FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Beirut: Astride The Divide

Mar 1, 2012
2012 / March 2012

It is not enough to familiarize yourself with the layout of Beirut’s streets and suburbs. You must overlay an intricate web of religious and political affiliations. Within a single block, you can cross between the territories of bitter rivals. For an outsider, these invisible boundaries are confusing and potentially hazardous.

Perhaps the best place for a first-timer to begin is in one of the few places open to all factions of this complex society, the Corniche. This sweeping, palm-fringed, waterfront promenade is where the city comes to stroll, or to fish, or to inline skate, or to drink coffee, or merely to watch the world go by.

It is here, on neutral ground, that you can gain some sense of Beirut’s diversity. Westernized teenagers in skimpy fashions mingle with Muslim women in burqas. Occasional political demonstrations bring the current tensions to the fore, but on most afternoons the Corniche hints at the cosmopolitan sophistication that, until the late 1960s, made Beirut one of the most glamorous destinations in the world: the Paris of the Mediterranean.

That heyday has been revived at the Riviera Hotel, where the seaview rooms provide a grandstand panorama of the comings and goings on the Corniche. The hotel is connected by a tunnel under the littoral highway to the Riviera Beach Lounge, a waterfront complex of swimming pools, bars and restaurants. Just as it was in the era of the jet set, this is a popular hangout for the “beautiful people.”

Beirut is situated on a triangular spur of land sandwiched between mountains (powdered with snow during the cold months) and the timeless waters of the Mediterranean.

Since the civil war (1975–1990), a new manmade feature carved the city in two: the Green Line, which separates Muslim West Beirut from Christian East Beirut. This border is effectively marked by Damascus Road. Although there are no fences or checkpoints to hinder transit between the two halves, the division runs deeper than mere geography.

One of the trendiest of the city’s new hotels, Le Gray, straddles the divide. Located on Martyrs’ Square at the northern end of the Green Line, this beautifully designed property is an oasis of genteel tranquility far removed from the violence of the past and the chaotic reality of the present.

Within Le Gray Hotel, the ground-floor Gordon’s Café (open from 8 a.m.) is a great place for a business breakfast or morning meeting; you can sit indoors or out on the pavement terrace. Alternatively, Ginette, in the heart of the Gemmayzeh District, offers fresh pastries and reputedly the best espresso in the city.

After a hearty breakfast, you’re ready to tackle the Beirut traffic. Few outsiders summon the nerve to drive here: The maze-like streets are hard to navigate, and local drivers do not make allowances for hesitant newcomers. There is little in the way of public transport, but taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap. There are no meters, so agree on the price up front (it’s worth asking the hotel concierge for guidance on approximate prices). Bear in mind that some taxi drivers will refuse to drive through certain areas of the city.

If you have spare time for shopping, you might want to head to Hamra Street in West Beirut, which until the civil war was known as Lebanon’s Champs-Élysées. It is yet to recapture its old glory but is still a bustling commercial area with plenty of international logos.

For modern shoppers, the focus has switched to southern West Beirut, with its upmarket Verdun Street, and to shopping centers such as the ABC Mall in East Beirut’s Achrafieh District. The city’s newest (and oldest) shopping area is Beirut Souks in the center of downtown. The original souks were obliterated during the war. The modernized, pedestrianized reincarnations opened in 2009.

One Beirut institution that survived everything the city’s recent history has thrown at it, despite its proximity to the civil war front line, is Le Chef on Rue Gouraud, a legendary family-run restaurant specializing in local favorites. The décor is cheap and cheerful, and it’s certainly not somewhere you’d take a business contact you’re trying to dazzle. However, for a sleeves-up, informal meeting, it’s the perfect venue — an honest place with no pretentions.

Another great venue for local cuisine is Tawlet, located at the Souk El Tayeb farmers’ market. Different cooks take charge each day, serving up home-style Lebanese regional dishes using the freshest ingredients.

Late afternoon is the perfect time to wander along the Corniche and pause for a sundowner. After the sun sinks into the Med, the focus shifts to two thriving neighborhoods in East Beirut: Achrafieh and, increasingly, Gemmayzeh.

In Achrafieh, Hole in the Wall, a smoky, atmospheric little pub, attracts the after-work crowd from 6:30 p.m. onward; and Element is one of the city’s trendiest nocturnal venues, with a door policy to match. If you don’t look the part, you won’t cross the threshold. There are no such obstacles getting into Kayan, a comfortable, welcoming bar in Gemmayzeh, where the soundtrack is largely golden oldies.

For dinner, the three branches of La Tabkha — in Gemmayzeh, Hamra and Jal el Dib —  offer Lebanese cuisine in a French bistro setting. At the more expensive end of the market, Da Giovanni is the finest Italian restaurant in the city, with sumptuous décor. Another good option if you aim to impress is Indigo on the Roof on the top floor of Le Gray Hotel, where you’ll be dining alongside Beirut’s movers and shakers.

This is not a city for the faint-hearted. Newcomers will find Beirut challenging, infuriating, exhilarating and baffling, but always compelling. There is, quite simply, nowhere else on Earth like it.

Beirut Souks
solidere.com/beirut

Ginette
ginette-beirut.com

Da Giovanni
dagiovannibeirut.com

Le Gray Hotel
campbellgrayhotels.com

Hole in the Wall
gardlen.com

Lebanon Ministry of Tourism
lebanon-tourism.gov.lb

Riviera Hotel
rivierahotel.com.lb

La Tabkha
tabkha.com

Tawlet
tawlet.com

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

#globility

Insta Feed
Daily
Jul 13, 2020

Delta Air Lines Adds Layers of Protection for Safe Travels

Delta Air Lines is happy to welcome travelers back while implementing extra precautions to ensure a safe, clean environment for passengers. After listening to customers' main concerns about returning to flying, Delta Air Lines came up with layers of protection.

Athens: A city that charms its guests and stirs their emotions

The city took its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and protector of the city. The financial, political and administrative center of the country and an all-powerful city-state in antiquity, Athens is a major center of culture. A visit to the first-ever museum dedicated to Byzantium, a stroll around the National Garden and a trip to the Olympeion archaeological site will take you back through time.

Daily
Jul 10, 2020

Visit Navajo Nation

Navajo Nation is an area of land in the southwestern United States. Covering about 27,000 square miles, the region in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah currently makes up the largest area of land retained by a tribe within the United States. Home to the Navajo people, the area boasts monuments, parks, markets, trails and historic sites.

Daily
Jul 10, 2020

Buy Now, Stay Later: Thailand

The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Los Angeles Office announced a new initiative for would-be travelers waiting for the green light. The Buy Now, Stay Later: Thailand launch comes on the heels of Thailand’s foreign travel restrictions extending until further notice.

Goway Offers Travelers Journey of a Lifetime

Since 1970, Goway Travel has been committed to providing customized travel experiences for world travelers. Few things are better evidence of this commitment than being awarded the 2019 Trazees award for Favorite Tour Operator. Goway Travel heartily thanks the readers of Trazee Travel for this honor and for their confidence in Goway’s work in creating travel memories that’ll last a lifetime.

Daily
Jul 9, 2020

Black-Owned Travel Essentials Companies

Packing for a trip can be stressful — making sure you have all the travel essentials. Don’t always rely on nearest store or mall for your travel needs, check out these Black-owned travel essentials companies.

eFlyer Deals
Jul 8, 2020

Breezes Resort & Spa – Bahamas Reopens with Summer of Savings Special

Through July 30, travelers looking for a Caribbean getaway can book the Breezes Summer of Savings special at Breezes Resort & Spa – Bahamas. The promotion offers up to 60 percent off stays now through Dec. 25, starting at just $139 per person, per night at double occupancy. Book now.

The Perfect Fit

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, small businesses create two-thirds of net new jobs and account for nearly 48 percent of the U.S. private sector workforce. And small- and medium-sized businesses outpace all other sectors as one of the fastest-growing in the United States. InterContinental® Hotels Group (IHG) goes above and beyond to create opportunities for this segment with its IHG® Business Edge program, voted Best Small- to Mid-Sized Business Program in Global Traveler’s 2019 GT Tested Reader Survey awards.

eFlyer Deals
Jul 8, 2020

Kimpton Hotels Ready to Welcome You Back

A number of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants reopened their doors around the United States. The properties have been hard at work building upon the brand’s already high cleanliness standards, while still retaining the beloved perks that enhance the uniquely Kimpton experience, including coffee hour, yoga mats and more.