(Incorporating the easiest recipe in the world…)
Lebanon is a really compact country. It’s so easy to get pretty much anywhere from its capital Beirut within a couple of hours. Lebanon is about half the size of Wales (the standard international unit for country size), has the most fantastic Mediterranean coastline and, moving inland, also boasts wonderful mountain ranges within just a couple of hours’ drive of the sea. Apparently during the winter it is possible to go skiing in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon.
The coastline has settlements dotted along it every 50km or so from north to south or indeed from south to north; this distance apparently being about a day’s journey for local sea traders in ancient times.
From Tyre in the south, close to the Israel border, where you can explore ancient ruins on land and gaze as they disappear into the sea; they are from a time when sea levels were much lower.
Sidon, with its crusader castle (with a mosque added later in the Ottoman era).
Beirut is a fascinating city with a turbulent history. Again, located on the coast, it has a waterfront promenade called the Corniche, with two remarkable rock formations rising from the sea. They are called Pigeons’ Rock, which seems wildly inappropriate given their splendour. Rock of Raouché, for the neighbourhood they are located near, feels like a more suitable moniker.
A day trip to the north of Beirut will take you to the cities of Byblos and Tripoli. The latter has the most amazing citadel – Citadel of Raymond de St Gilles which was built in the early 12th century. We were able to explore it, climbing over the extensive site and admiring the view from the ramparts.
The city itself was fun to explore and we have happy memories of wandering through the nearby souk (marketplace) where stallholders would come out of their shops to say hello (with absolutely no pressure to buy).
We spent a night in Byblos. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it is thought that it has been occupied since 8800BC. It is thought that the word ‘bible’ is derived from Byblos. It is a fascinating town to explore and has a castle and a number of museums.
There are a number of bars and restaurants by the harbour area.
A local restaurant right by the harbour offered mezze, which we had long wanted to try. The location was perfect.
Mezze is often described as middle-eastern tapas – a selection of small dishes shared by everyone at the table. Amongst the many dishes on offer we had creamy hummus heavily laced with tahini and drizzled with olive oil, smoky baba ganoush (aubergine dip), crispy falafel (deep fried chickpea fritters), foul (bean stew, pronounced full, not fowl!), spicy, herby kibbe (small meatballs of lamb mince and cracked wheat) with multiple salads. All of these dishes were accompanied by salad, olives, flat breads and a very big bowl of chips. Of course there was too much to finish. We needed to take some back to the hotel for snacking on the next morning.
As the sun set over the glittering Mediterranean, we ordered a couple of beers in advance of the main mezze attraction. After all, it was going to take a little while to prepare our feast. Our friendly host offered us a pre-mezze snack as he prepared the food.
It’s the easiest recipe in the world: Cut carrots into sticks, squeeze lemon juice over them and sprinkle with salt.
It’s a perfect – and really delicious – accompaniment to a nice cold drink. And probably the healthiest bar snack in the world. It’s something we eat regularly with or without beer.