A Local's Guide to Beirut, Lebanon
Food & Wine
I have a romantic relationship with Lebanon that is difficult to describe. Here, you are prompted to think with your heart. Beirut and how it’s made, including its political, economic and social system, goes against logic. It taught me to face challenges, one after the other, with bravery and grace. Yet, in this mess of a city, I feel alive. I find a rhythm in its chaos. Beirut is part of who I am and I am a part of Beirut. When it comes to what to do here, this small country has endless options that you’ll probably need a minimum of a week to enjoy. Here, you are guaranteed mountain and beach landscapes, history, smiles and unparalleled food experiences. From Ottoman Souks to a unique urban patchwork and a mixed Mediterranean culinary heritage, Lebanon takes hospitality to a whole new level.
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Things to do in Beirut
1. In the capital, Beirut, get on the hop-on-hop-off bus to visit the city's most coveted ruins, sightseeing spots, mosques and churches in an open-air double-decker. Alternatively, a walking tour that begins downtown and ends in the narrow streets of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze is also a lovely option.
2. Jeita Grotto, a finalist in the competition for the new seven wonders of the world, is an incredible cave system in the limestone rock of Mount Lebanon mountain range made up of two separate enormous caverns. Admire the thousands of naturally-made stalactites and stalagmites and take a short boat trip on the lake that covers the floor of the lower cave.
3. After Jeita, head to Harissa, where you can opt to take the cable car up to the impressive statue of Our Lady of Lebanon, towering high above the city, and enjoy spectacular views over the coast and sea year-round. For adventure geeks, we can arrange paragliding in Harissa.
4. There is always some event happening in Beirut. Think: Exhibits, theatre production and poetry nights. Some must-see museums in the capital include Beit Beirut (in memory of the civil war,) Sursock Museum, National Museum of Beirut and Dar el Nimer. Located outside of Beirut, the wax and soap museums are also an experience.
For day trips, stay at the nearest guesthouse to spend less time on the road and more time making memories. There are hotels and guesthouses to suit every taste, every pocket and every season.
Camp at Le Couvent Rouge Winery above the fields of the Bekaa. Far from everything you know, Le Couvent Rouge is a small boutique winery where you can set up an atypical lunch, dinner or even overnight. It caters to groups of up to 12 people. While it is two hours away from the capital, it is only 45 minutes away from Baalbek— the temple of the sun, which is also a must-visit when in Lebanon.
Two nights at Beit Trad— my absolute favorite home away from home. Beit Trad is a classic Lebanese mansion turned boutique hotel in Kfour (North Lebanon.) It is a precious haven passed from one generation to another, filled with memories and objects left behind by people who have experienced glorious moments of Lebanese history. I don’t want to spoil the experience, so I will just say: stay at Beit Trad to experience Lebanese hospitality at its finest. It is also surrounded by majestic forests making it equally great for people who enjoy hikes or nature activities.
After Beit Trad, drive 30 minutes up North to Abdelli Terraces on a Sunday and enjoy their Sunday buffet. This is yet another guesthouse steeped in Lebanese nature.
Stay at La Maison du Bonheur. I have a yearly stay at La Maison du Bonheur that I never skip. Ama, your host, is an amazing soul and her home turned into a three bedroom guesthouse is a cozy Lebanese house steeped on a hill atop Deir el Qamar, the former capital of Lebanon. La Maison du Bonheur translating as The Home of Happiness will genuinely leave you with joyful memories and peace of mind. It offers a magnificent masterpiece of a view all to yourself. Bonus: It is very close to Beyt el Jabal (weekend Lebanese lunch buffets,) and many bountiful hike trails.
Hiking in Arz El Barouk Biosphere Reserve is an experience that I cannot rightfully describe with words. One of the richest natural treasures of the country, it is an experience you cannot miss. This is where you will find a diversity of fauna, flora and the traditional cedar tree (on the Lebanese flag.) Covering nearly 5% of the Lebanese territory, the Reserve provides all sorts of trails with different levels.
In Jezzine, you need to stay the night because you haven’t come to Lebanon if you don’t experience the hospitality of home-cooked and hosted farm-to-table lunch, and this is the place to savor it. To catch two day experiences that you will remember for a very long time, Blue Jay Valley is the perfect place to spend one (or more) nights. Blue Jay Valley has bungalows of all sizes and an infinity pool overlooking the largest fruitful pine forest in the Mediterranean. Its restaurant also offers amazing Lebanese food and ambiance. Don’t miss it at dinner. Think: starry nights, food for the soul and light oriental music.
Piazza 1140 in Hammana never disappoints. Nestled in a cobblestone street under the church bells of the old souk of Hammana at 1140m above sea level, I repeatedly drive to this Italian restaurant to escape the city's hustle. They mainly serve Neapolitan pizza, but everything on their menu is great. The lasagna is one of the best I’ve had in my life, and the salads are fresh. It's charming atmosphere (often with live music) and the spirit of Lebanese hospitality and Italian cuisine means everyone leaves with a smile.
Places to eat & drink in Beirut
Tawlet, my favorite concept, boasts the bounty of the Lebanese farmer’s market. Every day, Tawlet invites a cook from one of the thousands of Lebanese villages to tell the tale of their village and traditions through home-cooked cuisine. No two lunches are the same at Tawlet. It is no coincidence that the founder of such an empowering social enterprise has just been named one of the Middle East’s culinary icons by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022.
La Ménagerie is one of my favorite spots. A flower shop by day and a bistro by night, La Menagerie is one of those places that retain Beirut’s charms, liveliness and elegance.
Steeped in a 1850’ Lebanese architectural jewel, Beit Kanz is a newly-opened café and social enterprise arm of one of Lebanon’s most active NGO's. At Beit Kanz, beneficiaries of the NGO can sell their produce with the support of the gastronomic vision and experience of star chefs. Beit Kanz represents unmatched effort of historians, activists, advocates of human dignity and patriotic citizens who came together to preserve Lebanese culinary and cultural heritage, helping those who need it the most.
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