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Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this retreat research trip to Lebanon in September. There are more details about our upcoming 2020 retreats at the end of this post.

I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection. 

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The Middle East has captured my imagination and my attention for quite some time now. So last summer, when my new friend Jess issued me a casual invitation to visit her in Beirut in the fall over drinks at TravelCon, I mentally hit “book” on a flight immediately. I was already heading back to Egypt to run my next Wander Women Retreats, making it the perfect time to explore a new destination of my own, as well. 

I knew little about Lebanon, other than Beirut’s badass reputation for being a seaside city with incredible food, nightlife, and overall vibes. Luckily, Jess is an admirable ambassador to her adopted home, and I as soon as I sent her my flight itinerary, she crafted an unforgettable trip. 

Apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut
Apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut

Jess and her boyfriend Malte live in a beautiful apartment in the heart of Beirut. Lebanon is smaller than the state of Connecticut, making Beirut a popular base for day trips around the country, and we planned to do exactly that.

Being two globetrotters, Jess and I landed at Beirut Rafic Hariri International within an hour of each other, me from Los Angeles, Jess from Cairo, and had planned to head straight to her place and rest up for the next day’s adventures. Except, change of plan: I landed in Lebanon after the most painful, miserable flight of my life, and we went directly to the ER instead, where I was diagnosed with severe tonsillitis. Womp womp.

So we spent a little more time than planned in Jess’s apartment — which, lucky for me, felt luxuriously exotic, too.

Apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut
Apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut

Apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut
Apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut

Finally, one afternoon, after more than twenty-four hours without a meal and with antibiotics flowing into my system, my mind won the battle with my body and we decided to venture out for a walk — if a slightly feverish one, for me.

View from the O Monot rooftop in Beirut

Sursock Palace, Beirut

Love Locks, Beirut

Jess told me to let her know when the exhaustion outweighed the benefit of fresh air and moving feet, and until then she’d guide me on a slow stroll through her favorite city.

Maybe it was the good drugs, maybe its was the elation of slowly emerging from the fog of an all-consuming illness, but Beirut felt like the kind of city with whom I’d soon have a love story.

Church in Gemmayze, Beirut, Lebanon
Electric Bing Sutt, Beirut, Lebanon

Street Art in Beirut, Lebanon

While my senses were engaged from the moment we stepped out the front door, it was the fashionable area of Mar Mikhael that really captured my imagination. Thought-provoking architecture, painfully trendy bars, well-curated galleries, colorful restaurants and cafes, and modern co-working spaces crowded the narrow streets, each one more intriguing than the last.

Bar Principal, Mar Mikhael, Beirut

Enab, Beirut, Lebanon
Plan Bey, Beirut, Lebanon

Home Sweet Home, Mar Mikhael, Beirut

Home Sweet Home, Mar Mikhael, Beirut
Home Sweet Home, Mar Mikhael, Beirut

A few of my favorites from our walk were Home Sweet Home, a cafe and home goods store, Enab, where we stopped for as much of a nibble as my throat could accommodate, Plan Bey, a hip artisan boutique and publishing house where we window-shopped, and Tawlet, a social enterprise restaurant, women’s collective and cooking school where we made plans to return hungry.

And while I wasn’t even slightly in the drinking mood — it had broken my heart to give up our wine tour of Beqaa Valley — I mentally bookmarked both Fabrk and Electric Bing Sutt for future alcohol-based adventures, based on their exteriors alone. 

Street Art in Beirut, Lebanon

Street Art in Beirut, Lebanon
Home Sweet Home, Beirut, Lebanon

Yellow windows in Mar Mikhael, Beirut, Lebanon

Fabrk, Beirut, Lebanon

Enab, Beirut, Lebanon
Street Art in Beirut, Lebanon

While the city in some ways reminded me of Tel Aviv or Istanbul, it had a Lebanese flavor all its own.

For me, Beirut exceeded its own reputation for cool. That said, I feel like I got just the teeniest taste and can’t wait to go back. From museums to yoga studios to historic walking tours, my wish list for my next trip is already a mile long.

Doorstep in Mar Mikhael, Beirut, Lebanon

Tawlet, Beirut, Lebanon

Villa Clara, Beirut, Lebanon
Street Art in Beirut, Lebanon

AR_KA, Beirut, Lebanon

One of Beirut’s most iconic sights is the Raouche Rocks, or Pidgeon Rocks, which I felt was a box I had to tick before the end of my trip. You only need to join the locals in walking along the city’s wide corniche to enjoy them, however, we were craving somewhere we could sit down and sip on something while we watching the sunset.

We wandered into Petit Café, which is adorable and perfectly situated, but beware, if you aren’t also recovering from tonsillitis on your trip, that they serve only non-alcoholic beverages, and are eye-openingly overpriced. To our surprise, considering Beirut’s penchant for nightlife, we didn’t find a single spot for a cocktail along the waterfront — instead, you’ll have to make do with hookah and tea. 

Petit Café, Raouche Rocks, Beirut
Petit Café, Raouche Rocks, Beirut

Raouche Rocks, Lebanon

On my list for my next trip? Finding whatever boat tour we spied these brave souls taking from a distance. It reminded me a boat tour I took years before in Paracas, Peru — and I longed to be on the water.

Raouche Rocks, Lebanon
Raouche Rocks, Lebanon

Far more iconic than Rouche Rocks or any particular sight in all of Lebanon is a legacy that has spread across the world — Lebanese cuisine. Over the course of history, many civilizations have gathered in Lebanon, creating a Middle Eastern melting pot with endless cherished recipes and culinary traditions.

While arriving with a condition that made eating painful was not ideal for experiencing this to the fullest, Jess made sure that the limited number of meals I did manage were beyond memorable, from saj, a Lebanese flatbread rollup grabbed from Jess’s favorite hole-in-the-wall to manousheh, crafted into the breakfast pizza of my dreams at the bougie Lebanese Bakery in Ashrafieh (which also has an outpost in London, for all my Brits in the house.)

The Lebanese Bakery in Ashrafieh, Beirut

The Lebanese Bakery in Ashrafieh, Beirut

For my final days in the country, I had recovered enough that we were able to take a few day trips outside the city, which I’ll recount in an upcoming post. (Spoiler alert: they were so good.)

As much as I loved exploring the more remote reaches of Lebanon — and wow, did I ever — I also came to adore our nightly return to the city known as The Paris of the Middle East.

Nightlife in Beirut, Lebanon

Jess did an amazing job of showing me the city’s many multi-faceted neighborhoods. One evening, we ventured into Badaro, the business hub of Beirut, popular at night with yuppies craving a cocktail before heading home from work.

After a people-watching filled dinner at the bar at Community, we finally toasted to my trip with a drink at the ultra-charming Kissproof, where we told the bartender a few preferences and he whipped us up something special. 

Community Badaro, Beirut, Lebanon

Kissproof, Beirut, Lebanon

Kissproof, Beirut, Lebanon

The next, we headed to Hamra, a busy commercial district in Beirut. While I found it less endearing on the whole than other neighborhoods we’d been to for wandering through, I loved our final destinations.

Sunset in Beirut

Street art in Hamra, Beirut, Lebanon

First, Mezyan, which was hidden down a maze of alleyways I would never have found were it not for my own personal tour guide — and gosh would that have been a shame! It was one of my favorite meals of the trip.

After, we went for cocktails at Ales & Tales, a cocktail bar that would make mixologists in any major world city melt. 

Mezyan in Hamra, Beirut, Lebanon

Ales & Tales Bar, Hamra, Beirut
Ales & Tales Bar, Hamra, Beirut

Ales & Tales Bar, Hamra, Beirut

Our final night in Beirut, we were joined by our fellow travel industry powerhouse Oneika and her lovely husband Rob, who just so happened to be overlapping with my trip on their own jaunt through Lebanon and Cyprus. We decided to toast to such a fantastic coincidence at Liza, the darling of Beirut’s high-end dining scene. 

Sprawled across the second floor of a former palace, each individual dining room at Liza has a flair all its own. As usual, we mostly let Jess call the shots on the menu of contemporary twists on traditional meze dishes, and we were not disappointed. 

Liza Beirut

Liza Beirut

Liza Beirut

It would have been the perfect note to end a whirlwind trip to Lebanon on.

Liza Beirut

Liza Beirut

Liza Beirut
Liza Beirut

But, we still had a whole day before my red eye!

Madame Bleu Beirut

Madame Bleu Beirut

Pop quiz: did you know Lebanon could get down? One of the things that had always attracted me to Beirut was its reputation for incredible nightlife and epic summer day clubs. It’s pretty unique to hear things like that about a city in the Middle East, at least today. (I mean, Rock The Casbah leads me to believe Tehran was a seriously good time, once upon a time.)

A big part of my excitement over visiting Jess was having an insider to experience that with.

Madame Bleu Beirut

Madame Bleu Beirut
Madame Bleu Beirut

Madame Bleu Beirut

While many of the hottest seasonal day clubs are actually outside the city, there’s an urban version that’s right downtown: Madame Bleu. This super sleek spot hosts a must-see summer long pool party with the waves of the Mediterranean lapping in the background, and I couldn’t leave without experiencing it. 

The Lebanese clearly know how to live the good life, which prompted me to ask Jess, what happens in the winter when these spots are closed? The party moves to the ski slopes, she replied. I guess now that I’m back in my boots I’ll have to come back and experience that for myself, too.

Madame Bleu Beirut

Madame Bleu Beirut
Madame Bleu Beirut

Between the free-flowing cocktails and the heaving crowds of young revelers, including a visible LGBTQ contingent pointing to Lebanon’s more relaxed social norms, it was hard not to reflect on how limited many people’s view of the diverse and sprawling Arab world is.

How many know that it includes this?

Madame Bleu Beirut

Madame Bleu Beirut

Not enough. Lebanon has it all: the heart, the soul, the vibe, the landscapes, the food, the party and the people. It it was at this very swim up bar that Jess and I started sketching out the itinerary for the Wander Women: Lebanon that we’d go on to pour our own hearts and souls into and that we hoped will show what a magical destination this truly is. 

Drinks on the O Monot rooftop in Beirut
Church Armenian Gregorios And Saint Elias, Beirut

I truly did just about zero research before my arrival in Lebanon and was blown away by my wanderings with Jess, the perfect host. Whether it takes place as planned or fate has a future date in mind for us, I can’t wait to be back in this enchanting city and country with Jess… and a bunch of you!

Beirut, I adore you. Be back soon.

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Love the idea of traveling to Lebanon? If all goes according to plan, we will be returning to Beirut and beyond in August 2021 for Wander Women Lebanon: A Yoga + Adventure Retreat. 

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Beirut travel guide
Beirut travel guide
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14 Comments...
  • Tessa Faure
    May 26 2020

    I literally cannot wait to explore Lebanon and hope to do that on one of your retreats. I absolutely loved instanbul a few years ago and met two Lebanese people out in Istanbul, who are always msging me to come and visit them. It seems to me like it has all the charm, architecture and culture of places like Egypt and the Middle East but with the more open mindset like Jordan and israel. So happy you’ve fallen in love with this part of the world so we get to read (and go on retreats there)

    • Alex
      May 26 2020

      Aw, thanks Tess! Yes, I was talking to Sameh, our Wander Women Retreats partner in Cairo about Lebanon, as he brought his kids there to see snow last winter (how cute!) He said he thinks it is the most “unchained by religious restrictions” of the Arab world. It’s interesting to observe a Muslim country where religion is respected and revered yet social norms are much more relaxed.

  • Jade
    May 26 2020

    Wow, I’m sold. Cannot wait to read about your day trips!

    • Alex
      May 26 2020

      Aw, thanks Jade! I had so much fun writing this post!

  • Janice
    May 26 2020

    Oh my Alex..
    this makes me want to travel 🙂

    • Alex
      May 27 2020

      The highest compliment <3 Though a struggle right now, I know!

  • OMG!

    Beirut looks divine.
    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    p.s. Keep the blog posts coming. Even though I’m a travel blogger myself, I won’t be going abroad this year but focusing purely on German travel, so your images are a godsend right now! 😀

    • Alex
      May 28 2020

      These Lebanon posts are giving me ALL the feels. I miss travel so much!

  • Julia Nix
    May 31 2020

    So sophisticated. Gone are the dorm doom days 🙂 I remember the early stories. Ah, old times.

    • Alex
      June 9 2020

      They aren’t over! Remember, I was crashing with a friend on this trip — couch surfing, even cheaper than dorms 😉

  • becky hutner
    May 31 2020

    OK. I’m interested. And curious, since you love both places – is this somewhere Israelis might go for holiday? Or is there still a lot of tension there?

    • Alex
      June 9 2020

      Such an interesting question — I’ve never had more people ask me about a trip than I did have Israelis ask me about my time in Beirut! My friends in Israel are fascinated by it and dying to go — they have heard all the comparisons to Tel Aviv and the stories about what a vibrant city it is — but sadly they are banned from going by Lebanon and also possibly by Israel. Even those with a second passport seem extremely reticent to use it, as there is a lack of clarity on whether they would be breaking the law of Israel by traveling there as a citizen. I can’t find any official information on it, but so many people told me this, it’s certainly widely believed if not fully accurate.

      So basically, there is a TON of interest, but also sadly a ton of tension.

  • Kimmie Conner
    June 1 2020

    WOW – I never had Lebanon on my immediate list but it looks like it would exceed every expectation in the book! Looks like you had the most epic time both with exploring, nightlife, and culture. I’m definitely glad to read this even during these crazy times for some inspo. Here’s hoping that my canceled trip to the Middle East can go forward sooner rather than later!

    • Alex
      June 9 2020

      Fingers crossed for you Kimmie! Where were you supposed to go?

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