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Upon telling people that I was off to Beirut for a holiday, most retorted with ‘Gosh, I wouldn’t have the guts to do that” or “Blimey, isn’t it really dangerous?” For those feeling a little clueless, Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, the north and the east of which is surrounded by Syria (the smaller border in the south is shared with Israel), so you can imagine why people were skeptical of my choice of holiday destination. However, Lebanon has long since been considered a safe haven in the East. The political climate in the country is far from solid; with their being such a diverse mix of Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, the government attempts to cover all bases (very many would say they were failing). It also happens to be a hotspot for young western professionals all trying to make it in the NGO business. It’s certainly a mash-up, but that’s what makes it so brilliant. I was there for a long weekend and learnt more about a country’s history and people than anywhere I’ve ever been before.
1. Pop your trainers on and spend the whole day walking. Yes, we mean all day. Every neighbourhood in Beirut is different, so the best way to take it all in is from the streets. Be sure to stop off at the Sursock Museum, a tranquil art gallery in the middle of the city, and walk alongside the bullet-ridden Holiday Inn, in the Minet el Hosn district, a constant reminder of the civil war that tore apart the country for over ten years. Your feet might ache at the end of it, but then you can..
2. Watch the sun set over the Raouche Rocks (Pigeon Rocks in English) with a beer at Bay Rock. These two whopping great rocks jut out of the sea floor, just off the cliff side in a cove towards the east of the city. They create the ideal backdrop for a perfect holiday sunset. The beer is essential. No sunset should be witnessed without one.
3. Wander around Mar Mikhael, the trendy neighbourhood that could have easily been picked up from Hackney and dropped down in Lebanon. Make a pit stop at Aaliya’s bookshop and café (be sure to look up – the covered alleyway is decorated with brightly coloured umbrellas) and duck into uber chic interiors shop ‘Plan Bey’ to pick up some locally made soap and beautiful glassware a fraction of what it costs in the UK.
4. You must stay at Baffa House or Villa Clara. Baffa House is a bright and friendly guesthouse with four rooms identified by colours (Yellow Room, Blue Room). It’s owned by a family, who live upstairs on the floor above, which is probably why the places feels so cozy and homely. Villa Clara is the complete opposite. It’s a crumbling grand hotel that back in what was considered Beirut’s heyday was one of the smartest hotels in town. It’s not strictly a hotel, it's a celebrated French restaurant with rooms upstairs. As you walk through the high-ceilinged corridors to your room, you can feel the old colonial vibes
5. While away an afternoon at Kalei coffee shop. Start outside in the little white washed courtyard on the lazy chairs, with an espresso and a copy of The Carton, a Middle East food and culture magazine. Then when the mosquitoes start to nibble, duck inside for a glass of wine, before leaving with a bag of their coffee beans.
**Suitscases Pop&Suki x Away**