Exploring a complete, and wonderful, unknown – Lebanon

After almost three phenomenal weeks exploring Jordan, next up on the Middle East itinerary was Lebanon. With a two week trip planned but only a one week visa in hand (the embassy in Amman was adamant that’s all they could give me even after they first asked for my flight details and said a longer visa wouldn’t be a problem), Jenstar and I flew into the vibey, super cosmopolitan and ‘unconservative’ Beirut. (Thankfully our hostel was correct and it is possible to extend one’s visa at the airport just before departing!).

View from atop the cable car
View from atop the cable car
The local mosque in central Beirut

Basing ourselves out of the capital for the firstweek, we headed both south and north on day trips. The beautiful palace at Beitadine, the crazy castle at Deil-Al Kamar with its weapon collection of thousands, the cable car ride just outside Beirut from which one has phenomenal views of the city and the coastline, downtown Beirut with its designer stores and gorgeous mosque and then one of the highlights of our two weeks in the country, the Jeita Grotto caves.

The caves consist of two connected levels, each with amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations. The bottom cavern is only accessible by boat and there are short rides you can take round while one is able to walk through the upper level one. The sheer size of the cave itself and all the formations is something else and if you’re in the country, I wouldn’t miss seeing these caves.

The Balbel ruins
The Baalbek ruins

We also spent time exploring the city of Baalbek with its amazing ruins and ancient history and wandering about the country’s second largest city, Tripoli. With its beautiful mosques, awesome souks and great coffee-wallas (sellers) on most corners (not to mention delicious ice cream), Tripoli was, as to be expected, more conservative than Beirut and the people friendlier (likely because they see fewer tourists). It was here that a coffee-walla insisted we join him and his friend for a divine lunch in their small shop and the warm hummus and fresh bread we enjoyed was one of our best meals.

The bears have had too much to drink!
The bears have had too much to drink!

Both Jenstar and I knew very little about Lebanon when we went and the country provided so many unexpected highlights. Who knew for example that Lebanon produces gorgeous wine? This we had to investigate and so we went wine tasting the one day, visiting two farms and trying some super wine. Or that up north in the country, there’s fantastic hiking?

Awesome hiking in the Quadisha Valley
Awesome hiking in the Qadisha Valley

Unlike Jordan which is desert, Lebanon is lush and green. This was extremely evident in the north where we went hiking in the beautiful Qadisha and Cedars Valleys. In typical Jazza and Jenstar ‘muppetness’, we set off the one day to hike for a few hours. All was going well until we took a wrong turn. Thankfully we bumped into a local who put us back on the right track and some ten hours after leaving the hostel, we slowly trudged back into our room. The two bottles of wine that night went a long way to rejuvenate our tired limbs.

Another surprise was that we got to see Moby while in town. He performed in the beautiful coastal town of Byblos and we enjoyed the town so much the first night that we went back a second to enjoy a delicious picnic on the water.

We also I did a fair bit of hitchhiking in the country and while a few people simply gave us the thumbs up back, we did enjoy some luck. Coming back from Beitadine, we were picked up by a group of guys who we ended up horse riding and ATV-ing with at this resort club. The great couple who picked us up whilst we were hitching a ride to the highway from the castle ended up not only taking us all the way to the coastal town we ultimately wanted to visit, Saida, but taking us on a boat trip round the harbour. These are just two examples of the fantastic hospitality we enjoyed throughout the country

Saida, in southern Lebanon
Saida, in southern Lebanon

Finally, a word (again) on the food as we ate so well throughout the country. The featured image is the first meal we enjoyed in Beirut at a restaurant run by a Lebanese and French couple. We also discovered the local street food, which were these delicious thin pizzas.

All told, it was a phenomenal two weeks exploring a country we knew virtually nothing about.

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