Lebanon is a country of surprises. I first visited four years ago, and was wowed by the people, the landscape and the diversity of the place. I loved it, and vowed to return as soon as I could. Life got in the way a bit, but I was able to zip back there last week and catch up with friends and places that I miss.
It’s a small country, about as big as Devon and Cornwall – but its hugely varied. You can be at the beach, and then 45 minutes later be up above the snowline as a ski resort. Of course in the “west” it has many stereotypes – not least which that it’s a “trouble spot”. It’s not. It’s welcoming, friendly and vibrant. The people are generally massively friendly and welcoming, and the food and culture are absorbing and energising.
I stayed in Beirut – and due to budget issues this time I stayed in a Hostel – Hostel Beirut. I can’t say enough good things about it – clean, friendly, relaxed, welcoming and efficient. Very highly recommended. Awesome breakfasts too! Most of the time however I was out with the Land Rover Defender Club of Lebanon, particularly their leading lights Rawad Rizk and Patrick Adaimi who kindly gave up their time to accommodate me. Thanks lads.
Beirut is always fun. Of course it had a reputation as a party destination before the Troubles of the 80s and 90s, and that is still there if you seek it, but it’s also a great place just to mooch round and relax. There are also some new microbreweries whose output of real ale makes an evening in the city still more pleasant if, like me, you view lager as one step up from the liquid byproduct of the cat tribe.
The visit saw us take half a dozen Land Rovers up through Zaarour to Mount Sannine in the Mount Lebanon range of hills behind Beirut. Though it was sunny in the city, by the time we got into the hills it was minus 2 and there was at least ten inches of snow on the ground. The trucks piled off into the whiteness with enthusiasm, led by Fawzi Farah in his lifted 5.2 litre v8 Discovery 2. With us we also had Georges in his “SPECTRE” 130, another 130 driven by Mohammed, Jean-Pierre in his 110 camper, Patrick’s 110 and Fadi’s 110, Jean in another 110 and Matthias, also in a 110 that was exported from the UK to Botswana and then shipped by Matthias to Lebanon! All the trucks were v8s of varying size, as diesel cars are illegal for civilians in Lebanon – despite the military having (and loving) many diesel Land Rovers.
We enjoyed a good while of travel through the snowy hills and forests – though sadly one major route had been blocked by an owner of a Range Rover Sport who the previous day got his RRS badly stuck in two feet of snow and abandoned it, blocking the track for the rest of us. Still, we carried on exploring well into the night.
After an enjoyable meal of excellent mezze at Auberge Salameh we headed back down to Beirut. The next day I headed out with Patrick in his 110 and we explored the fishing town of Batroun – including the Crusader fort at Smar Jbeil and squid ink sandwiches fresh from that day’s catch!
Other adventures ensued but with only four days in Lebanon they were necessarily brief. I love the place – friendly, laid back and always something interesting going on. Can’t wait to go back!