In Beirut, the Phoenicia Hotel is across from the Saint-George in front of the Holiday Inn. The Phoenicia is the luxurious five-star international hotel of rebuilt Beirut.
The Holiday Inn towers above the cityscape still bombed out and empty, a reminder of the civil war. The Saint-George had its heyday in the 1960s when double agent Kim Philby and movie star Brigitte Bardot hung out here. Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was murdered here in February 2005.
I hailed a cab outside the Phoenicia. As he drove me to Hamra, the leftist area where journalists, poets and writers hang out, he recited poetry to me. I love the Middle East.
Beirut was just becoming the playground of the Middle East again when a series of deadly bombs rocked the city last year. Struggling to get back on its feet, it remains somewhat off the traditional tourist trail, although this city is not only for the war-zone traveller.
Besides its natural beauty, sea, mountains and the famous cedar trees, Lebanon is renowned for its cuisine. And for good reason. No doubt it has something to do with the thousands of years during which invaders came to Lebanon from the Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks, Crusaders, Ottomans and latterly to the French. The food, like its history, is unbelievable.
Start the morning at Manara Palace Café and hang out with the locals, taking in the view of the Mediterranean and the lighthouse. Order the manakish with thyme. What could be better than pizza-like sandwiches to start the day? Then, go straight to La Maison du Café in the Majidiye sector for the excellent Beirut-blend coffee.
It will be getting close to lunch by the time you have walked around the central business district and having worked up an appetite, head to Al Balad for yummy fatoush, kibbeh, extraordinary humus and spicy potatoes. The mezze are the stars of the meal.
It's hard to imagine that you are sitting in what was less than 20 years ago a battlefield. Much of the CDB has been renovated to look like it was when the French created Lebanon and ruled from the 1920s to 40s. Some think it is more like Disneyland now, a capital with no soul. Still, it is amazing how cities and civilisations recover. Beirut was a city destroyed, with virtually nothing left standing. It is a great city to walk around and has lots to see, all easily accessible, especially if you don't get run down by the insane drivers. The driving is appalling.
You'll be assaulted by history wherever you go; Orthodox, Maronite (the largest Christian sect), Armenian and Christian churches, the ruins of 12 civilisations, synagogues and mosques.
St George is the patron saint of the city of Beirut. The Orthodox cathedral off the central plaza has two paintings by Delacroix and the ceiling is modelled on that of St Maria Maggiore in Rome. Beirut's 19 different "confessions" are well represented and you can stroll round the city with the call of competing Muezzins rumbling in the background.
Stroll down the Avenue de Paris, which forms part of the Corniche, a long boulevard along the Mediterranean that circles much of the city. Stop at the Dog River to see the "stellas" of Napoleon III and the shape of an Assyrian king and the Ottoman bridge. This is also where Ramses II left three inscriptions.
Byblos, or Jbeil in Arabic, is less than an hour from Beirut. There is the most spectacularly preserved Crusader castle. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world and dates from 7 000 years ago when the Phoenicians landed, the first of 12 waves of invasion. About 80% of the Lebanese are descended from the Phoenicians. That is why so many have blond hair and blue or green eyes.
At the Jeita grotto the stalagmites and stalactites resemble giant jellyfish, cathedral organs, cauliflowers and cabbages. Crossing the small lake is like taking a boat ride across the river Styx to Hades. When you look down the abyss, it seems to go straight to the centre of the earth - or hell.
Breathtaking Baalbek is where you are heading to see the Roman temples of Bacchus, Jupiter and Venus. The Romans chose Baalbek because it had water, which they needed for worship, it was an important rest stop between Phoenicia and Mesopotamia, and it had altitude, which meant it was nearer the gods. It is the most important archaeological site in Lebanon and has been designated a Unesco world heritage site.
As Lebanon is a tiny country, sandwiched between Syria, Israel and the sea, you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon. Of course, after that you'll need to eat again. That means going to Gemmeizeh to see traditional Lebanese architecture and homes with their hidden gardens and small alleys. This area is trendier than downtown.
Sit at super-stylish, modern and minimalist Tamaris on a balmy night to overlook the city. It's Alain Ducasse's dessert restaurant five floors above the splendiferous Patchi chocolate shop that sells its wares like jewellery. Each chocolate is displayed on a Perspex plinth.
You still need to go to Tripoli, see the Cedars of Lebanon, to Beiteddine Palace, Tyre, Sidon and you've hardly even started really. After you've done all that, then you can have a holiday.
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