A turbulent recent history means this beautiful and welcoming country sees few visitors. However, now that peace has returned, a visit to Lebanon is as rewarding as ever. Its ancient history, friendly, forward-looking people and wealth of natural beauty ensure that this small country packs a lot of punch.
With a seemingly infinite capacity to re-invent itself, this hedonistic capital of the Middle East never keeps its head down for long. Once known as `the Paris of the East`, Beirut has recently been rebuilt into a modern capital city. The people of Beirut know how to enjoy life, and whether you are looking for beautiful mosques and churches, top bars and restaurants or a vibrant art scene, Beirut is the heart of all things Lebanese.
Byblos & Baalbek
Byblos and Baalbek are Lebanon`s two most important and impressive archaeological sites. Byblos, once the epicentre of world shipping, is home to a spectacular collection of Roman ruins, a Crusader castle, a picturesque fishing harbour and a beautiful market. It is also believed to be the birthplace of the modern alphabet. Baalbek, meaning `the Sun City`, is Lebanon`s biggest draw and arguably the most important Roman site in the Middle East. Its collection of stunning temples, mosques, courtyards and statues are a must-see for any trip to Lebanon.
Home to an ornate covered market, Sidon is one of South Lebanon`s most historic spots with over 60 heritage sites. This Phoenician city boasts a beautiful sea-castle, which dates to the time of the Crusaders in the 12th century and consists of two towers, joined together and connected to the mainland by a stone causeway. Between the sea-castle and the Castle of St Francis are meandering souq (market) stalls, intersected by charming canteens selling popular Arab dishes. Also of interest is the 17th century Khan al-Franj, which has been painstakingly restored, and the Great Omari Mosque - one of the finest feats of 13th century Islamic architecture. Sidon is also home to a Soap Museum, stunning palaces and an ancient garbage dump on Murex Hill. There are also many enchanting traditional homesteads and a lively fish market.
The beautiful UNESCO World Heritage listed Qadisha Valley (meaning `holy valley`) in northern Lebanon is the perfect place for walking. Home to ancient monasteries, hermitages, cave churches, tombs and waterfalls, a walk in the valley and its gorgeous surroundings is the perfect tonic for modern life.
Jeita`s spectacular series of caverns contains some of the best stalactite and stalagmite-laden passageways anywhere in the world. Stretching almost 6km into the mountains, the enormous upper cavern is the highlight of the caves, while the crevices of the lower cavern can be explored by boat.
The Bekaa Valley in the east of Lebanon is the country`s most famous wine-producing region. In particular the Ksara winery produces some excellent reds, whites, rosés and dessert wines, while its naturally-formed wine cellars are worth a visit in themselves.
This region offers unique and unexplored hiking options. The verdant Qadisha Valley has beautiful trails leading to an area steeped in tradition and history with living hermits, ancient monasteries and Cedar forests. Qadisha means `holy in Aramaic, and it`s easy to see why this Edenic valley attracted a divine appellation. The Middle East may not be synonymous with hiking, but that just means you are more likely to have these remarkable trails to yourself.