This week’s dream
Surprising, multifaceted Lebanon
“A country of extremes existing in harmony,” Lebanon could never bore you, said Paul Jebara in Thrillist.com. The tiny Middle Eastern nation juxtaposes sunny beaches with snowcapped mountains and ancient temples with glittering skyscrapers, and its cities reverberate with “the synchronous sounds” of church bells and Muslim prayer calls. Lebanese love to brag about being able to spend a morning on the ski slopes followed by an afternoon dip in the Mediterranean. And who can blame them? Their home has “a coastline like the Côte d’Azur” and ski resorts to rival Switzerland’s. “I challenge you to find a better slice of land in the Middle East.”
It’s a shame that many Americans, heeding State Department warnings, still consider Beirut so dangerous. Three decades since Lebanon’s civil war ended, “the city has reclaimed its title as the Arab world’s bastion of liberalism.” Eighteen religious sects are recognized by the state, and many Lebanese citizens are trilingual. During a recent trip, I often overheard conversations that mixed Arabic, French, and English—sometimes in the same sentence. Many residents claim they’re not Arabs but descendants of the Phoenicians, the ancient seafarers who invented the alphabet. Everyone in Lebanon has a story, and people are remarkably hospitable, so “they’ll want to hear yours, too.”
Beirut is famous for its nightlife, but more than that is flourishing. “The city’s art scene is booming,” and the Sursock Museum, housed in a former palace, was recently renovated and expanded into a world-class art museum. Devote a full day to learning about the history of the city, one of the oldest on the planet, but don’t limit your stay to the capital. You can hire a cab to reach Byblos Castle, a Crusader fortress north of town, or the southern city of Tyre, with its pastel-colored old town, or the Baalbek temple complex, “one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world that you can climb all over.” Of course, Beirut itself is “a culinary wonderland,” so “seek hummus wherever you go.” And don’t miss the falafel. Once you’ve tried homemade chickpea fritters prepared with a century-old recipe, “you’ll never go back to the dry, crusty balls you endure back home.”
At Dar Alma, a boutique seaside hotel in Tyre (daralmatyre.com), doubles start at $200.