Tourism & attraction
LEBANON Still vibrant as ever! A place you always remember
Lebanon, a small, roughly rectangular rugged land in the central eastern Levant, has its toes in the warm waters of the Mediterranean and its snowy head high above the clouds. Perhaps no other land has as many contrasts and contradictions. Civilised since before 3,000 BCE by the sea-faring Phoenicians, it was a link between the trade-routes through the eastern hinterland and those that crossed the sea to the west. Home to approximately 3.5 million people of seventeen different faiths, its past has not been tranquil. But today Lebanon is looking to the future: rebuilding its shattered cities and economy; encouraging the rebirth of the banking and business industries that made it a Middle Eastern hub; and welcoming tourists to its resorts, natural attractions, and glittering urban scene.
Once again, Beirut is earning its epithet ‘The Paris of the Mediterranean’. With its service centred economy based on banking and trade, the city is once again a vibrant setting for commerce and night-life. A total reconstruction of the downtown area is taking place with sleek hotels and office blocks, restaurants, cafés and night spots, an archaeological park, and many other attractions. Beirut’s vibrant arts scene is once again host of performances, exhibitions, fashion shows and concerts in the museums, theatres and public spaces throughout the city.
Tourists are arriving at the new airport in droves aboard Middle East Airways jets. They come for the shopping, for the culture, for the history and the food. In the winter they come for the skiing and during the spring and autumn for sightseeing. Summer is the season for beaches or long lazy lunches high in the mountains. It is also the season for summer festivals against the dramatic historical backdrops of Byblos and Baalbek. Hotel facilities can rental agencies, and a rejuvenated Ministry of Tourism are all part of an infrastructure that welcomes overseas visitors and is anxious to dispel any lingering visions of a land in turmoil.
Eco-tourism is increasing in Lebanon, both for locals and for foreign visitors. Several companies offer day excursions from Beirut, or longer tours by bike, on foot, or with four-wheel drive as an alternative to traditional sightseeing. These tours are designed to have a low environmental impact; to introduce people to the wonders of nature, and Lebanon’s rich historical, artistic, and cultural heritage; while benefiting small communities in remote areas. Accommodation and food are taken at monasteries, small restaurants, or the homes of local people in a departure from traditional forms of sightseeing.
However once chooses to see the country, Lebanon will remain special in a visitor’s memory. From its souks to its palaces, it churches to its mosques, its mountains to it shores the country offers an unparalleled chance to glimpse a land between East and West, between Arab and European, between the past and the future.
One of Lebanon’s most famous attractions, only eighteen kilometres from the capital is the Jeita Grotto. A six-kilometre labyrinth on two levels, the cave includes an underground lake where visitors can enjoy a boat ride, and an upper gallery with impressive geological formations.
Some of history’s most famous men, among them Ramses II, Nebuchadnezzar, and Marcus Aurelius, left inscriptions and bas-relief sculptures in the limestone cliffs of the Dog River.
The great Roman ruins of Baalbek are in the northern Bekaa Valley. Huge temples dedicated to Jupiter and Bacchus dominate the 1st century site and are some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East.
Byblos, 70 km kilometres from Beirut, has been continuously inhabited for more than 7000 years and gave its name to the Bible. The remains of the 12th-century Crusader castle, the Phoenician temple and tomb chambers with the oldest alphabetic inscription ever discovered, and a Greco-Roman amphitheatre overlooking the sea, make it an important destination for visitors to the area.
The mountain town of Bsharre, birthplace of Lebanon’s famous artist and author Gibran Khalil Gibran is close to Lebanon’s last remaining cedar forest. Some of the 400 trees are more than 1500 years old. In the winter, the area is a ski resort with facilities for cross-country and downhill skiing as well as snow boarding.
Several international festivals are held in Lebanon, featuring world-renowned artists and drawing crowds from Lebanon and abroad. Among the most famous are the summer festivals at Baalbek, Beiteddine, and Byblos. Beirut in particular has a very vibrant arts scene, with numerous performances, exhibits, fashion shows, and concerts held throughout the year in its galleries, museums, theatres, and public spaces
The Bekaa Valley with its lush patchwork of fields and vines hugging the banks of the Litani River was once known as the Breadbasket of the Roman Empire, and Lebanese cuisine developed from the pulses, fruits and vegetables produced there and the flocks that grazed the lush green grass. Lebanese food combines the sophistication of European cuisine with the excitement of eastern spices, and is best enjoyed as a ‘mezze’ or assortment of tastes. A good mezze has 30 or 40 dishes, but feasts with as many as 100 are not unknown. The meal can take an entire afternoon. It is usually served without cutlery, but with plenty of the traditional flat round Arab bread to serve as both fork and spoon. Tabbouleh, a salad of parsley, Burghoul wheat, and tomatoes, is usually present, so is hoummous or mashed chickpeas in the appetiser course. Main courses consist of lamb or chicken broiled over charcoal, slices of highly seasoned lamb cooked on a slow revolving spit, stuffed vegetables, or raw minced lamb coated in wheat paste. Trout often appears on the menu in the mountains, and by the seashore one can find excellent grilled fish.
The meal is traditionally accompanied by anis-flavoured araq, Lebanese beer, or one of the famous wines from the Bekaa’s Chateau Kefraya winery go equally well. Dessert is fruit, puddings, or pastries flavoured with honey, butter, pistachio nuts or almonds.
A combination of beautiful climate, many historic landmarks and World Heritage Sites continues to attract large numbers of tourists to Lebanon annually, in spite of its political instability. In addition, Lebanon`s strict financial secrecy and capitalist economy—unique in its area—have given it significant economic status among Arab countries. The thriving tourism and banking activities have naturally made the services sector the most important pillar of the Lebanese economy. The majority of the Lebanese workforce (nearly 65%) has preferred employment in the services sector, as a result of the abundant job opportunities and large pay checks.