelling. If visiting rural areas make sure you have appropriate anti-malarial tablets. If diving, take the usual precautions.
The security situation is fluid and restrictions may apply – check the latest advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office before departure.
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