My mom just left this morning (that’s a lie – I started writing this post more than a week ago!) It’s always fun to have her here. The girls love being spoiled by Grandma, and it gives us a chance to do a little touring around Lebanon. She’s visited enough times (I just had an amazing idea – tourism has been really struggling in Lebanon this year, and I have the solution – grandbabies! :))…. anyways, she’s visited enough times that we’ve seen quite a bit of the country with her.
Last week (cough, cough), we went to Tyre. It was actually the first time I’d ever been, though Caleb has been several times. (I was always super pregnant or had a newborn.) While we were there, it gave me the idea for this top ten list. (Which by the way, I had planned on finishing my little top ten series by Dec 31. Do you notice a theme here? Besides my ridiculous overuse of parentheses?)
So, my top ten places to visit in Lebanon: (obviously, this list is not exhaustive as there are still places we haven’t been yet… but for what it’s worth….)
Actually one of my favorite parts of Tyre is driving through the outskirts. Orange groves, banana plantations, palatial villas and the sea in the background make for a beautiful drive in a place that feels so far removed from Beirut. On this visited we wandered through the old Roman hippodrome, but I’ve heard that the beach in Tyre is one of the best free, sandy beaches in the country!
9. The Cedars
The cedar trees are one of Lebanon’s national symbols. They are mentioned around 75 times in the Bible, most famously as one of the materials for Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Visiting the cedars now is a bit bittersweet as so much deforestation has occurred that there are only pockets of these beautiful trees left in areas that were once covered with cedar forests. There are several organizations working on reforestation projects, but for now there are a handful of cedar reserves throughout the country where you can see a remnant of the ancient cedars of Lebanon.
8. Downtown Beirut and the Corniche
Okay, I realize that downtown Beirut and the Corniche are two very different attractions, but because they are about a 20 minute walk apart, I decided to include them together (plus that means I can actually keep this list to top ten and not eleven or twelve!)
I love walking around downtown Beirut because of the way the ancient and the modern collide. Roman baths backing up to a brand new Prada store, the beautiful blue mosque (as Isla calls it) overlooking Phoenician ruins. An impeccable city square with Saint George Orthodox Cathedral – one of the oldest churches in the region! – off to one side.
Just a 20 minute walk from downtown is the Corniche – my favorite place to people watch. On a Sunday afternoon in the spring or summer especially, the Corniche is packed with families walking, kids riding bikes, men fishing and teenagers smoking arguile.
7. Wine tour
Wine is probably not the first thing you think of when you think of Lebanon, but it is actually one of the oldest continually producing places in the world. There are about 30 wineries in Lebanon and many of them offer tours and tastings, as well as lunch and activities for families. I actually don’t drink wine, but I still thought the tour was interesting. We visited a small winery, Clos St. Tomas, but some of the more well known ones are Ksara and Kefraya, both of whom have tours.
6. Nahr el Kalb
Nahr el Kalb only needs about 30 minutes to see, but it fits perfectly with a trip to the Grotto or Jbeil and I think it’s a must see because it is so interesting. Basically, it’s the river that every army had to cross on it’s way to conquering Lebanon. Each army erected a monument (to themselves). It gives a great picture of Lebanon’s history and it’s fun to spot names that you might recognize – Napoleon, Nebuchadnezzar, Ramses for example.
Aanjar is a town located in the Bekaa Valley where you can explore the ruins of an Umayyad palace. It’s beautiful in the spring as the ruins are covered with wildflowers and I love how you can walk on the streets, climb on the walls and really explore. Great for energetic toddlers. :)
4. Jeita Grotto
While ruins abound in Lebanon, the limestone caves known as Jeita Grotto is one-of-a-kind. You can walk through the upper cave and take a boat ride through the lower cave (as long as the water level isn’t too high!) It’s absolutely gorgeous. There is also a very sad zoo and a train and cable car ride, but really the caves are what make this one of the best tourist attractions in Lebanon.
I’ve been to Rome, but the Roman ruins at Baalbek are even more preserved that anything you will see in Italy. It’s definitely worth paying for a tour guide to get all the details about what you are seeing (which I wouldn’t necessarily say about any of the other archeological sites in Lebanon). It’s probably one of the most “famous” tourist sites in Lebanon, although we haven’t been in a while because it’s location in the Bekaa is not the safest right now… though many people do still visit and have a great time!
2. Saida (Sidon)
I love Saida. It is by far one of my favorite places to take people who are visiting Lebanon. The sea castle is a nice set of ruins with a great view of the city, and I love wandering through the old souk. It has a very authentic Middle Eastern feel that you just don’t find in Beirut with the small covered alleyways and the random mix of butchers, bakers, shoe makers and candle stick makers (actually, I haven’t seen a candle maker, but I’ll bet you can find one!)
1. Jbeil (Byblos)
I can’t even count the number of times we have visted Jbeil. It is my favorite! The ruins are so fun to explore and beautiful – especially in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming and the sun is shining down on the sparkling sea in background. We usually start at the ruins, walk through the old souk and the ancient port and then head just up the road to eat at one of the many good seafood restaurants with incredible views of the sea and Beirut in the distance.
(I should have started writing with number one instead of number 10… because I got a little bored writing this post, can you tell?! But, I promise, when you come visit, touring these places will be much more exciting than the few sentences I could muster up about them, haha!)
And now I can finally (nearly two weeks after I started writing this!) click “post” and be done with my Top Ten of 2012 (since we’re halfway through January 2013, haha!)