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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 begs exploration.
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 Anti-Lebanon Range.
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!


POPULATION: Approximately 3.8 million

LANGUAGES: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian

AREA: 10,452 square kilometers

CLIMATE: Mediterranean climate, with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers.

ELEVATIONS: Highest point – Qornet Es-Saouda (3,090m). Lowest point – Mediterranean Sea (0m).

FLAG: The 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 the country.

ECONOMY: 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.

GOVERNMENT: 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.

ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISIONS: The Lebanese Republic is divided into six regional administrative districts, or Mohafazaat: Beirut, Mount Lebanon, North Lebanon, Békaa, South Lebanon, and Nabatiyé.

EDUCATION: 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 Arab countries.
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, and scientists.

A Lebanese state university was founded in 1967, comprising faculties of law, medicine, arts and sciences, and a teacher training college.

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


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