Beirut may still bear the stigmates of the civil war
but its heart is beating stronger than ever.
It is not a city that can leave anyone indifferent. The weight if history is present everywhere: Phoenician ruins, Ottoman-style villas, French colonial architecture and bullets from the civil war still stuck in the walls. Arab, French, English can be heard everywhere, often in the same sentence. Church bells and prayer calls from the mosques echo each other. The traffic is hectic and it takes a leap of faith to climb in one of the shared taxis. The clash between old and new is in every street: in the old Citroën next to a Porsche, in the glass building next to an abandoned villa, in the fishermen and the jetsetters on the Corniche, in the new district of Solidere built right next to "The Green Line", which used to be the no man's land between the Christian East and Muslim West during the civil war.
The nightlife is vibrant, diverse and exciting. What I found different from other capitals is that the evening entertainment is not for the youth only. People of all ages can be seen in restaurants, beach resorts, dancing in rooftop clubs or having a shisha in a cafe, eager to enjoy life and forget about the hard years. The Lebanese give a lesson of resilience and hope to the rest of the world. Boosted by this positive energy, Beirut is the most important center for music, cinema, design, literature and art in the Middle-East. From independent boutiques in Mar Mikhail to high-end designers in Saifi Village, there is something for everyone.
Lebanese cuisine is renown around the world. The best restaurants can be found in the districts of Hamra and Achrafieh. Each has its own secret houmous recipe, advertised as "the best in town". The mezze platters also come with labneh with zahatar (salty yogurt with sesame seeds, dried thyme, and spices), tabouleh (chopped fresh parsley), baba ghannouj (mashed eggplant), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), falafel, lamb kebabs and pitta bread.
To complete this unforgettable experience, go for a midnight swim. Enjoy the view of the city lights and the muffled sound of music coming from the restaurants while being pleasantly rocked by the Mediterranean sea.
To get in the mood:
- Read: Sorj Chalandon - Le quatrième mur
- Watch: Ari Folman - Waltz with Bashir
- Listen: Mashrou Leila - Ma Tetrikini Heik