Why you should travel to Lebanon with cazenove+loyd
With a fascinating history and culture, Lebanon is an extraordinary place to visit. Our Asia + the Middle East expert, Venetia Stanley, reveals why you should travel to this amazing country.
Please note that the tragic explosion in Beirut last August has caused substantial destruction to the city. We are carefully monitoring the situation and are in constant contact with our friends on the ground, keeping up to speed on what’s going on as well as developing incredible new experiences. We will keep this page up-to-date and look forward to designing extraordinary trips to this captivating destination as soon as possible.
Visiting Lebanon had been top of my ‘go to’ list for as long as I can remember. In my mind, the country conjured up images of a captivating, modern place, with a thriving art scene, famous cuisine, beautiful European-inspired architecture, a mass of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a culture completely different to that of any of its neighbours.
Kadisha Valley, one of Lebanon’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Having decided to launch Lebanon as a new destination for cazenove+loyd, we spent more than a year researching the country, looking into every detail that could enhance, define and differentiate trips for our clients. From speaking to the many experts and specialists on the ground to asking endless questions of our array of contacts, aimed at crafting memorable experiences and curating bespoke private access to these for our clients, it was a lengthy but very exciting process.
Following extensive research, one of the things that struck me most profoundly on arrival was how much Lebanon has to offer our clients. From history and heritage in Baalbek and Byblos to hiking and mountain biking in the Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve to arts and crafts in Beirut, and perhaps the best food I have ever eaten anywhere in the world, the country has something for everyone. It provides the perfect blend of diverse religions and languages, making it like nowhere else in the Middle East. And quite apart from the historical, cultural, culinary and artistic delights, along with the natural beauty of the landscapes, one huge appeal for me was the absence of groups of tourists that have become an all too familiar sight in other popular destinations across the world. Lebanon, by contrast, felt in every respect like a hidden gem and well-kept secret, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed by the discerning traveller.
Ancient Roman Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek
Henrietta and I spent our first few days exploring Beirut, its booming capital, which presents a lively juxtaposition of ancient history and a buzzing and cosmopolitan city. Our private guide, Georges, gave us fascinating insights into Beirut – from the modern and glamorous art galleries to the busy and bustling food markets – and we even visited the Christian neighbourhood where he grew up. The many crumbling, old, European-style buildings, which somehow sit comfortably alongside the skyscrapers, prompted our questions of Georges about the way in which Beirut has evolved and developed over the recent years.
Georges also introduced us to lots of delicious Lebanese street food, taking us in the process to hidden quarters of the city rarely frequented by tourists. Beirut is more liberal than most other cities in the region, with many bars and restaurants lining the streets of hipster neighbourhoods, such as Mar Mikhael and Hamra. Georges then led us through Achrafieh, a district that gives an entirely different perspective on modern Beirut. It used to be farmland owned by several powerful Beiruti families. This is where we went to the wonderful Sursock Palace, a museum that holds regular art exhibitions. We were lucky enough to catch a Picasso exhibition.
Sursock Palace, Beirut
Everyone we met on our trip without exception – from the private guides and specialist experts to the street vendors and artisans, drivers and shopkeepers – made us feel warmly welcome. All of the locals we engaged with made great efforts to find out where we had come from and what we thought of their nation. The overwhelming message from everyone was that Lebanon was open, welcoming and friendly, and that they love guests exploring their country.
It became increasingly apparent during these exchanges that Lebanon has many identities, all beautifully blended into one harmonious whole. We found mosques and Christian churches almost side by side in some streets. In these same streets, while some speak French and wear Western dress, others speak Arabic and dress as their ancestors have done for centuries.
We then visited Baalbek, an ancient city in the Beqaa Valley three hours by car from Beirut, which dates back to the 3rd century BC. This UNESCO site comprises the largest and grandest Roman temple ruins: the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Jupiter. We walked through the complex with our private guide, learning about the ongoing preservation and conservation of these astonishing structures and understanding their great significance and importance in Lebanon today. In the Temple of Bacchus, 20m-high columns with incredibly intricate carving still stand perfectly intact. It is mind-blowing. Perhaps as astounding as the ruins themselves was the fact that there were only a handful of other tourists in the entire complex. We had this monumental and staggeringly impressive piece of history all to ourselves.
Henrietta Loyd and Venetia Stanley at the Roman Temple Ruins in Baalbek
Offering a fun contrast to the ruins of Baalbek, we spent the following day in the Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve. The mighty trees here are known by the locals as the ‘Cedars of God’. They are some of the most famous trees in the world and, in ancient times, they were prized for their great size, strength and healing properties. The many cedar reserves of Lebanon provide a wonderful setting for hiking and mountain biking, with a couple of particularly lovely guesthouses providing an appealing base for exploring the region. We met two experts who have spent decades showing these unique reserves to guests, and taking them off-grid to find the best vantage points for panoramic views over the valley. We were able to learn much about the conservation of the cedar reserves and ways in which visitors can get involved in the conservation efforts, thereby making a positive and rewarding impact through engaging with some of the nearby villages in this most picturesque of regions. Spending an afternoon discovering some of the dramatic hidden hiking trails was a real highlight of our trip. We can arrange for our clients to have a traditional Lebanese picnic lunch in one of the most stunning spots after a long morning of hiking, without another soul in sight.
Hiking the trails in Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve
Our journey in Lebanon was totally enthralling. It is like nowhere else I have ever travelled before, and struck me as somewhere that is evolving slowly and surely, but ‘comfortably’, all the time. I loved engaging with many locals and hearing their stories, what they do and why they are so keen to encourage tourism. For a relatively small country, the sheer range and variety of things to do and places to see coupled with the unparalleled quality, enthusiasm and professionalism of the private guides we can provide for your bespoke explorations makes Lebanon a most exciting new destination for cazenove+loyd.