Beirut's oft-invoked “Paris of the East” designation is certainly well deserved, with plenty of sightseeing, shopping, cuisine, and nightlife to keep any fast-moving bon viveur (“enjoyer of the high life”) within the city limits for the duration of his or her stay.
However, also consider the fabulous countryside beyond Beirut if you're looking for a true taste of Lebanon, an experience best found through a more lengthy exploration of the country's mountain villages, small seaside towns, and vibrant agricultural hamlets.
Take the breathtaking Qadisha Valley (or “Holy Valley”), once a refuge for Maronite Christian followers, which now provides sanctuaries of a different kind: serpentine hiking trails, fast-flowing mountain streams, and beautiful alpine views offer a natural escape for Lebanese and tourists alike.
In fact, Lebanon's outdoor adventure scene is increasingly popular, and a growing number of small, local enterprises and outfitters are fueling something of an ecotourism boom. An extensive network of trails service single- and multi-day hikes, while ecotour operators can arrange for supplies and accommodation in a mix of campsites, B&Bs, and hotels along the way.
Snowmelt-fed rivers come to life with challenging, runnable rapids in the spring, while the Mediterranean coast boasts the usual array of water sports, from snorkeling and diving to windsurfing and sailing. Clearly, whatever your outdoor persuasion, Lebanon appeals naturally to the spirit of any adventure traveler.
Lebanon beyond Beirut caters to more than just high-octane thrill-seekers. In a landscape reminiscent at times of Tuscany or the hilly terrain of coastal California, leisurely walks in the beautiful mountain gorges, through red-roofed villages and past 1,000-year-old cedars, will certainly provide a tranquil alternative to Beirut's many cosmopolitan delights. Historical and cultural escapes are also close at hand. Tour the country's many archaeological and religious sites in the south, and spend the next day learning about organic farming with lunch at the farm.
Discover high-quality traditional crafts – such as olive oil soap, blown glass, or pottery – made in the tradition of the Phoenicians. Spend your day picking fruit in the Békaa Valley, and round it off with a glass of wine fashioned from grapes plucked from those same orchards. Whatever off-the-beaten-path activity you seek, one thing's for sure: your Lebanon itinerary can be as action-packed, culturally decadent, or whimsical as you choose!
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