|Lebanon's diverse patchwork of
Mediterranean-lapped coast, rugged alpine peaks, and green fertile
valleys is packed into a parcel of land some 225km long and 46km
wide – an area approximately the size of Cyprus or Connecticut. An
ancient land, Lebanon features in the writings of Homer and in the
Old Testament. Its cities were major outposts and seaports in
Phoenician and Roman times, just two of the great civilizations that
touched this important Middle Eastern crossroads.
The cosmopolitan flair of modern-day Beirut, the gastronomic renown
of the country's food and wine, and an educated and outward-looking
population complement a country that is both traditional and
progressive in outlook. For all the flavors of its storied past and
rugged natural beauty, Lebanon is a well-kept tourist secret that
There are four main geographic regions in Lebanon, differentiated by
topography and climate. From west to east, they include: the coastal
plain, the Mount Lebanon Range, the Békaa Valley, and the
The Anti-Lebanon Range is a stretch of arid mountains that rise to
the east of the Békaa Valley and form part of the country's eastern
border with Syria.
The Békaa Valley, known in ancient times as “the breadbasket” or
“granary” of the Roman Empire, is still the country's main
agricultural region. Located on a high plateau between the country's
two mountain ranges, the river-fed Békaa supports the production of
tomatoes, potatoes, wheat, olives, and grapes, even despite summers
that are hot and dry.
Besides some of Lebanon's best wineries (Ksara, Kefraya, Massaya),
the Békaa's major attraction is the ruins at Baalbek. Originating as
a place of worship to Baal, the Phoenician Sun God, Baalbek was
known in Greco-Roman times as the famous Heliopolis, or “City of the
Sun.” Perhaps because of the region's agricultural importance in
feeding the inhabitants of the Roman Empire, some of the largest
Roman temples ever constructed were erected at this site. The
construction lasted over 200 years, and the well-preserved temples
honor Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus.
The lovely Lebanese coast is framed by the Mediterranean Sea to the
west and the Mount Lebanon Range to the east, its temperate climate
bringing in sunny, hot summers and cool, rainy winters. The daytime
temperature in the summer, which averages 30°C (86°F), encourages
people to head to the beach or to the higher, altitude-cooled
mountain slopes. In the coastal cities of Saida (Sidon) and Jbail
(Byblos), tourists can enjoy the rare opportunity to snorkel amongst
long-submerged Phoenician ruins, while excellent hiking is a mere
hour away in the Chouf region of the Mount Lebanon Range.
The Mount Lebanon Range includes numerous rivers that fizz with
snowmelt, steep-walled gullies that shade grottoes once the hideout
to those fleeing persecution, and also Lebanon's highest summit,
Qornet Es-Saouda (3,090m). In winter, the high peaks are blanketed
with snow, lending Lebanon its name, Lubnan, the Arabic word for
“white.” Lebanon boasts a number of world-class ski resorts, one of
only a couple countries in the Middle East where you can ski. The
ski season runs from December until April.
The Mount Lebanon Range is also the location of Lebanon's Cedar
Reserves. The great cedar forests of Lebanon, now protected, are
famous for their use in the construction of some of the holiest
buildings in the region, indeed the world, including Jerusalem's
Dome of the Rock and Solomon's Temple.
To visit Lebanon is to dispel preconceived notions that linger from
a relatively short moment in a long, vivid, and fascinating history:
drink in the energetic, urbane vibe of revitalized Beirut; explore a
diverse and beautiful landscape that lends itself easily to an
unforgettable (and largely untrammeled) multi-sport adventure;
marvel at archaeological wonders that are windows into the cradle of
civilization; and simply enjoy the welcome of a people who are
naturally hospitable, friendly, and gregarious.
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!
Approximately 3.8 million
Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
10,452 square kilometers
Mediterranean climate, with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers.
Highest point – Qornet Es-Saouda (3,090m).
Lowest point – Mediterranean Sea (0m).
Lebanese flag is divided into three wide horizontal stripes, with
red on the top and bottom and a wider white stripe in the middle. In
the center of the white stripe is a green cedar tree, the emblem of
Lebanon capitalizes on the initiative of its people and its
geographical location to make up for a lack of natural resources.
Traditionally, a substantial percentage of the country's income
derives from remittances sent by the millions of Lebanese residing
overseas. A service-based economy, its trading, banking, and
financial facilities, as well as its free currency market, made
Lebanon the region's commercial and tourist center before the war.
With peace established and reconstruction underway, Lebanon is once
again serving as the commercial and tourism capital in the area.
About 38% of the country is under cultivation, with wheat,
vegetables, fruit, tobacco, and olives the main crop categories.
There is considerable livestock farming as well. Industry ranges
from cement to textiles, clothing, furniture, canned goods, and
light metals. Tourism, one of the mainstays of the pre-war economy,
is being revived.
To help strengthen the economy, the government has initiated a low
income tax schedule to provide investment incentives, increase
disposable income, and expand the tax base.
CURRENCY AND BANKING:
Movement of currency into and out of the
country and all exchange transactions are completely free of any
kind of control. Gold and silver coins may be freely exchanged,
imported, and exported. The official monetary unit is the Lebanese
pound issued in LL50, LL100, LL250, LL500, LL1,000, LL5,000,
LL10,000, LL20,000, LL50,000, and LL100,000 denominations.
Banking is a major industry in Lebanon with strict banking secrecy
one of its important features. More than 80 banks operate in the
country, and transactions are performed efficiently and at low cost.
Lebanon is democratic republic with a
parliamentary system of government and a cabinet headed by a prime
minister. Its constitution is based on the separation of executive,
legislative, and judicial power, with a president elected for a
six-year term. The 128 members of parliament are elected by
universal adult suffrage for a four-year term.
The Lebanese Republic is divided into six
regional administrative districts, or Mohafazaat: Beirut, Mount
Lebanon, North Lebanon, Békaa, South Lebanon, and Nabatiyé.
There is a nationwide network of elementary and secondary public
schools, which is supplemented by many private schools. Instruction
is given in at least two languages. The general educational spirit
of Lebanon looks outwards, both to the East and West. Many Lebanese
students pursue higher education in Europe, the United States, and
Today, Lebanon has seven major universities and numerous specialized
colleges and schools:
St. Joseph University, founded and run by
Jesuit Fathers, has for over a century and a quarter contributed to
the Lebanese and Arab intelligentsia.
The American University of Beirut, founded in 1866, offers a liberal
education that has trained many of the region's leaders, educators,
A Lebanese state university was founded in 1967, comprising
faculties of law, medicine, arts and sciences, and a teacher
Later, the Beirut Arab University, with faculties of arts, law,
commerce, and engineering was opened.
The venerable Lebanese American University (formerly Beirut
University College) has also had an important influence.
In recent years, many new universities have sprung up throughout the
country, notably Haigazian University in Beirut; the Holy Spirit
University and Notre Dame University, both north of Beirut;
University of Balamand, south of Tripoli; the Islamic University in
Khaldé; and many others