Beirut, the 2nd top destination in 2012
You just cant keep a good city down. Or, in Beiruts case, a
turbulent past of decades of civil war hasnt taken the sheen off its
glossy, cosmopolitan swagger. Lebanons capital is far from your
"regular" Middle Eastern city: Nestled on the Mediterranean coast,
Beirut is an enticing combination of French designer boutiques in
rebuilt Downtown, chi-chi private beach clubs where bling is king,
cutting-edge galleries in converted warehouses and magnificent
third-century mosaics in the National Museum.
You'll adore Beiruts juxtaposition of old and new, traditional and
downright funkiness. Restored Roman baths stand in the midst of the
business district, surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers and an Ottoman
palace. At Music Hall, in an old cinema hall, fez-wearing traditional
musicians play Arabic ballads for their 15-minute spot, after an '80s
cover band, while cocktail-dress Beiruti women belly dance with their
designer-jeans-clad partners supping cocktails. Soldiers with machine
guns keep one eye on families drinking coffee at midnight, with
squealing kids playing, on pedestrianized Place de L'Etoile square. Le
Gray luxury boutique hotel sits a moments walk from the bombed-out
Holiday Inn, still bullet-ridden from 1976 Lebanon Civil War.
Small is definitely beautiful in bijoux Lebanon. In Beirut, you're never
far away from a ski slope (Faraya, 45 minutes away), cedar plantation
(an hour) and ancient Roman Temple (Byblos is an hour by bus). And on
your way to Byblos, you can whisk up by cable car to Harissa, the
immense hilltop statue, Lebanon's patron saint. Oh, and of course there
are beaches, right here in the city.
And the icing on the cake? Well it has to be the food. From street food
of hot m'neesh al zataar (flat bread with herbs) to a tableful of Middle
Eastern mezze washed down with chilled Almaza beer or home-cooked
Armenian cuisine, locals love to dine out. And then party, hard.
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