Category Archives: Tourism

Balade dans la «vallée des saints»

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I just finished reading a nice article on Bcharré and the Kadisha valley prepared by Thomas Abgrall on LaPress.ca. Surprisingly enough, he asks at the end if it’s still safe to visit Lebanon nowadays and answers that while few areas remain risky, others like Kadisha are safe and can be visited.

This is unfortunately yet another opportunity the Lebanese Ministry Of Tourism didn’t grasp. While major cities like Beirut and Tripoli might be risky at the moment, remote areas like Bcharre, Zghorta, Ehden, Beiteddine, Deir el Amar and many others could have become touristic destinations. Having a second airport in the North would have greatly helped as well.

C’est du village de Bcharré, d’où est originaire le poète Khalil Gibran – célèbre pour son essai Le Prophète –, que démarre notre voyage dans la Kadisha, la «vallée des saints» libanaise. Bcharré, avec ses toits en tuile rouge et son double clocher, se trouve perché sur un plateau qui surplombe la «cuvette» de la Kadisha, une faille rocheuse au milieu de laquelle passe une vallée dont le fragile fil directeur est une rivière qui serpente entre les arbres.

De Bcharré, à flanc de falaise, une route en lacets descend dans la plaine. Les points de vue sont à couper le souffle, quelques grappes de végétation s’accrochent à la roche abrupte – ocre et grise – qui laisse transparaître des cascades. Des dizaines de grottes naturelles se sont formées au fil des millénaires, parfois très difficiles d’accès (à plus de 1000 m d’altitude), ce qui a fait de la vallée un lieu de refuge naturel pour les communautés de la région, en particulier les premières communautés chrétiennes, les maronites, qui représentent encore aujourd’hui environ 20 à 25% de la population libanaise.

Peut-on encore visiter le Liban sans risque? Même si certaines zones restent déconseillées – en particulier celles proches de la frontière syrienne –, certaines régions, en particulier chrétiennes (comme la vallée de la Kadisha), sont encore tout à fait accessibles et ne présentent aucun risque majeur, surtout si l’on fait appel à des agences.

Rikky’z New Location

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Rikky’s is now located in Faraya overlooking the Chabrouh dam

As some of you know or may not know, Rikky’s has moved to a new venue in Faraya 10 minutes away from the original one. The venue looks almost exactly like the old one but it is more spacious and better organized now. The venue fits twice as much as before, the bar is now inside and much bigger, the BBQ is in a small area far from the tables and the entrance fee is now 100,000 LBP, up 10,000 Liras from last year (including open drinks and buffet).

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The salads are still placed inside as well as the Pasta and Saj stations. You have to walk down few stairs to get to the BBQ area, which includes a Shawarma station, Steaks, Hotdogs and Burgers.

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The music and atmosphere are as great as before, but the seating is still not comfortable and the tables and chairs are very close to each other. I don’t know why they didn’t keep some space between them but it’s very annoying specially when you pick a table in the middle. Added to that, you still need 10 minutes (Unless you want an Almaza or a Buzz as they are put aside in large ice buckets) or more to get a drink even though the bar is bigger now. I barely had 3 drinks during the 3 hours I spent there. Same thing for the food when it gets crowded, even though food was much better than last year.

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The party starts around 2pm so it’s recommended to arrive around noon so you can have few drinks, grab a bite and get in the mood. Don’t forget to check in on Foursquare and pick up your free hats because the sun is a killer up there. I recommend you download their app too as it will help you find the new location if you get lost [Android] [iOS].

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All in all, I like the new Rikky’z better but I wish they made it more comfortable and started serving alcohol (Bottles) on the tables instead of making us wait forever on the bar. Nevertheless, it’s probably the best place up in the mountains to spend a Sunday afternoon with your friends, eating and drinking and dancing surrounded by breathtaking views.

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PS: If you look at the picture closely, the people sitting on the barriers surrounding the outside area could easily fall off and get seriously injured. I think Rikky’s should ban anyone from sitting there or build some safety net below them.

Villa Clara: Beirut With a French Accent

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A new guesthouse in Mar Mikhail has been featured in the New York Times. Villa Clara Villa is located on Khenchara Street, Mar Mikhael and is a “charming, affordable guesthouse filled with French antiques”. I should pay this place a visit soon and try out the light summer menu.

The tiny boutique hotel, its restaurant and guest rooms stocked with Parisian antiques, opened last year around the corner from an Asterix chicken shack and across the street from its neighborhood boucherie. But this was not Marseille or Lyon, it was the eastern edge of Beirut.

“A Frenchman can easily live in Beirut without feeling displaced,” said Mr. Gougeon, who moved to the Lebanese capital from Paris in 1999, as he sipped local wine in Villa Clara’s leafy backyard after cooking a dinner of crispy-skinned duck confit and old-fashioned île flottante.

For more than a century, through all manner of turmoil, including a 15-year civil war and, more recently, ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria, a distinctly French character has pervaded the city. Much of it is the legacy of the French colonial period — the mandate that lasted from 1920 to 1943 — but a cultural kinship goes back much further than that.

I had come to Beirut to see just how much French influence remains, and discovered an East-West blend more complex and layered than ever. Having left the country for France during particularly troubled times, many affluent Beirutis have returned, bringing with them cravings for Parisian life. A younger generation, meanwhile, has embraced a new hybrid culture — a French, Anglo and Arabic stew — evident in shops and restaurants and trilingual discussions across the city. [NewYorkTimes]

This place is ideal for travelers who are visiting Beirut for few days or a weekend. Rooms are available at $165 with breakfast. You can check out more details on their website [www.villaclara.fr].

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PS: The recommendations for hotels and restaurants mentioned at the article at the end don’t go really with Villa Clara as the hotels are the most expensive in town (Add Four Seasons Hotel to that list) and the restaurants listed are everything but affordable.

Ultimate Lebanon Summer Guide for 2013

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If you’re coming to Lebanon next week for Eid then below is my personal recommendation list:

The Gärten by Uberhaus
They’re only open Saturday night from around 8PM to 6AM and it’s my favorite place this summer. It’s an outdoor club that’s open just for 16 weeks with a large green garden filled with bean bags on one side and a huge open dome which is the dance floor on the other. You need to pass by and if you’re flying out on the morning MEA flight just head from The Garten straight to the airport. The place is easy to find, its right at the entrance to Biel (near Skybar). Here’s a video I shot the last time I was there [Here]

Tawlet
This is a very popular and a great Lebanese restaurant. They bring a new chef daily (usually a grandma) from a different part of lebanon to cook home made food. (01-448129)

Radio Beirut
Arguably my favorite pub this summer located in Mar Mikhael. I don’t think I’ve ever sat inside since the sidewalk is where everyone hangs out and drinks.

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Publicity – Jbeil

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Jbeil is the place to be this summer and it’s crowded almost every day of the week. Aside from the Byblos Festivals, the beautiful Souks are attracting a lot of tourists and locals and the newly open Publicity has turned Jbeil into a booming nightlife hub outside Beirut. For those of you who haven’t heard of this place yet, Publicity is a new nightlife venue consisting of 12 Pubs and Restaurants surrounding a big swimming pool with Jacuzzi lounges. There are few pubs with a rooftop while others are on the pool side, and one DJ for the whole place. You can easily get to Publicity by taking a small right turn on the Jbeil highway right after Zaatar wou Zeit.

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We went to a pub called Del Sol which serves Mexican food and has a rooftop. The table we had was really nice and overlooking the pool and the road side. There were few tables with couches and the rest had high chairs (Ours had high chairs), which were really annoying, up to a point that I preferred standing up rather than sitting on them. As far as the service and food are concerned, the waiters and manager were very friendly but a bit unorganized. It wasn’t that bad but we got the food before the drinks, not all of us got plates, we asked for a Vodka bottle and got a small bucket of ice with it (suitable for Arak not a Vodka Bottle) and a small orange glass. As for the food, it was surprisingly good for a pub and I enjoyed it specially the appetizers.

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The music and atmosphere were nice, the pubs were packed by midnight and the party stayed on even after we left which was around 2 am. I was hoping for someone to jump in the pool but it didn’t happen, instead some girl fainted for some reason and everyone regrouped around her but she came out fine.

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Publicity turns during the day into a large pool with Jacuzzi lounges and there’s a large poolside bar for those who want a drink. I haven’t tried it yet but I personally prefer resorts that are on the beach, even though the Jacuzzi lounges are tempting.

If you want to reserve at any of Publicity’s pubs, you can find all the necessary information on their [Facebook Page]. Note that you have to call the pub and not the Publicity number for night reservation.

A “Racist” Lebanese Travels to Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka

The sad part is that the “idiots” the author is talking about are still way too many in Lebanon. You can read the full article [Here].

Sri Lanka is a nationality, not a profession. This should be clear to everyone. However, in Lebanon, the situation is different. A “Sri Lankan,” here, could be from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, or the Philippines. The identity has become a synonym for domestic service workers. In Lebanon, it’s normal to hear someone asking her friend, “Which country is your ‘Sri Lankan’ from?” The question is full of ignorance, even hatred and irrational racism, pointing to a feeling of Lebanese superiority toward the people of Sri Lanka.

Those who ask it are ignorant that there is a full-fledged country called Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon and, in ancient times, Serendipity. It has a civilization which goes further back in time, ages before Christ. Yet the people who live there are reduced by some idiots here to the status of “servant.” Some are unaware that their favorite tea was grown, manufactured, and made famous by that people.

In fact, the issue goes beyond domestic workers. The moniker “Sri Lankan” in Lebanon refers to anything considered “lower.” One often hears Lebanese comparing a woman to a Sri Lankan, as a form of denigration.