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Once considered as a finalist for the “7 Natural Wonders of the World”, Lebanon’s Jeita Grotto is a sprawling cave complex located 11 miles (17.7 kms) north of the capital city of Beirut.
Set 53 miles (85 kms) outside of Beirut in the fertile Beqaa Valley, the ancient city of Baalbek is inarguably Lebanon’s greatest Roman treasure. An architectural pinnacle of empire known to the Romans as Heliopolis, this UNESCO World Heritage site has served as a center of worship for a staggering number of millennia.
Set 36 miles (58 km) outside the capital city of Beirut, the ancient city of Anjar is literally a Lebanon attraction unlike any other. While many of the ruins in Lebanon existed under a multitude of rulers, the fortified city of Anjar was occupied solely by the Umayyad dynasty during the 8th century AD when it flourished for a mere number of decades. This city’s Opulent rulers eventually fell to the Abbasids, but at one point their influence stretched from the valleys of India to the shores of southern France. With the exception of a mosque in nearby Baalbek, Anjar is the only place in Lebanon which provides an example of the Umayyad period.
Since its creation in 1857 by members of the Lebanese Jesuit community, the vineyard at Chateau Ksara has produced award winning wines.
The Cedars of Lebanon
Only two and half hours from the glitzy beaches of Beirut, the cedar groves of Lebanon are the pride of the Lebanese mountains. Northern Lebanon has some of the tallest peaks in the Middle East, some rising to over 10,000 feet, many of which used to be covered in dense forests of precious cedar.
When even the Phoenicians (an ancient society who populated Lebanon as far back as 1,200 BC) consider a place to be old, then you know it’s legitimately old. Such is the case with Byblos, A UNESCO World Heritage site so steeped in history it’s regarded as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Dating back over 7,000 years, the ancient city now known as Jbail has been the home for civilians and soldiers since the dawn of modern humanity.
25 miles (40 km) south of the capital city of Beirut lies Sidon, grand city of the Phoenicians and third largest city in modern day Lebanon. Traditionally a sleepy fishing village on the Mediterranean coast, Sidon has flourished in the past century to become a regional hub of commerce and the de facto capital of southern Lebanon.
Ever since its founding in 2,750 BC, the Lebanese city of Tyre (Sour) has been a center of conquest, exploration and empire. Originally an island city with one of the finest harbors in the eastern Mediterranean, scholars argue that the first explorers to navigate the waters of the Mediterranean Sea departed from the modern day port of Tyre. Although heavily fortified and able to repel many previous attacks, the island of Tyre was finally conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC when his armies constructed a causeway to get within striking distance of the island. Due to thousands of years of sedimentation caused by the man-made causeway, the city of Tyre is now an isthmus which forms a rugged promontory jutting out into the sea.
Tyre is renowned for having the cleanest beaches in Lebanon, and is also known for the authenticity of its souks and wealth of Roman ruins.
Chic, sexy and ultra-modern, downtown Beirut can once again be considered the “pearl of the Middle East”. A booming coastal metropolis in the midst of an economic revival, a city once divided by 15 years of civil war is now home to high end stores, trendy restaurants, and a modern population living among thousands of years of history.
Travelers to Beirut can relish in the simple pleasure of sipping a thick coffee at an outdoor café or people watching along the Corniche, a three-mile coastal promenade where bullet holes still riddle the well-manicured palm trees. Visitors can similarly amble along the newly constructed Zaitunay Bay esplanade where private yachts moored offshore bear witness to Beirut’s surging wealth.
Though Beirut has no shortage of easy transport, travelers can take pleasure in strolling in the pedestrian mall around Nejmeh Square and gawk at the masterfully planned architecture. Nearby, in Martyr’s Square, many of the country’s largest political gatherings have taken place and the grounds are still a hotspot for raucous political expression.
Beirut is much more than picturesque squares and glittering promenades. It’s also a regional center of culture and commerce. At the ultra-popular Souk el Barghout, shoppers can search for everything from designer shoes to traditional caftans. Meanwhile, across town, history buffs will get lost in the sprawling National Museum and the numerous cultural artifacts residing within.
For the 1.5 million people who call Beirut home, however, gambling on horse races at the Hippodrome and dancing all night at thumping nightclubs are elements of a daily Beirut life steeped in pleasure and enjoyment. For thousands of years Beirut has been an alluring fusion of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean lifestyle, and as Lebanon progresses into an increasingly modern future, Beirut will be the capital city leading the Lebanese charge forward.
Beiteddine (Beit ed-Dine)
A tour of the sprawling palace complex of Beiteddine, set in the rolling highlands 28 miles (45 km) southeast of Beirut, is a stroll through the sanctum of ancient Lebanese royalty. Easily the nation’s best example of 19th century Lebanese architecture, the manicured landscape and intricate buildings have been called the “Alhambra of Lebanon”, a nod to the calming and regal atmosphere permeating the palace grounds.
A tranquil fishing village no more, the city of Jounieh has exploded over the last quarter century to become a hub of nightlife, gaming, and local glitterati. Located just 10 miles north of the capital city of Beirut, this coastal port town once frequented by the international jet set of the 1960’s and 70’s now serves as a weekend getaway for young and hedonistic urban Lebanese, many of whom can be found in a thumping nightclub on Jounieh’s main drag or at the blackjack table of the historic Casino du Liban.
Qadisha Valley (Kadisha Valley)
Steadily flowing from its source inside the concealed Qadisha Grotto, the gentle Qadisha River has sculpted a mystical canyon over 3,000 feet in depth which forms the Qadisha (Holy) Valley.