There’s something special about Beirut. Maybe it has something to do with its location – after all, it combines the best of the Mediterranean and Middle East or maybe it has something to do with the people – a friendly bunch who are more than happy to give visitors directions and recommendations on where to eat and what to do, or maybe it has to do with its incredible food – which makes it among the world’s most underrated foodie destinations. Maybe it’s everything put together, but regardless, the effect is nothing short of magical.
CAFÉS AND CULTURE
Of all the magic in the air of this history-steeped city (inhabited for more than 5,000 years), one place that’s especially charming is the Paris of the Middle East’s own version of the Champs Elysées—Hamra Street. Here you can not only find some of the most sublime shopping markets in the region for local and international stores, but also experience some of Beirut’s famous sidewalk cafés and restaurants while appreciating the historic architecture and partaking in some people-watching. The intellectual heart of Lebanon, Hamra Street is also here where you might find yourself party to fascinating conversations.
Hamra Street (or Rue Hamra in French, a language you’ll still hear here often) also connects the historic Central District (Centre Ville) to Ras Beirut—another area that’s a must-visit. Nestled along the sea, this warren of bakeries serving fresh French pastries and Lebanese manakish, of tree-draped avenues, boutique hotels, trendy cafés, and a number of old lighthouses, mosques and churches is surprisingly relaxed, despite its waterfront location. It’s especially surprising because it’s also home to the American University of Beirut, which draws thousands of students to its centuries-old campus that blends traditional Lebanese with modern architecture.
TO THE SEA
Another highlight of the area is the Corniche Beirut. A casual stroll on this palm tree-lined seaside promenade is practically guaranteed to melt your stress away, while also letting visitors drink in stunning vistas. A sight that’s well worth seeing are the Raouché Rocks. Also known as Pigeon Rocks, a local myth claims that these towering rocks rising above the waves are the remains of a sea monster the Greek hero Perseus slew by using the head of Medusa to turn it into stone. While the real story is likely less dramatic, the rocks contrast perfectly with the azure waters.
All the walking can work up quite a thirst. No matter which café or restaurant you duck into for refreshment (though the Bay Rock Café, which has a stunning view of the Raouché Rocks, is especially recommended), a smoothie or juice made from fresh-squeezed fruit will do more than quench a parched throat. If anything, it’s a reflection of Beirut—a city relaxed yet invigorating, demure yet elegant, subtle yet stunning. As the sun sinks below the horizon and sets the sky aflame, what could be better than this?
La belle vie, the beautiful life, indeed.
Words: Ben Mack