Karl Baz, publisher, recommends Beirut, Lebanon
Beirut has always been a woman to me; she’s rude and cheap, but also steeped in culture and fluent in three languages. She’s conservative and spiritual, but dances on tables all night long.
She is a contradiction, a city that gives you whatever you’re looking for and a lot that you aren’t. Fancy an eighty-rial steak? Done. Keep walking down that alley though and you’ll find a 500 Baisa meal fit for a king. Don’t mind the bullet-ridden building on the way, behind that you’ll find a perfectly intact two thousand year-old Roman bath.
Beirut is ugly, and so very beautiful at the same time. And if you haven’t been there for a weekend, I suggest you pack your bags now.
Fair warning however, you should check travel advisories before heading to Lebanon, as conflicts sometimes arise. Although the dangers are often exaggerated, conventional wisdom dictates that you can never be too careful with travel.
My favourite place Gemmayzeh, without a doubt. This is a small street straight out of ‘Moulin Rouge’ that accurately reflects everything I love about this city. By day it’s a quiet stretch where you can pick up everything from high-end cuisine to street food (try both) and by night it transforms into a party zone with a wide variety of places to waste the night away.
Typical Lebanese nights out will often include visiting many of these ever-changing places; so if you’re ever in doubt, just follow the crowds.
Not in the mood for nightlife? A very close second favourite is the Beirut Corniche, a beautiful stretch that follows the coastline. It’s littered with cafés and street carts, and wherever you decide to stop you’re guaranteed a fantastic view. This is also where you should try the local coffee, if you’re a caffeine drinker, and watch the sun set.
If you do make it to Lebanon, you are explicitly forbidden to leave without taking in the archaeology. The country has some of the most underrated, most breath-taking archaeology the modern world has to offer – more than 150 sites in fact. Most are not even officially listed. Towns you should spend a day in include Baalbek, Byblos and Sidon. If you’re staying in Beirut, make time for the National Museum, and the open-air ruins in Beirut Central District.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that Beirut is not the safest place in the world; as someone who spent the best years of their life there, this of course breaks my heart. Sadly, it’s more and more true these days with regional tensions trickling into the city. Reports indicate that petty crime is on the rise, and of course there is always the risk of conflict. Having said that, exercising proper caution and sound judgement will keep you safe: avoid travelling alone and unnecessary confrontations and your experience will be a very positive one.
Don’t bother with souvenirs; Beirut is not that kind of place. In the past, I would have suggested you pick up a Hard Rock Café Beirut t-shirt because their chicken wings were second-to-none, but sadly the iconic diner closed down late last year. Instead, try to eat, drink, dance and laugh as much as you can. Meet strangers, strike up conversations, and come back home tired and with a headache. Beirut is an experience.
Where to stay
This will vary depending on your budget – the city has more hotels than you’ll know what to do with. I’m a Bed & Breakfast kind of guy myself, and for my money it doesn’t get any better than Villa Clara. It’s charming, beautiful and reasonably priced; it’s also walking distance from Gemmayzeh street! If you’re a big spender however, then allow me to recommend Le Gray. Le Gray does luxury very well, but the reason I recommend it over the many other luxury hotels in Beirut is its ability to maintain a certain cosiness. This is the place you want to go if you’re celebrating something romantic.