Beirut might not be the first place that immediately springs to mind for a weekend city break which is a shame as there are few cities you are able to get as much out of in such a short period of time as a city styled as the Paris of the Middle East.
There can be no finer choice of hotel for your stay than The Phoenicia http://phoeniciabeirut.com/
which has been warmly welcoming guests since 1961 when Beirut was at its swinging peak! Since then it has been the hotel of choice for visiting Royalty and celebrities and a stay in one of its glamorous 446 rooms and suites will leave you feeling like a Hollywood star!
10am – After a leisurely breakfast at Mosaic the hotels decadent buffet restaurant featuring all manner of local and international specialties grab your camera and work off some of those delicious Lebanese pastries with a stroll along the Corniche to Raouche (also known as Pigeon Rock). This stretch of the seafront promenade, built when Lebanon was still under French mandate is about 3.4km long and is a particularly popular place for locals of all ages to congregate, whether running, fishing or smoking shisha with friends making it a great place to people watch as well as admire the views over St. George’s bay to the Sannine mountains. If you find yourself getting thirsty along the way stop and try a traditional Arabic coffee “ahwe” or freshly squeezed orange juice at one of the intermittent street stalls.
Take a taxi (agreeing on the price first – it should cost no more than 10,000 -15,000 Lira) to The National Museum of Beirut http://www.beirutnationalmuseum.com/
. Housing an impressive collection of archaeological finds dating from 9000 BC to the 16th
Century this is a great (and easy) introduction to some of the spectacular historical sites the country has to offer including Baalbek and Byblos. Be sure to make time to watch the excellent video documenting how the curators worked tirelessly to preserve these vital historical artifacts during the civil war and their subsequent restoration.
Hop in another taxi and make your way to Tawlet http://www.soukeltayeb.com/find-us/
restaurant in Mar Mikhael. This tiny restaurant plays host to a different chef each day giving you the opportunity to sample the very best local cuisine from farm to table. The daily changing menu is set up on the kitchen counter and you can help yourself to as much as you can eat with freeflow arak – the anis flavoured national spirit – for around $30. Tawlet is operated by the same people who run “Souk el Tayeb
” the Beirut farmers market which sees startling fresh produce from all over Lebanon on sale each week. If you don’t linger over lunch you could catch them at the Beirut souks (Saturday 9-2pm) or at nearby Saifi village (4pm-8pm) in order to take home some beautiful organic honey, herbs, pickled vegetables or jars of homemade labneh.
15:00 – After all that delicious Lebanese mezze you can enjoy a leisurely stroll back down through Mar Mikael to Gemmayze where you can admire all the beautiful old Ottoman era buildings. At night these streets burst to life with some of the best bars and clubs the city has to offer, including local institutions like Torino express which attracts a particularly arty, euro centric crowd which is much lower key then some of the flashier nightlife in the area.
16:00 – As you reach the end of Rue Gouraud you should take time to walk around nearby Saifi village before heading down to Place des Martyrs, a moving testament to the many years of war and destruction this beautiful city has suffered. The bullet pocked statue was originally built to commemorate the deaths of Lebanese Nationalists at the hands of the Ottomans who ruled the country during the First World War but now serves as a constant reminder of Lebanon’s brutal civil war. This was the same place that millions of Lebanese turned up to protest against Syrian occupation and the assassination of President Hariri in 2005 sparking the “Cedar revolution”
18:00 – After you have had time to enjoy the shops in the Beirut Souks (don’t be fooled by the name, the shops here are on a par with those on 5th avenue or Oxford street!) It is time have a well-earned massage back at the Phoenicia’s stunning Spa. Their 22 treatment rooms are state of the art and their Ayuvedic masseuses will soothe away any aches and pains from the days exploring.
People in Beirut eat late and it is not uncommon for restaurants to start filling up after 22:00 but it will be easier to book one of the coveted roof top tables at Abdel Wahab http://www.ghiaholding.com/pages/view_brand/7/
by choosing to eat a little earlier. Sit back with a narguileh (the Lebanese word for shisha) and a bottle of Lebanese wine and make your way through their impressive menu of Lebanese classics from hummus to tabbouleh, fatouch to kibbeh a sort of Lebanese steak tartar. Do as the locals do and order plenty – no one expects you to finish all the dishes but this is the best way to enjoy the local cuisine.
Opened in 20083 by Lebanese Greek business man Michel Elefteriades, Music Hall http://www.themusichall.com/
is without a doubt one of Beirut’s best nights out. Singers, musicians, dancers and performers from all over the world take to the stage in a dazzling show and the audience sing along, dance and knock back plenty of their potent cocktails until the small hours.
03:30 – If you are still up for more after this – and you are in Beirut so you should be….. then grab a taxi to B0:18 in Karentina where you enter the striking, tomblike building built by famed architect Bernard Khoury down some steps in a random car park and continue the party inside what is undoubtedly one of Beirut’s hottest clubs until they open the roof just in time for sunrise.
After some well-earned sleep it is time to escape the city and make the journey out to the beautiful Bekaa valley and the family run Massaya vineyards http://www.massaya.com/
in Tanail. There, nestled under the vines is the appropriately named “Vineyard Restaurant” where for $40 you can enjoy seemingly endless traditional Lebanese mezze, freshly baked saaj breads, BBQ’d meats not to mention free flow of their world class wines and arak until the bar closes at 3:15pm.
16:00 – You can’t leave the Bekaa without seeing the magnificent temples at Baalbek, enough to rival the ruins of Athens and Rome with settlement there since 9000 AD. Your National museum trip should come in handy as you wander through the spectacular Temple of Bacchus, passing in the footsteps of Emperor Trajan himself.
18:00 – Use the 50 mile journey back to Beirut to catch some zzz’s and be thankful that the Lebanese preference for dining late means you can sink back into your comfy bed at the Phoenicia for another few hours on your return before you have to head out for dinner again!
Open 24/7; 365 days of the year there are few more scenic places to sit in central Beirut than the beautiful gardens at Falamanki http://www.alfalamanki.com/
. Whilst the food may not be quite on a par with Abdel Wahab, there are few better places to people watch whilst enjoying another narguileh and more Lebanese wine, not to mention some more fantastic Lebanese cuisine. Halloumi with figs, goats labneh with fresh herbs and fried potatoes with magenta beetroot tahini are just some of the dishes on offer, why not do as the locals do and buy a pack of cards to play with or try your hand at “tawle” a sort of Arabic chequers until it’s time to get some rest.
10:00 – After a leisurely swim in the hotels beautiful outdoor pool it’s time for one last breakfast feast at Mosaic before making your way back to the airport. Don’t leave without buying some last souvenirs, traditional Arabic sweets, herbs like sumac and zaatar, rosewater, traditional coffee with cardamom, Rifai nuts and dates are all available at the airport and will help keep you in constant supply until your next visit to this incredible City.