Planet's Top 10 cities 2009 - Beirut by Amelia Thomas
1.2 million - Languages Arabic,
French, English - Unit of currency
Lebanese Lira (LL), Prices often in US Dollars (US$)
- Cost index Strong black coffee
from an itinerant coffee-wagon LL 1000 (US$0.70),
five-star hotel suite US$1800, dorm bed near the bus
station US$6, shared service-taxi ride to and from
any point in town LL 1500 (US$1), glass of local Arak
LL 2000 (US$1.30), bottle of champagne at crystal
A Maronite Christian Parade in a Beirut Suburb adds
dash of colour to the city's war-weary concrete expanses
on the Brink
always on the verge of something happening - covert
political assassinations, airborne invasions by foreign
powers, the opening night of the hippest new beach
bar in the Middle East - and any or all of them might
happen in 2009. Despite the uncertainly in the air
and armed troops on the streets, the city clings tenaciously
to its sybaritic appeal, with super cool clubs attracting
top name European DJs, swanky restaurants churning
out delectable fusion sushi, cool underground jazz
joints, tip-top designers-clothes shopping, and even
a friendly, familiar Starbucks or two, for that priceless
"Starbucks Beirut" souvenir coffee mug.
its weakness for all that's new and swanky, Beirut's
not entirely about the hottest, priciest and glitziest.
Squeezed in between century-old coffee shops, where
ancient patrons, enveloped in clouds of nargileh smokes,
serenely clack backgammon counters, the weathered
remains of the Roman Cardo Maximus, the Ottoman-era
Grand Serail, the 19th-century Jewish cemetery and
12th-century Al-Omari Mosque offer visual and cultural
respite amid a mess of modern city construction.
a perfect martini in a swanky, silicone-heavy beach
club watching weathered pole-fishermen battling the
waves on the Corniche rocks, then stroll past bomb-craters
and city-centre Hezbollah encampments to munch on
a divine eggs Benedict brunch with the artsy crowd
in Beirut's funky Gemmayzeh district.
Twice this year, in either May or November, hunt for
hidden treasure at the Souk el-Bargout, a week-long
city-wide flea market during which everyone hauls
the junk they bought at the last one back out onto
Beirut's streets for you purchasing delight.
In October the Beirut International Film Festival
showcases the pick of the crop of new films from across
Docudays, held just before Christmas, is a world-class
documentary film festival, attracting flocks of International
filmmakers and pensive, bearded locals.
Pound Beirut's streets with the dedicated and professional
at the Beirut Marathon in October - or opt for the
10km fun-run with other, saner, individuals.
Touring a city-limits Palestinian refugee camp with
a local Palestinian guide.
Exploring the cavernous Jeita Grotto, just north of
the city, one of the most impressive subterranean
displays of stalagmites on the planet.
Taking up the quintessential Lebanese challenge of
swimming in the Med in the morning, then hitting the
slopes of the Faraya Mzaar ski resort, above Beirut,
in the afternoon.
politics is never far from people's minds in volatile
Beirut, the current talk of the concrete-laden town
is green, green, and green. As the city and its shoreline
succumb to air pollution and waste mismanagement,
manifold groups are springing up to protect Lebanon's
fragile environment and promote eco-everything, from
hiking the Lebanon Mountain Trail, to defending the
capital's stray cats and dogs, to taking to Beirut's
streets - albeit precariously - on two person - powered
wheels instead of four Hummer-sized ones.
many might claim they've already stayed at the world's
worst Holiday Inn, this Beirut landmark beats them
all. Built towering and earthquake-proof in the heady
1970s, it was the talk of the town for just a few
weeks before the civil war turned it into a prime
sniper post. The hotel still dominates the Beirut
skyline, complete with gaping mortar holes, fluttering
shreds of bedroom curtains, and resident flocks of
splurging on fine dining, the best place to come down
is Le Chef, a 'blue collar' institution since the
1950s. Hefty plates of good old-fashioned Arabic food
are brought to your Formica table by loquacious waiters,
and don't miss the moolookhiye if it's on the day's
specials: a gloopy, soupy mix of mallow leaves, lamb,
rice and chicken - believed to a powerful aphrodisiac.
with a Local
your pastel-shaded hotel room for the spare bedroom
of a born-and-bred Beiruti, to experience legendary
Lebanese hospitality. B&B specialists L'Hote Libanais
(www.hotelibanais.com) arranges home-comfort lodgings
in the city, the best way to dive beneath Beirut's
sometimes glistening, sometimes murky surface.
Lebanon Capital Beirut Population
4 million Area 10.400 sq Km Official
tiny country with a big history and even bigger problems,
Lebanonís shaky security situation will govern whether
or not visitors continue to trickle back in 2009.
Though most of its infrastructure has been repaired
since the 2006 summer Hezbollah-Israeli war, occasional
bomb blasts aimed largely at anti-Syrian politicians
and occasional bomb blasts aimed largely at anti-Syrian
politicians and occasionally at UN interim forces,
continue to cause physical and political damage. Nevertheless,
Lebanon remains an extremely welcoming country to
visit, with incredible archaeological remains, a wild
Beirut nightlife and stunning mountain hiking amongst
its charms. Sure, check the news before you go, but
don't be deterred from seeing its sights while you
can do so minus the crowds.