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12 Step Planet: Lebanon
The playground of the Middle East has something for everyone, with a rich legacy of historical monuments and architecture and a throbbing nightlife
Monica Heck, 29 Aug 2012
Where exactly is it?
On the very eastern side of the Mediterranean. Beirut, the capital, is at the centre of the country’s coast. Like the Phoenix it has risen from the ashes of war.
How do I get there?
As there are no direct flights out of Dublin, you’ll have to take a connection through major hubs like London, Paris, Frankfurt or Istanbul. Emirates and Etihad offer value deals through Dubai or Abu Dhabi: not great for travel time or distance but can work if you want to hop off the plane there for a whistle-stop visit.
What language do they speak?
Arabic, French and English are used, sometimes in the one sentence!
What’s the beer like?
Who knew the Lebanese made beer? They do, in the form of the excellent Almaza. Plus there’s the country’s long wine-making tradition which you can sample by heading to the Bekaa Valley and visiting the wineries of Château Ksara and Château Kefraya. Try Arak, an aniseed spirit that turns cloudy when mixed with water. And top it all off with some strong, thick coffee.
What’s the transport like?
Taxis are your best bet around Beirut. Forget the bus. Always agree the price beforehand, hail them and use shared ‘service taxis’ for cheaper fixed route travel. To venture outside Beirut only the very brave will rent a car and extreme care should be taken due to heavy traffic, the condition of the tarmac and the very loose local application of the rules of the road. You can also rent a chauffeured car or join tour groups.
What’s the food like?
To die for. Lots of garlic and lemon juice marinades, lashings of olive oil and sprinklings of pomegranate. Mezze offers a mix of salads such as tabouleh, dips like baba ghanouj or hummus, vine leaves and meat kibbeh, eaten with flatbread or markouk bread. Labne, a sort of yoghurt-like cheese, is amazing in the mornings as a dip for mini-cucumbers or rolled into flatbread with honey. Mixed grills of lamb or chicken, fresh fish and myriads of Lebanese sweets, sticky and laced with the rosy aromas of the orient: at Easter, try ma’amoul.