When Chris mentioned that we would be stopping in Beirut and Hong Kong for his work on our way back from Pakistan, I got really excited. Chris and some of my friends  have been to Beirut and enjoyed it. However, my American friends were skeptical because we were going to be visit two countries that were on American *Avoid Travel* to list. People generally think of Beirut as a dangerous, war torn country which is flooded with refugees and garbage. That’s the stereotype we hear about Lebanon. I have lived in Pakistan during turbulent times and Chris lived in Saudi Arabia for 2 years and traveled extensively all over the world, so this advisory was not going to stop us.

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, which is the nexus of East and West – in both location and culture. After the civil war ended in 1990, it was rebuilt very quickly . The city is full of skyscrapers and modern architecture.  I got the impression that its  a wealthy city as we saw some nice cars on the road, the downtown is full of designer shops .  We did see some poor areas and buildings pock marked by weapons fire. One of the interesting things I noticed was that despite the tragic past , caused mostly be the religious differences, Lebanese people from different religions live next to each other without too much tension. And in the places like the Corniche all these cultures mingle, creating an interesting mix of progressive people of Beirut.  Lebanese people love to eat ( and I think their cuisine is one of the best in the world), dance and they love to party late night. In fact, the usual time to step out for dinner would be 9:30-10: 00 pm whether on a weekend or weekday .

View from Hilton Habtoor Hotel

We spent 4 days in Beirut and enjoyed every moment of it.  Here is a list of some of the places we managed to visit with our wonderful local host who are associated with my husband’s organization.

Aerial view of the city of Beirut

Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand:

Excellent location with spacious room and balcony with an awesome view. The staff throughout the hotel was courteous and very helpful. Don’t miss the buffet breakfast, its really very interesting and you get to try some delicious local dishes. Le Mall is part of the same facility and provides many boutiques and designer outlets.  There is a nice swimming pool , a well equipped gym and a very nice spa.  I tried one of their signature massages and I give it two thumbs up 🙂 The only thing we had a problem with was the lighting in our room, it was pretty dark. Although when we complained, the staff promptly brought an additional lamp, it just wasn’t good enough. Having said that, I would certainly recommend the hotel and would stay there again .

Babel Bahr:

We drove about one hour out of Beirut to arrive at this magnificent  restaurant that sits right on a high embankment overlooking the sea. The views of the Mediterranean are spectacular and the food is probably the best Lebanese food we have ever had. Definitely worth the drive, although during the rush hour it may take up to 2.5 hrs to get there.

The sea food we ordered was fresh and cooked to perfection. The weather was fabulous in May, we sat outside. Highly recommended!

Byblos :

Byblos is one of the oldest, still inhabited, cities in the world . From the main Street, the Roman Road leads directly to the Old Souk which is a wonderful old marketplace in Byblos . The architecture reflects the age of this ancient city. You can find artisans of all types and nice souvenirs to remind you of your trip.  Since its a pedestrian only area, its is a great way to unwind and get lost in the old historic town sights.

Within a ten minute walk there is the Byblos’s port , dripping with history and picturesque sights. Around 3000 BC, Byblos Port was the most important timber shipping center in the eastern Mediterranean. Just walk around and breathe in the atmosphere.