Imposing snow-capped mountains, skiing resorts, sumptuous promenades, alluring valleys surrounded by picturesque towns and cedar forests…No wonder Lebanon was at one time nicknamed the “Switzerland of the East”, and more so for its dynamic culture and unique landscape resembling very much alpine scenes cut out of postcards from St. Moritz and Geneva. Lebanon is not only a slice of the Alps in the Middle East, but also a major cultural and financial hub where tradition, stylishness and modernity combine to offer a kaleidoscopic allure unique in the region.
Lebanon has the distinction of attaining nicknames associated with the imposing geography of Europe: the country is known as the “Switzerland of the East”, but Beirut, its capital and largest city, is in turn nicknamed “the Paris of the Middle East”; and in 2015, another heavy-weight title of marvel was added—it became the New7Wonders Cities. There’s absolutely no exaggeration in any of the distinctions as Beirut is the most exciting and frivolous of cities in the region: to the West the Mediterranean bathes a shoreline of cliffs, giving rise to the famed Corniche, a cobblestone boulevard stringed with shops and cafes overlooking the sea.
From there, you may take an exquisite leisure walk on Avenue De Paris and Avenue De Gaulle, two of the city’s most important veins and home to posh high-rise buildings, restaurants, and brand boutiques. Nearby is the equally famed upscale neighborhood of Rouche, packed with fine shops and restaurants overlooking a major landmark just off the Beirut coast—the Pigeon’s Rock, a bizarre rock formation shaped by the waves and admired by thousands of visitors.
Just away is Badaro, a lovely neighbourhood of leafy streets worth a leisure daytime walk, and at night-time, a major hub for entertainment: cafes, clubs, bars, theatres…If shopping and frivolity are sought, look no farther than Hamra Street, or Beirut’s elite “78 street”, the main commercial and financial sector packed with even more sumptuous shops and pubs; and as you go along, you will encounter Beirut’s “intellectual centre”: right around is the American University of Beirut, The Lebanese American University and a string of hotels, libraries and up-scale apartment buildings.
At night, the skies enliven with the lights of Casino du Liban, a little piece of Monte Carlo that adds to exciting nightlife for which Beirut is legendarily known. With an eclectic architecture combining French, Ottoman and Art-Deco and set against an Alpine landscape, Beirut’s profile is that of a first-class European city.
Some 90 kilometres north of Beirut is this ancient Phoenician city set in the Beqaa Valley, one of the most beautiful, picturesque landscapes in the Middle East. Ba’albeck is the site of major Hellenistic and Roman ruins, mainly the Temple of Bacchus and The Temple of Jupiter, both impressive architectural marvels frozen in time and well-kept, with a formidable plaza surrounded by imposing Corinthian columns and Roman avenues. The valley itself is a wonder of nature: nearby are Zahle and Chtoura, both picturesque towns with high-end cafes and hotels perched on Mount Lebanon, reminiscent of Swiss and Northern Italian cities (no wonder they call it “Switzerland of the East”).