It wasn’t so long ago that any mention of Lebanon conjured up images of a war-torn landscape and a frightened population rushing home before curfew.
But things have changed radically and tourists are returning to a country which the New York Times has described as being ‘poised to reclaim its title as the Paris of the Middle East.’
Lebanon welcomed 1.3 million tourists last year and in 2009 is expecting a record 2 million – many of them from other Arab countries, but plenty more from elsewhere.
The rocky beaches of the north and the sandy coasts in the south are buzzing with local and foreign holidaymakers, and restaurants in the renovated heart of the capital, Beirut, are packed most nights of the week. Hotel occupancy has reached 85 per cent.
Summer music and dance festivals, which had to be cancelled in previous years because of war or political turmoil, are back on the entertainment calendar this year, attracting thousands of visitors.
Lebanon is not yet sold in Europe as a holiday destination and the US State Department still advises citizens against travel there as the ‘situation remains tense and a resumption of sporadic violence remains a possibility.’
But confidence is on the rise, as is investment in hotels – Gordon Campbell Gray (of One Aldwych, London and Carlisle Bay, Antigua fame) recently opened Le Gray in Beirut. He, too, thinks Lebanon’s time has come again.
by Andy Moreton, with Rana Moussaoui
Luxique can arrange the best rates at one of the loveliest luxury hotels in Beirut – the Albergo, which is part of the distinguished Relais & Chateaux chain. Situated in the heart of old Beirut, it’s an art-deco mansion with 33 differently-themed suites.