Cremino is a well known patiserie which offers both traditional and bits of the French sweets cuisine. I've tasted their work a few times and the cakes never let me down. :) It makes for a very good reason to step in Dahiyeh (The Southern Suburb) and if you land at a decent hour in Beirut, you could stop by on your way from the airport to your hotel.
Haret Hreik Entrance Road
A village in the mountains in Northern Lebanon (central northern). You can get there via car only in the summer, as the road is snowed in during the winter. It is a lovely village perched on what seems the top of the mountains. We were fortunate enough to stay in a friends family's home, Beit Isshak. The home was a stop for noble travelers from the Ottoman Empire and was built in the early 19th century. Tours are provided by many of the residences in Douma and you just have to ask (Arabic usually necessary!) Beit Issak was quite an attraction with period furnishings and Art, over the weekend several groups stopped by for tours!
Walking the village is a must, they have a Greek Sarcophagus in the town center which was the burial place of a 4th century priest, and other late Roman and Byzantine remains as well as a Monastery and a couple of must see churches all with the lovely Lebanese Architecture of stone and red-roofs seen through-out the village.
The website is loaded with information as well as directions, festivals, and activities. There is a hotel in Douma and it is quite pretty with great views ( Grand Hotel Douma Phone: +961 6 520202)- all the information needed is on the site (available in English too). Trekking and hiking are popular and you could even camp. Click on "about Douma" then go to information - http://www.doumaclub.org/main.asp?id1=left_nav&id2=aboutdouma_index
Part of the Beiteddine Palace is devoted to the various Greek mosaics that were found in the vicinty of the Palace. This is a bit confusing, since they do not really have anything to do with the site of the Palace or the Emir who built it, but they are of the region and occasionally quite impressive. Most of the mosaics are intact and of quite a large scale, allowing visitors to admire them in the manner in which they were intended to be viewed. There isn't much by way of explanation, but perhaps this is a good thing, since you get to wander around and take in all of the mosaics in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
Beiteddine Palace is a fine example of modern Arab architecture (modern in the sense that it is not the product of one of the great empires) and also a tribute to the wealth and influence of the Druze. It was constructed in the latter half of the eighteenth century by a Druze Emir Bashir Shehab, who eventually was granted suzereinty over Mount Lebanon. During the Ottoman rule, he was ousted and sent into exile, and the Palace was used as a municipal governance centre, a function it continued to host during the French Mandate. When Bishara el-Khoury became Lebanon's first President in 1943, he declared Beiteddine to be the summer palace of the President. Today, parts of the Palace are still used in that function, but the rest of the structure is open to tourists and for the Beiteddine summer festival, which hosts various regional and international musicians. The Palace is largely in Levantine style, but the Emir did allow Italian craftsmen a fair amount of license to influence it with Italian Baroque. For this reason, it does not feel entirely Oriental, but does have familiar European accents to it. The areas that are open to tourists have many different displays explaining the various uses of the rooms and the customs of the Emir and the Druze of the region. Don't miss the impressive hammam or the reception areas, kept in wonderful condition despite the destruction of the civil war.
Mghara J'eita is perhaps that most famous cave in all of Lebanon, and it is the one that drivers and tour guides will take you to if you tell them you want to see the countryside. In fact, the cave is composed of two caves, the upper and the lower. The upper cave is a huge area inside the mountain with massive stalagmites and stalagtites, with beautifully coloured mineral and rock formations on the side of the cave. The air in here is quite humid and warm, so it can be fairly difficult to breathe at times. Visitors are allowed to follow the path up to the end of the cave, where you get great views down onto the rest of the grotto. The lower cave is much smaller, but it is perhaps the more interesting of the two. It features an underground lake, and visitors are treated to a boat ride through the grotto, allowing them to take in the breathtaking clarity of the water and the various colours of the rocks and the sand. There are no fish or other animals in the water here, which sort of deprives visitors of a chance of seeing translucent creatures. This might not be the best idea for those who are exceptionally tall, as you do pass fairly close to the ceiling. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed in either of the cave.
Mghara, or Grotto, is a topographical denomination that you'll see quite a bit in the mountains to the south and west of the capital, as there is no shortage of interesting geological formations to fascinate the visitor. This particular cave is not as big as some other caves, but it does have a number of chambers with interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as a variable water level that results in different patterns of colouring along the walls. The entire cave is submerged during the summer months when the mountain snows melt, and is accessible in its entirety during the winter months. There are guides will explain the different aspects of the caves and their geological significance for the region, to visitors. This is a pretty popular destination for families, particularly those with small children, and the only thing to beware of is the slippery floors - so wear good shoes! It is located south-east of the capital.
Verdun is a part of the southern section of the central part of Beirut that is devoid of historical charm, but rich in the mid-70s Middle Eastern architecture that makes the city a great place to lose yourself. It has a large number of restaurants and small shops, so despite the large roads and traffic, it is actually a good section of the city to do some window shopping. There is also a nice complex of cafés where you can sample the famous nargileh that is a central part of Lebanese café culture. Verdun has several hotels, including the Sheraton and is a 10 minute ride from the heart of the city.
I came to this Armenian Catholic Church because I was intrigued by the architecture. It is done in the traditional Armenian style, with polygonal walls that appear to have been exported from Armenia to the entirety of the Mid East. It is located on the southern edge of Damascus Street, down from Sahet ash-Shuhada and an easy walking distance from the Hariri Mosque. Its exterior is beautiful, and it appears that few people care if you enter the church. I certainly didn't have any hassle from the gardener. Inside, you won't find many ancient icons or paintings, as it appears that the entirety of the interior was renovated recently. There are a few impressive murals and paintings, but not a whole lot that is of great historical interest. The altar, however, is fairly impressive.
I went into this church because I thought that it would have a fair number of interesting icons and paintings. In truth, it had some, but not all that many. It is a fairly new church, designed according to the traditional pattern that is used for most Armenian Orthodox churches, with octagonal walls and a large campanile. The priest, who seemed to be quite happy to have me interested in the church, explained that all of the paintings had been done by an artist for Armenia. Apart from this, though, there's not much of historical interest in the church.
I went to Burj Hammoud in the failed attempt to find a perfumerie of a woman I met in Kuwait. I actually found the shop, but it turned out that it had been closed for some time. In any case, I sued the opportunity to wander around Burj Hammoud, the Armenian area of Beirut. It, unlike the centre, has not benefitted from a level of reconstruction funds that would allow it to completely rejuvenate. Indeed, it's easy to find plenty of buildings in a poor state with bulletholes through their walls. Still, it's an interesting experience to be in Burj Hammoud, as many of the signs are bilingual Armenian Arabic and the community is quite closely knit. There's not a lot to attract you in other circumstances, as this is more of a working-class city, but if you're interested in Lebanon's diversity, then it's worth the trip out.
This isn't really a tourist attraction, but it is a point of interest for those who would like to learn about Lebanon's various sects and ethnic groups. The Druze Centre is a large community centre in the west of the downtown area, in Snoubra. The Druze are a close-knit Muslim sect whose beliefs are different enough from the mainstream Sunni and Shia groupings that they are considered to be completely separate from the latter two. They speak Arabic, but have garnered an almost ethnic status, because their customs are so unique and their communities so close. The Druze live south of the capital in the mountainous regions around Beiteddine and Nabaa Safaa, but there are also large communities in the Golan Heights and Israel (where they are well-known for their participation in the institutions of the state, including the army). Here in Beirut, their centre is a large compound in a predominantly Sunni neighbourhood. It's not open to the public, and for this reason I don't have any pictures of the interior.
The Maronites are similar to Greek Catholics, in that they recognize the Pope in Rome and follow many of the same traditions as Roman Catholics, but still remain apart from the Vatican on a number of a key points (I think that their priests can marry, but I'm not sure). The vast majority of Catholics in Lebanon are Maronite, and their spiritual leader, Sfeir Nasrallah, is an important political figure in Lebanon. Maronite Churches are quite common in central and Eastern Beirut (particularly Ashrafiyeh, which is a heavily Maronite section of the city), as well as up the coast toward Tripoli. St. Elias' Church is a newer example of Maronite places of worship, but it does showcase the general tendancy, as in contrast to Orthodox churches, for Maronites to use Western architectural styles. The neo-Romanesque plan used for this particular church makes is seem like something out of southern France rather than the Eastern Mediterranean, and the beautiful stained glass inside adds to that effect. As with most other areas in the capital, there is a police presence outside of this church. The cop won't stop you from photographing, but he may be a bit curious as to visitors who are obviously not Lebanese.
Sometimes it seems like the Armenians have a dizzying number of denominations for such a small community resident in Lebanon. They make up about 3% of the population and are split between Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelicals, and possibly other sects. The Armenians have long been present in Lebanon, but their numbers grew after the events of 1915-16, as many refugees from the Ottoman Empire were resettled by the French in Lebanon. There are a number of Armenian institutions in the country now, including Haigazian University and the Armenian Evangelical Church, located in Kantari, about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre of the city. The University was founded in 1955 and is a well-established and respected school in the Middle East, having been the first institution to launch a rocket into space (this is information I'm getting from another source). It is named after an Armenian scholar, Dr. Haigazian, who received his PhD from Yale and led an Apostolic Institute in Konya, Turkey. He died while being deported to the Syrian desert in 1922, but his name lives on in this institution. The church connected to the University is also very interesting, as it is completed in neo-Gothic style but using white bricks - a unique combination of the dark, brooding style of Gothic with very light building materials. The choice of style should make obvious the influence of Western sources on this particular group.
This particular church is a Capuchin one, which means that it is a Catholic Church (like the majority of the churches in the heart of Beirut). It is not a particularly impressive church, although its proximity to the Serail indicates the importance of the church in Lebanese politics. It has some impressive stained glass windows, which are a bit hard to admire because the surrounding buildings can block out some of the direct sunlight that makes them really shine. When I visited the church in November 2010, it was under renovations, so the neo-Gothic church may be more impressive once the works are completed.
Behind Saint George’s Church there is a small chapel for the veneration of icons. Actually, I’m not sure if this building is meant to be a chapel for veneration, or more of a museum/gallery to display a number of the Church’s acquisitions of Serbian and Russian icons. In any case, this small space has a good 20 or so paintings from various parts of the Orthodox Christian world, depicting various saints, the Virgin and holy people and events from the history of Orthodox Christianity. These are all foreign works – the Lebanese icons seem to be contained to the main church – so there’s no real insight into religious iconography in Lebanon. Still, they are beautiful paintings that deserve a few minutes of your time, if you’re interested in such artwork.