Life & Style | Travel

48 hours in Beirut

So close geographically, so far from the UAE in character. Louisa Wilkins spends a long weekend in the Lebanese capital and finds it cultural, curious and cool

  • By Louisa Wilkins
  • Published: 11:32 February 24, 2013
  • Aquarius

Jounieh, Beirut, Lebanon
  • Image Credit: Getty Images
  • The Mediterranean capital of Lebanon is the perfect destination for a short break.
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Where to stay
The Four Seasons Hotel Beirut is not only perfectly located right on the waterfront and within walking distance to downtown, but it is a luxurious and friendly hotel, where nothing is too much trouble. Choose to have your breakfast in the restaurant, or in your room. In the evening, mosey on down to the The Bar and The Lounge, where there is live music, a satisfying menu, comfy sofas and a vibrant atmosphere. Room rates start at Dh1,200 per night for a single room. For bookings, visit www.fourseasons.com.

What to see
There are some great day trips from Beirut, which are well worth leaving the bustle of the city for. At the top of your list should be Jeita Grotto, approximately a 45-minute drive from the city centre. There are two caves – both are filled with impressive stalactites, stalagmites and wondrous rock shapes. The upper cave is vast and cavernous while the other one is lower in height because it is filled with water. Entrance (Dh40 per person) includes the price of a boat trip through the lower grotto and the gondola ride up to the entrance.

The water is ice cold and bright turquoise, and there is an ethereal atmosphere, which instantly hushes the crowds. The cave is six kilometres long (although the boat trip only takes you about one or two kilometres in), making it the longest cave structure in the Middle East. It’s a truly spiritual experience – prepare to be awe-struck. Visit www.jeitagrotto.com.

A bit further away is the ancient city of Byblos, which is about thirty kilometres north of Beirut. There is evidence of people living on the site as early as 8,000BC. It is a Unesco World Heritage site. Don’t miss the ancient Phoenician temples, dating back to 2,700BC and the St John The Baptist Church, which was built by Crusaders in the 12th century.

Where to shop
The Centre Ville district is full of Dubai-style shops, but at higher prices. For something a bit different, head to Gemmayze where there are boutiques with items from up-and-coming Lebanese designers. One of the best is Over The Rainbow (www.overtherainbow.me), located in an old building that has been beautifully renovated to house fashion, art and accessories. A bit further down the road, an antique shop owned by an elderly couple turns out to be a treasure chest of beautifully carved crystals for a few dollars a pop – ask to go to the big shop around the corner where you can sift through thousands of crystals.

Where to eat
Even for us UAE dwellers who are privy to good Lebanese cuisine, the Lebanese restaurants in Beirut will blow you away. One of the best is Kahwet Leila (leilarestaurant.com) in Gemmayze (which has just opened a branch in Dubai). Cheap, cheerful and very tasty food – also a great place to watch the world go by. For street food, keep your eyes open for a man in a fez pushing a cart with a small oven in it. For a couple of dirhams he will cook your bread in front of you with samak and white cheese – too good to miss and a great companion for your stroll back to your hotel.

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My destination

“I like the ski resorts and the downtown area, which has souqs and famous brands.”
Aquarius fan Nadine Badreddine

“Harissa, downtown, Byblos, Al Arz and Faraya are my favourites!”
—Aquarius fan Sarah Joudet

“It’s a gorgeous city with some of the most warm, hospitable people. Beach, shopping, culture, history or partying into the wee hours – Beirut has everything.”
Aquarius fan Moneira AbouZeid

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