SAIDA, TYRE, JEZZINE
With a winding old marketplace, a seaside castle, and a strong Lebanese heritage, Saida is easily one of Lebanon’s most delightful destinations. Though the coastal city sits just 40km south of Beirut, it has retained a much quainter and more traditional vibe than the cosmopolitan capital, making it a perfect getaway from Beirut.
By car: Take the highway south out of Beirut and follow the signs towards Saida.
By public transport: Vans leave to Saida every five minutes from Jisr el Cola. The journey takes around an hour and costs 3,000 LBP.
WHAT TO DO Sea Castle
Saida’s most distinctive feature is the Sea Castle, built in 1228 by Crusading armies on the site of an old Phoenician temple. Sitting on a small island off the water, the stone castle is framed by the sharp blue Mediterranean Sea, making it perfectly picturesque. Entrance to the site costs 4,000 LBP, and it is open daily from 9 am until sunset.
Saida’s old souk is exactly what you might imagine an Arabian bazaar to look like, complete with stone archways and shops selling everything from fruits to souvenirs. Along with the Dabbane Palace, many old religious sites are scattered throughout the souk. Enjoy the adventure of discovering them in the labyrinth of twisting alleyways.
The Soap Museum
The Soap Museum is here to show you the art of saponification, the chemical process that produces the soap. The museum is tucked into an old soap factory that is now a well-organized and informative museum. For just 5,000 LBP, a guide will take you through the aromatic chambers of the museum. 07 733353
Khan El Franj
Just outside the old souk is Khan El Franj, an old inn built by the Ottoman Fakhr el-dine II to encourage the silk traders to do business to Saida. Today, visitors can walk through the Khan for free and admire the scenic inner courtyard and arched Ottoman architecture.
WHERE TO EAT Rest House
The Rest House ( 07 722469) is Saida’s most popular restaurant, and for good reason. You can enjoy your lunch right on the waterfront, with an unparalleled view of the castle. The food is typical Lebanese mezze style and reasonably priced, especially given its prime location.
Tawlet Saida ( 81 707240, tawletsaida.com) is a lovely restaurant that is a tranquil place to cool down after roaming the Saida souk. Set above the maze of the marketplace below, the atmosphere will lure you in with its peace and quiet, keeping you satisfied with Lebanese food made by local women.
Al Kassir ( 07 720536), a tiny family-owned sweet shop, is well known in the area for their classic pastries, stuffed with nuts, and fruits in traditional Lebanese fashion.
WHERE TO SLEEP Al Qalaa Hotel
Located on the water’s edge just steps from the old souk, the rooms of Al Qalaa are charming and cozy. The rooftop restaurant overlooks the Crusader Castle and has the old feel of Saida. Rooms cost around 150,000 LBP (100 USD), depending on the season. 07 734777
Lebanon’s southernmost city, Tyre is one of those hidden gems that makes Lebanon a spectacular place to travel. Like all of Lebanon’s coastal cities, it has witnessed a myriad of passing armies, conquerors and civilizations. Today, much of Tyre’s ruins come from the Roman era, yet it exudes a noticeably beachy vibe.
By car: Follow the southern road from Beirut, past Saida, until you reach Tyre.
By public transport: Hop in a van from Jisr el Cola to Saida for 3,000 LBP. In Saida, you can transfer to a bus to Tyre for 2,000 LBP. The vans run every 20 minutes or so and the trip down takes around two and a half hours in total.
WHAT TO DO The Roman Hippodrome
Tyre’s Hippodrome is a sprawling spectacle of ancient Roman grandeur. The Hippodrome once held up to 40,000 people, who sat along the stadium stands to cheer on chariot races. The ruins are remarkably well preserved and you can climb up the stadium seating through ancient archways and a Roman street. Entrance costs 6,000 LBP and the site is open daily from 8:30 am until 30 minutes before sunset. 07 740530
Al Mina Ruins
Just a five-minute drive from the Hippodrome are the seaside Al Mina ruins. The bulk of the Roman ruins are a series of columns on the seafront. You can pay 5,000 LBP to walk through this beautiful ancient site and take some amazing pictures. The site is open daily from 8:30 am until 30 minutes before sunset. 07 740530
Tyre Port and the Christian Quarter
Tyre’s Port is a beautiful site, especially around sunset. The pretty harbor is dotted with fishing boats and fishermen, and the briny smell of the ocean lingers around the seaside area. Located next to the port, the Christian Quarter is like Lebanon’s own version of a Greek island, with cobblestone streets, colorful houses and flowers spilling over balconies.
Tyre Public Beach
If you are visiting Tyre during the summer months, a trip to the public beach is a must. It is one of the cleanest in Lebanon. Unlike the beaches in Lebanon’s north, Tyre’s beach is made of a fine sand, which coupled with the crystal clear water, makes for a perfect day on the coast.
WHERE TO EAT Le Phenicien
Located right on the harbor, Le Phenicien (07 740564) is one of Tyre’s most upscale restaurants. Specializing in fresh seafood and fish, the restaurant is known for its great service, tasty food and amazing view.
Captain Bob’s Restaurant Tony
Just beside Le Phenicien is Restaurant Tony (70 108641), a slightly shabbier but equally charming option. Tony, the owner of this small white and blue decorated seafood restaurant, will greet you warmly and fry you up the latest catch. If you want to eat your lunch right on the water, nothing beats Captain Bob’s. During the summer, the restaurant builds a wooden patio over the ocean, sets up some plastic chairs and tables, and serves up shisha, delicious mezze and fried fish.
WHERE TO SLEEP Dar Alma
Easily one of Lebanon’s most charming boutique hotels, Dar Alma is situated in the lovely Christian Quarter, right on the seafront. The hotel exudes a nautical atmosphere, from its blue and white décor to the ocean facing restaurant and private swimming spot. A night’s stay costs around 225,000 LBP (150 USD). 07 740082, hotelibanais.com
Turquoise Beach Resort
Located right on the beach and just a seven-minute drive from the center of Tyre, Turquoise Beach Resort offers luxury accommodation and the facilities one would expect from a lively summer resort. It’s a great choice for groups and families. 78 822866/78 822877, turquoise-lb.com
Jezzine is Lebanon’s hub for nature tourism due to its breathtaking mountain view, pine forests, and waterfalls. During the summertime, the town and surrounding area become a getaway for visitors seeking a fresh mountain retreat away from the city.
GETTING THERE By car:
Take the southern coastal road down to Saida, and turn into the mountains at the Nejmeh roundabout. Continue until you see signs for Jezzine.
By public transport:
From Beirut, head to Jisr el Cola to get the van to Saida for 3,000 LBP. In Saida, transfer to the LTC bus at the Nejmeh roundabout. Ask the driver to drop you off near Jezzine’s town hall. The total trip takes around an hour and a half.
WHAT TO DO Bkassine Pine Forest
A haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, Jezzine’s pine forest is the largest in the Middle East. The distinctive Lebanese pine trees cover the area, making it a great place to enjoy walks in the fresh air.
Jezzine’s waterfall is the fifth highest in the world, attracting tourists from around the country. You can experience the waterfall by hiking down to its base or enjoying a meal in one of the cafés at its summit.
WHERE TO EAT Al Chalouf
Situated just above the famous Jezzine waterfall, Al Chalouf (07 781774) is the best place in Jezzine for great views and a tasty mezze. Enjoy your lunch surrounded by spectacular pine forests at a height of 75 meters over the valley.
WHERE TO SLEEP Maison de la Forêt
Maison de la Forêt is an eco-lodge perched among the pine forests that cover the mountains surrounding Jezzine. The sprawling property hosts several rustic lodge-style rooms and the hotel specializes in organizing outdoor activities. They have a climbing wall, ropes course, and bikes available for rent on the property, making for a great stay in one of Lebanon’s most beautiful forests. 07 800222/78 828252, lamaisondelaforet.net
Blue Jay Valley
Set in the heart of Jezzine, Blue Jay is hidden in a green valley abundant in pine and oak trees. The property, made up of bungalows and luxury tents, is a lovely retreat, providing guests with luxurious accommodation and restful nights under a starry night sky. 07 811112/78 880088, bluejayvalley.com