I’ll never forget the reaction of my Grade 4 teacher when I showed her a photo of my recent trip to Lebanon during our Show & Tell session. The photo showed me standing in front of the iconic Hard Rock Cafe guitar, in Beirut.
I was so excited to pass this photo around to show my classmates how cool it was that I got to go to the Hard Rock Cafe halfway across the world, and how everyone there loved Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain and Madonna, just like we did here. But when the picture landed in my teacher’s hand, she took a closer look and exclaimed: “You have cars in Lebanon?! Wow!!”
In the photo, there was a paved road and parked cars in front of the Hard Rock Cafe. I couldn’t understand why that was the first thing she noticed in the picture, or why she was genuinely shocked that Lebanese people got around by automobile.
Taken aback by her comment, I confirmed that yes, there are cars in Lebanon. She continued: “But I thought Lebanon was a desert!”. A classmate then followed with, “Yeah Nahya, don’t you guys ride camels?”, and everyone laughed. I felt like I was cornered in a defeat of irony: my intention was to show the trendy modernization of Lebanon, yet it was overthrown by my peers’ false perception of it being primitive.
That was back in 1993, so maybe general information may not have been readily available to us the way it is now with the Internet. But surprisingly even these days with all the information anyone can gather easily to self-educate, people still choose to have a misconception about a lot of parts of the world.
Much like my teacher in the 90s, people still think Lebanon is a desert, even though Google Maps reveals that it is not. A quick internet search shows that Lebanon rests right on the Mediterranean Sea, gracing coastal and mountainous landscapes very similar to that of Portugal, Italy, Greece or Turkey.
Seventeen years after my teacher’s comment, I had a slight flashback of that Show & Tell experience in 2010 when I shared my vacation photos from my last trip to Lebanon on Facebook. Some of my friends thought I was in the Caribbean. “Wait, this is Lebanon???” one friend commented under a beach resort photo.
Turquoise seas, palm trees, golden sand, beach beds.
Yes, my friends. Yes, my Grade 4 teacher. This is Lebanon.
My previous travel post was dedicated to the mountainous part of Lebanon, so this time I want to focus on the other side of Lebanon. The fun side. My favourite side. The side that is apparently unknown to some. The beaches.
There are a number of beaches to visit in Lebanon, notably in Beirut, Jbeil, Jounieh and Tyr to name a few, but on my last trip we spent our beach days at two main beach resort areas, Batroun and Byblos.
Batroun has forever left a scenic imprint in my heart. One of the resorts we went to, Batroun Village Club, was located on top of a mountain that had an infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. No matter how hard your eyes tried, often times you couldn’t see the difference between the sky, the sea or the edge of the pool. It literally felt like you were swimming in the sky.
All you saw was a panoramic horizon of blue as you swam. It almost felt dream-like. Once you reached the edge of the infinity pool, you were brought back to reality as you saw the coast beneath and ahead of you. My swims up there were unreal, and I dream of going back and reliving that experience again.
Sawary Resort was another resort we enjoyed in Batroun. It was a more traditional resort that had a somewhat outdated vibe to it, but the gorgeous turquoise water and the tropical beach view made you forget about the 1970s floor tiles at the front lobby.
A memorable detail for me was our ocean view room. Whenever I walked into our room, I was greeted by a burst of turquoise peering through the balcony windows, and at night when I retreated in bed, the sound of the Mediterranean Sea swaying against the shore lulled me to sleep.
The town of Batroun itself is a charming, historic port that is graced with hotels, shops and cafés that people can enjoy, as beautiful coastal views and ancient buildings surround them. Old forts and castles are also unique to Batroun, like the Phoenician Wall and the Mseilha Fort.
Byblos is home to the more popular and trendier beach resorts, like Eddé Sands (it was the hot spot back then), which is where we spent the day lounging on the beach beds, ate delicious fresh seafood, felt the warm golden sand beneath our toes, and caught one of the most memorable sunsets.
Aside from its renowned beach resorts, Byblos attracts tourists for its remarkable historical sites tied to ancient Phoenician civilization and Biblical eras. After spending a day getting sun-kissed on the beach, warm evenings can be spent strolling on the cobblestone streets of old downtown Byblos as you marvel at its history, hospitality, and arts and culture.
Byblos is also near Jounieh, which is another must-see city that is home to the iconic Harissa, which you can get to by means of the Téléférique, which is an epic way to truly see Lebanon’s sea coast as you’re trailing up over its mountains on the gondola lifts.
To be honest, I wish more of our time in Lebanon was spent in the beach areas, because every time we left, I felt like I hadn’t fully seen it all. Our weekend beach getaways felt too short, and I always wanted to feel the sun, sand and sea breeze on my skin just a little while longer before heading back to our quiet, sleepy mountain. A journey we made by car, without a desert in sight.