Fringed by golden beaches, peppered with World Heritage Sites and home to the Middle East’s premier party city, Lebanon has all the hallmarks of a classic traveller’s destination.
Yet the reality, alas, is not quite so rosy. Still recovering from a brutal civil war (1975-1990), the conflict in neighbouring Syria is spilling across the border and the Bekaa Valley remains a stronghold for the militant group Hezbollah. Suffice to say, cautious tourists have stayed away.
Nevertheless, for now, a fragile peace prevails in Lebanon, which extends a warm welcome to foreign visitors. Nowhere is this clearer than in the capital, Beirut, a friendly party town sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the foothills of Mount Lebanon.
Characterised by its affable inhabitants, dramatic coastline and delicious cuisine, bustling Beirut sits at the crossroads between Europe and Arabia. Influences from east and west abound – it is not uncommon to hear the call to prayer competing with DJs in some of the livelier parts of town.
Although buildings still bear the scars of past conflicts, the city is a forward-thinking capital where the biggest danger nowadays seems to be the traffic – crossing the road can feel like an extreme sport.
Though small in size, Lebanon boasts five UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the city of Byblos, one of the oldest Phoenician ports, and the haunting remains of Baalbeck in the Hezbollah-run Bekaa Valley, one of the finest examples of Greco-Roman architecture in existence.
Other highlights including the magnificent cedar forests and Christian monasteries of the Holy Valley, as well as the ancient cities of Tyr and Tripoli, home to one of the oldest seaports in the world.
And if that’s not enough, there’s always skiing in Mount Lebanon. Granted, it might not be an obvious place to hit the slopes, but there are few places in this world that can offer sun, sand and skiing in one day. But then Lebanon is not your average destination.