Legend has it that the Lebanese capital of Beirut was rebuilt from the ashes seven times, making it an urban phoenix in mythology. With a volatile past, the city has become as synonymous with conflict as it has with hummus and tabbouleh. But when Anthony Bourdain first visited Beirut in 2006, it was love at first landing. Bourdain discovered a city that defied expectation and logic, a city that made no “damn sense at all—in the best possible way.”
Beirut has experienced a renaissance in recent years, mystifying visitors with its magical ability to move seamlessly between two worlds. Each moment feels as uniquely European as it does Middle Eastern—dizzying streets with French names lead to clubs that were once underground bunkers, interspersed with the city’s finest shawarma or man’oushe with za'atar. But the magnetic aura that captured Bourdain’s heart extends beyond Beirut’s city limits to make the entire nation an attractive place to explore.
With nearly 5,000 years of history, Lebanon is one of the world’s oldest countries. Though much of the late 20th and early 21st century was scarred by violence, underneath is a country filled with stories and brilliant possibilities for rewarding journeys. Ride ATVs among the cedars—a source of pride and symbol of identity emblazoned on Lebanon’s national flag—as the encircling mountains are awash in gold under a Middle Eastern sun. Disappear deep underground to marvel at the gargantuan stalactites that make up the Jeita Grotto, dine on irresistible spreads of mezze, and pick out fresh catch at seaside restaurants. Head to the city to indulge in hedonistic pleasures in the region’s most exhilarating capital—a place that’s as alive with determination, pride, and spirit as the people who call it home.