Despite its small geographical area, Lebanon offers such a broad variety of historical sites, shrines, or areas of natural beauty that can be overwhelming for a first-time visitor. On top of that, its thousands-years-old past along with the complexity of the social fabric and the subtle balances (or, frequent imbalances) among various subgroups of the population create even more confusion and ambiguity. Still, Lebanon seems to have the ability to cast a mighty spell on every visitor since we all end up disregarding the chaos in the streets, the apparent lack of any order, or the lingering aura of the ‘70s which blends with the war-scarred buildings and the modern architecture in an ambiance that makes no sense, and we return again and again just to experience the essence of the Lebanese hospitality and dance to the crazy rhythms of the Lebanese heart.
To those visiting Lebanon for the first time, I would suggest they leave quickly behind the siren of Beirut and venture in the countryside, where most remnants of the country’s past can be found and, through them, a further understanding of these quite complex pages of Middle Eastern history can be achieved. Rent a car – preferably with a driver, since, driving in Lebanon seems to me an unnecessarily challenging task – and begin your road trip. I share here twelve favorite destinations which, I believe, should be included in everyone’s first trip, though, of course, they are the rather obvious touristic landmarks, and they merely scratch the surface of the mystery that is called “Lebanon.” [Read more…]