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Photo: ItzaFineDay

Anne-Sophie Redisch teases out why Lebanon is at the top of her go list.
1. The Lebanese

When I was growing up, civil war raged in Lebanon. We read in newspapers about Christians, Shi’ites, and Sunnis killing each other, foreigners being kidnapped, horror stories from the refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila.

Several of my schoolmates went on to join the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon. Before going, many associated the Lebanese — or all Arabs, really — with trigger-happy warmongers and terrorists (the press was just as skewed in the ’80s, remember?).

But, without exception, they came back with a new understanding and completely altered views, proclaiming great affection for the people of Lebanon.

Later, most of my college friends in the U.S. were from the Middle East — some were Lebanese. It’s been years — more than 20 — but I still remember their exuberance and optimism. Despite having to constantly worry about friends and families back home, they managed to remain down-to-earth and lighthearted.

Photo: Panoramas

2. Ancient history

I love archaeology and ancient history, and Lebanon has plenty to offer. More than 7,000 years old, the urban centers of Byblos and Tyre are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, home once to the prosperous, seafaring Phoenicians.

Like Matadorians, the ancient people of Lebanon were enthusiastic travelers.

The tiny country (about the size of Connecticut), has 5 properties inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage books. In addition to Tyre and Byblos, these include the Roman ruins at Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, the monasteries of the holy valley Quadi Qadisha, and the ancient city Anjar.

I’d love to take my time and explore all of them.

3. It’s peaceful. At the moment.

The U.S. State Department urges its citizens against all travel to Lebanon. If, in the face of this advice, they still go, it suggests to “keep a low profile, varying times for all required travel.”

Friends who have just returned from Lebanon are dumbstruck by this, Europeans and Americans alike. They feel safer in Beirut than in most Western cities.

Also, the travel warning didn’t stop the New York Times from awarding Beirut top billing among the top 44 places to go in 2009.

Since I’m not a U.S. citizen, I look at my country’s travel advisory instead. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply recommends that Norwegian citizens in Lebanon exercise caution. I can do that.

If I want the safety of traveling in a group, numerous operators run tours in Lebanon, including Voyages Jules Verne, Audley, and Patrick Syder.

However, there’s no denying the situation is fragile. Since the end of the civil war in 1990, Lebanon has had its share of conflicts, including the short-lived yet devastating war with Israel in 2006.

Best to see this ancient land now while it’s peaceful. Right now is Lebanon’s time.

4. The food. And the wine.

I adore Arabic food, especially street food. Can’t wait to try the local hummus, maftoul, tabouleh, a piece of sticky baklava.

Yogurt, which I normally find bland and uninspiring, is a completely different food in the Arabic world. Garnished with olive oil and sea salt, the strained yogurt known as lebneh is delicious.

I look forward to strolling around Souk El Tayeb, Beirut’s first farmers market, and eating at Tawlet, the market’s open kitchen — where Christian, Sunni, and Shi’ite farmers serve in turns.

I’d also like to sample a glass or three of Cabernet Sauvignon from the sunny hills of the Bekaa Valley — perhaps from Château Ksara or Château Kefraya. I may even try the local arak.

Appropriate somehow, as this valley is home to the Temple of Bacchus, god of wine and intoxication.

Photo: Abouid

5. Natural diversity

Being in the mountains in the morning, skiing down the slopes of Mount Lebanon if I wish, then popping down to the beach for a Mediterranean swim in the afternoon — sounds fabulous.

I hail from a mountainous country and would probably feel right at home amidst Lebanon’s mountain scenery.

I could hike or bike the Lebanon Mountain Trail, or even trace the Baskinta Literary Trail, touring numerous landmarks related to Lebanese poets and novelists along the way. What a wonderful way to fuse nature and culture.

Ultimately, I just like the Middle East. I’ve visited Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Syria — all the countries in the neighborhood. And I speak some Arabic, enough to make myself understood. But it’s been years, so just in case, I might bring a copy of Useful Arabic Phrases for Travelers.

Writing this, I can’t think why I haven’t already been. In fact, I think I’ll book a ticket right now.

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About The Author

Anne-Sophie Redisch

Anne-Sophie Redisch is a bilingual writer who loves hopping off a train in a new city. Her two daughters often come along, enlivening the travel experience. She has lived in the USA, New Zealand, and Norway, and her work appears regularly in in-flight magazines and various Scandinavian and English media. She blogs at Sophie's World and tweets as SophieR.

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  • http://newsfromnoise.com Dan

    Cool article about all great stuff in Lebanon, I’m glad to see more stuff about Lebanon and the Middle East on here. I spent some time in Lebanon 3 years ago and loved the food, the history, and the political intrigue. Another great thing about Lebanon is its tiny size. Everything is compacted into a tiny country where you are never far from the mountains, the border, or the sea.

  • http://Globalbasecamps.com Shea

    Great Article. Lebanon is an amazing and beautiful place. I stayed in Beirut last year and found the city to be filled with great restaurants and cafes. The history alone makes the city a great place to visit. Its filled with amazing architecture and beautiful people as well the Mediterranean is so close.
    I stayed at a place with a great deal I found at http://www.globalbasecamps.com/lebanon/beirut-hotel/le-gray
    I hope to visit Lebanon again in the future!

  • JaccoW

    Crap, another country I would love to visit. I have always found that general area intriguing but never visited it. Maybe next year.
    First I need to wear of the jet-lag from Taiwan.

  • http://thesinglewomantraveler.blogspot.com inka piegsa-quischotte

    I couldn’t agree more, my friend. Read about my recent trip to Beirut and the Lebanon on gonomad. http://www.gonomad.com/destinations/1006/lebanon-beirut.html
    I fact I am so taken with the country and the poeple that I’m going to live in Beirut for 3 months beginning November 1st and whilst doing so, become the local expert for nileguide.

  • http://letsdosomethingdifferent.wordpress.com/ Natalia

    Great article. I am another one who is very interested in going to Lebanon (and Libya, and Jordan) for the reasons you mention here. It is great to see that these countries, often just seen as ‘totally unsafe, don’t you dare go!’ are getting some positive attention.

  • http://suzyguese.com/ Suzy

    You have some compelling reasons here to visit Lebanon. I think the history intrigues me most.

  • http://travelwritelive.com Devin the Travel Writer

    I couldn’t agree more. Actually, Syria is pretty high on my list too.

  • http://beforeyoubackpack.com Aaron : BeforeYOUBackpack.com

    Great article it’s really fired me up to want to get to Lebanon, I’ve heard many good things about that part of the world and for some reason I still haven’t made it there…

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

    Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone :)

  • http://www.theplanetd.com Dave and Deb

    You sold me! I want to go to Lebanon too! Great article. I like a piece that breaks the myths and perceptions of what people think of a place.

  • http://www.beatravelbee.com Joya

    Hi Sophie, thanks for writing this. I am Lebanese and have lots of family there. I first visited when I was 14 and haven’t been back since and want to experience the country again now that I’m in my mid-twenties. I hope you get to go soon! I may be going next summer.

  • tim

    A brilliant, well-balanced article. Lebanon tops my go-to list, too. Happy to see this tormented little country getting attention here.

  • hadi

    gr8 article…I’m Lebanese and a Shi’ite muslim. i wanna tell u all that we love all people, americans, europeans,…. just everyone, and lebanon is a safe country. amazing experiences that u will never forget. so do come to lebanon n i guarantee you’ll be safe, happy, amazed, n u will want to come again. gd day everyone

  • sara nussmeier

    Hello my name is Sara and im from the USA i have a boyfriend and he live is lebanon and i want to go so bad iv been looking to see if i can go to collage there so i could stay and be with him but i have to have started collage here then go there , it herts that i cant just do my schooling there ensted of starting here but i will try to do what i can .. I know the lebanon has had some bad times but what country hasn’t well you could say I love lebanon and just really want to go and stay there but , it will be hard for me to i wish i had help with everything i neeed to do but having 2 kids and one on the way and going throw a resont divorce is hard too, I have always want to go over sea’s sence i was 8 years old and now that im grown i want to even more then ever … im sorry im rabaling on but if anyone can help me with my dream i would be most greatful to them … i draw my own clothes and i have other intrest to i love to paint ,sew and draw anything i love , im just asking for help to do what iv always wanted to do…. thank you sara

    • Ahmad

      if you are from usa then it is easy to come to lebanon , wish you best of luck 
      from ahmad
       
      00923469116659 travel agent

  • Guest in Lebanon

    So strange that this is not the Lebanon I know … I’ve been here 10 years and this article (written a long time ago) needs to be balanced out. This is not a friendly welcoming place, it is aggressive, arrogant and nasty. It is dirty and polluted. Sewage runs into the sea. The stench in the city (Bourj el Hammoud) is overpowering and nauseous. The traffic is a nightmare and the driver’s here are the worst – they buy their driving licence and corruption (called ‘wasta’) is rife. Pedestrians and kids on the street have to jump for their lives to get out of the way of the Hummers and over the top SUVs with their blacked out windows. If you can see the driver he will be texting on his I-Phone – guaranteed! I have lived all around the world but never have I seen such contempt for other people. The food is great but the sources are suspect – food scandals are weekly here, fake pharmaceuticals abound. Don’t waste your money there are so many great places to visit in the world. Did I mention the latest bombings? the place is ready to implode….

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