In the last five years, locals agree that Byblos has truly grown up, with an abundance of new shopping, dining, and nightlife options near the old center and port, just steps away from what may be one of the world’s oldest, constantly inhabited cities.
For culture and history buffs, the famous Byblos ruins, which span 5,000 years of history and include Phoenician temples, a Crusader castle and medieval city walls, are a UNESCO World Heritage site with an engrossing museum.
After taking in ancient history, some fascinating contemporary history can be found at Pepe’s Fishing Club in the port, where photos of numerous celebrities and 20th century figures deck the walls. Another find in the old souk is the Byblos Fossil Museum, which contains a fossil collection of fish, sharks, eels, shrimps, squids, rays, and other local sea life. Not far away is the St. John the Baptist Church of the old city, a medieval cathedral built in 1116 by the crusaders.
Further afield, the Afqa Grotto 30 km north of Byblos cuts into a 200 meter-high cliff, formed by the Adonis River.
For pure retail therapy, the old souk features many workshops and boutiques selling handcrafted fashionable and artisanal items. An abundance of seafood restaurants by the port offer the catch of the day, tried and true restaurants like Locanda and eCafe. For white tablecloth dining, Dar El Azrak of Byblos Sur Mer offers both indoor and outdoor spaces for gourmet Mediterranean fare.
To soak up some sun, a visit to Edde Sands is a must, where an all day beach party lasts from morning till night. Next door, Bay 183, formerly known as La Voile Bleu, offers a calmer daytime option for families, but transforms into an evening beach party after nightfall. Further afield in Batroun are the more relaxing and low-key yet trendy beach clubs Pierre & Friends, White Beach and Bonita Bay which was newly renovated and rebranded this year, with the addition of a new seafood restaurant.
To slumber soundly within the historical city, the new Byblos Sur Mer hotel offers five-star standards directly on the sea. The 30-room boutique hotel breathes romance and tranquility, with artisanal touches like plush oriental carpets, locally embroidered wall hangings and cabinet handles crafted from seashells. The eHotel owned by Edde Sands is also a hip spot to snooze, with newly refurbished suites this summer and modern bungalows that can comfortably sleep up to four adults. In Batroun, the hillside Batroun Village Club or casual beachside San Stephano Hotel are easier on the budget, and just as much fun. For the slightly more adventurious, Les Colombes – a picturesque camping site in Amchit – is not far from Byblos, and is a hidden natural refuge where one can enjoy the beauty of the beach and sound of the waves in pristine silence. Pitch a tent or stay in one of their small but tidy studio chalets.
Off the beaten path
Venture to Amchit to see 88 townhouses built in the 19th century by wealthy silk merchants trading with the Duke of Tuscany. For more historical architecture, continue to Douma, an ancient village named after a Syrian queen who married a Roman Caesar. Although the town square is the final resting place for a Greek sarcophagos dated 317 AD, much of the village was built in the 19th century and is a living architectural museum of the Ottoman era, with a gated old souk and terracotta roof-tiled houses. Near Douma in the old village of Hakel, marvel at ancient marine fossils in a private museum that has received international acclaim in the world of archeology, the Expo Hakel Fossil Museum.
For a taste of France in Lebanon, visit La Ferme Saint Jacques, the only Lebanese producer of duck delicacies like foie gras, confits, and magrets de canard. This unique country farm is located in the hinterland of Batroun near Douma, in the village Bechtoudar. To discover wine, follow La Route des Vins du Nord, a wine trail that passes by northern Lebanese wineries Batroun Mountains, Ixsir, Adyar, Aurora, Coteaux de Botrys, Domaine S. Najm and Chateau Sanctus.
The countryside village of Hardine lies amid a forest of pines near Batroun. This idyllic spot boasts more than 30 monasteries and churches dating back to as early as the 6th century AD, as well as the ruins of a pagan temple dedicated to the god of Mercury from 117 AD. Hardine is the birthplace of Maronite Saint Neemat Alla el Hardini, mentor of Saint Charbel.
ADVENTURE AND NATURE
To see something truly awe-inspiring, visit the Balou Balaa of Laklouk, a natural sinkhole with breathtaking depths and a stunning natural bridge. For adventure, hike in the Tannourine Nature Reserve, or organize a fossil hunt with the musuem, which will include a journey into a stone quarry where kids and adults can learn to use hammers and chisels like a pro. In Laklouk, contact the Shangri-La Hotel to arrange a guided jeep or trekking tour to see dramatic natural gorges, grottos, and canyons that are hidden deep within the valley. For a longer stay, sign-up for activities like archery, caving, roping, and climbing at La Reserve Afqa, a camping and extreme sport site in the mountains.
In Byblos, the Edde Sands boutique has a selection of handmade designer accessories, and in Douma, the Assia Pottery workshop sells exquisitely crafted ceramic pots.
The Hotel Douma is 15 minutes away from Assia Pottery and has a lovely view on the mountains. The Laklouk Shangri-La Hotel offers breathtaking vistas from its verandas, and the 1950’s and 1960’s vintage furniture and bamboo-themed bar lend the place a classic retro vibe.
WINE AND DINE
The Esclapio restaurant in Douma has an impressive view of the valley, and a variety of Lebanese mezze. Kfar Helda has a choice of riverside restaurants. In the old port of Amchit, try Chez Zakhia for decadent seafood specials. In Batroun, visit the charming and historical Batrouniyat, an organic restaurant in a 300-year old newly restored country house that offers Lebanese cuisine, fresh saj, and a generous international-style brunch on Sundays.
*Information extracted and summarized from Lebanon Traveler Magazine- Issue 0; For full Article please click here