Please note that Al Rawiya does not contain advertising. None of the people, products, companies, or services mentioned in this magazine are advertisements or paid features.
Editor’s note: Just in case it doesn’t go without saying, the Al Rawiya team continues to urge all of our readers to stay home as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic. In the better days ahead of us, we hope this series of articles can be a guide for any and all who want to experience Lebanon through a new lens. If you do decide to travel to Lebanon, please do so responsibly and take all the necessary precautions to stay COVID-safe.
Tyre: Queen of the Sun, Sand, Seas, and History
Tyre, also known as Sour, is among one of the oldest cities in the world. Located just over 80 kilometers south of Beirut, the city is well known for its historical ruins and stunning public beach. Unlike most others found in the North, Tyre’s beach has beautiful white sand and is in fact listed as one of the best beaches in the Middle East by National Geographic.
Begin your day with breakfast, coffee and/or a refreshing melon orange juice from Bolbol Café at the port. What used to be an alleyway between shopfronts has now been turned into a café and the best bit of all, you can purchase a coffee for someone else and pay it forward. In our books that makes the place all the more special. Next, it’s time to beach it up at Tyre’s one and only sandy beach. To make things easier on the wallet, it’s also one of the rare free beaches in Lebanon too. After a dip in the crystal clear waters, you’ll find some wonderful options for a refreshing drink and a delectable feed. Places like Cloud 59 are worth checking out. Some places may even allow you to bring your own meat or seafood and cook them for you. Now that you’ve refueled, go explore the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea and scuba dive with El Boutique to see the underwater ruins and the hidden mysteries of the past. Other fun activities available include boat trips or cruises, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking. For those, head to Cloud 59.
Having got your much-needed dose of vitamin sea, head to the kaleidoscopic Christian Quarter or “Harat El Masihiyeh” in Arabic. Get out your camera because this is one of the most photogenic and Instagrammable spots in town. Here, wander through the narrow cobblestone streets full of colorful houses and flowers gleaming in their planters. Next, gaze at the magnificent sunset with a cold beer in hand at Al Fanar, a local resort with a restaurant, bar, and cafè by the sea where you can also enjoy a bite to eat for dinner. The evening continues as you’re in the heart of the nightlife. A cozy pub like Tavolino is great for refreshing cocktails or The Blue Line for some live music.
When it’s time to get some quality shut-eye, nice places to stay include El Boutique Hotel, which used to be a jail for women and Dar Alma or Dar Camelia, which are both located in the lovely Christian Quarter. Other options include Al-Yasmine Guest House and Les Ateliers de Tyr, a guest house and sustainable development project combining heritage and tourism.
Rise and shine and head to the old souks for a morning meander. Stop for a mouthwatering breakfast at Mahfouz Sandwich and order their famous Fatayel sandwich, filled with pieces of finely chopped fried meat, tomatoes and tarator sauce. It’s time to get your history on. First stop is the ancient Roman Hippodrome in all its glory. The majestic stadium with its archways are just waiting to be explored. But wait there’s more for our history buffs – the Al Mina ruins right by the sea for a breathtaking sight and some more picturesque photos for your feeds. If fine dining is your thing then have lunch at Le Phénicien, which offers Tyre’s signature fresh seafood. Istirahet Captain Bob is another wonderful seafood restaurant with a seaside view here but with a much more casual vibe instead. End your day at the picture-perfect port and make sure to talk to the fishermen and hear old tales of Tyre straight from the horse’s mouth.
Saida: Food Glorious Food
Saida or Sidon (Greek for “fishery”) as it is sometimes referred to, is the third largest city in Lebanon and another one steeped in history. The capital of the South is brimming with history, activity, friendly locals, food, and tradition.
A new day brings new experiences and for the foodies, Saida will certainly not disappoint. It is famous for its distinctive street food and special sweets after all. As the old saying goes, you should “eat breakfast like a king” so you’re going to do just that. For those with a sweet tooth, Al Jardali’s got your back. Order the cheese or ashta (clotted cream) knefe before they sell out like hot cakes. Manoushe lovers can explore the different dough options at Furn Al Naddaf. For a healthier option, give the whole wheat (asmar) manoushe with cheese and zaatar a try. Make it a bakery crawl whilst you’re at it and for something different head to 3ajineh for their zaatar, fresh thyme, pomegranate molasses (debs el remmen), and pomegranate (remmen) jewels manoushe. A scrumptious gem in every sense of the word.
Having had a gluttonous carb-fueled feast, you’re all energized and ready to use those boots that are made for walkin’. The old Ottoman-era souks of Saida await. Work your way through the architectural maze of stone archways and stores selling everything but the kitchen sink. This is a good chance to stock up on souvenirs, artisanal goods, spices, and local delights like lukum (Turkish delight) from Marwan Sharaf. Savor the rose-flavored ones later in between plain sweet biscuits like Gandour’s Lucky 555s. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up of the caffeine kind, then you’re in the right place. The invigorating coffee and tea at Bab Al Saray will do the job or one of their refreshing juices. Important to note here is that the souks are usually closed on Fridays due to prayer day. Lunch beckons at Snack Abou Bahij Al Naamani and here, shawarma is the name of the game. For those who like to walk on the wild side, Bash Ahmad is your place and quite the Saida institution at that. Give their sheeps’ brains or spinal cord sandwich a try or else you could devour their most-loved rosto (roast beef) sandwich. Vegetarians, we have you covered too by way of a crunchy falafel sandwich from Falafel Akkawi. To wash it all down with sugary magic, continue wandering through the old souks and ask for sahlab (a traditional sweet milk pudding drink) at Abu Zoheir Hankir’s Follow that with some maamoul mad (a cookie-like slice made of semolina will fillings like walnuts, pistachios, dates etc.) from maamoul royalty, Abou Hassan Al Habach. If your lucky stars are aligned, you might even be able to sample his ultra rare pine-nut maamouls. Look for the sign that reads “Home of Abou Hassan Al Habach” or ask around and someone is bound to know where to point you in the direction of these culinary treasures.
What’s the best way to get out of the food coma we’ve just put you in? Easy. Make your way to one of the hammams in town for a pamper and scrub session like the Ottomans used to do back in the day. Hammam Al Sheikh is still operating however, you need to go there on the day as they don’t take calls or reservations. You’ve also got the eighteenth century Hammam Al Jadeed (the New Hammam) which has been restored and is now a museum and exhibition space. Alternatively, history buffs can wander through the ancient architectural relics of the religious kind that are scattered throughout the souks like the St Nicholas (Mar Nkoula) Cathedral that was built in the eighth century or the Omari Mosque. There’s also Al-Kikhya Mosque. Whilst you’re there, pay a visit to the Audi Soap Museum, which in its heyday used to be a soap factory up until 1975. Learn about how traditional olive oil soap is made along with its history and evolution into what we see today. Don’t forget to pick up some of this aromatic goodness on your way out from their fabulous little gift shop.
If you’ve still got some time up your sleeve and glorious sunlight, make your way to the nearby Khan El Franj (Foreigners Inn). Built in the 1600s, this beauty used to house French merchants. Another landmark that’s a must-visit is the Saida Sea Castle. Built by the Crusaders in the thirteenth century, this monument has been destroyed and restored over the years. Now park yourself at The Saida Rest House or Zawat Restaurant and enjoy dinner with a view. Even better if you can get there in time for sunset.
By now we’re pretty sure you’re well and truly ready to get some forty winks and there is no shortage of charming places to stay in Saida. Al Qualaa Boutique Hotel is just steps from the old souk and Yaacoub Hotel, built in the 1920s, is another centrally located place to have a good night’s sleep. Otherwise, find yourself a cosy Airbnb in the area.
Before heading to your next destination, grab your morning sustenance from Green’s. On the menu is freshly baked bread and locally-made cheese from family-owned Al-Akhdar. Next up, down a cup of joe or two at Blend. Their delightfully invigorating Blend or cardamom frappe are perfect for a summer’s day or simply sit, relax, and enjoy their traditional Turkish coffee made with Coffee Feras Naffaa’s beans, one of Saida’s oldest coffee roasteries. Debbane Palace in the old souks is calling your name now. A pristine residence built in the early 1700s showcasing Arab and Ottoman characteristics, is now a museum and will have you traveling back in time.
A trip to Saida is not complete without an avocado cocktail with fruit, nuts, and ashta from Al Akkad’s. Have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or simply as a nutritious snack. It’s a must to settle the debate on the best shawarma in town so head to Shawarma Ghassan in Hlaliyeh (near Abra) and have lunch. For Saidawis (locals) you’re either Team Ghassan or Team Abou Bahij. Should you happen to be Saida during the end of Ramadan (Eid) then we’ll let you in on a little secret and that is malban. This mouthwatering sweet walnut taste of heaven takes 40 days to make and is not easily found in Lebanon. Zouhair A.R. Nakouzi is the place to find it. You can thank us later. Remember Abu Zoheir’s famous sahlab in the old souks? Well we highly recommend you get some more and make tracks to their new spot in Saida Food Truck Park. As you leave, pick up some of Mounir Bissat’s renowned halawa and book an appointment with your dentist at the same time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and we’ve only scratched the surface so remember that if you aren’t able to see, do, and eat everything in Saida, it will always welcome you back with open arms.
Jezzine: Go Chasing Waterfalls
From a bustling historic city to the relaxing sound of birds singing and the breathtaking grandeur of the natural landscape in Jezzine. This is a mountain getaway you cannot miss. Start your days with a Lebanese breakfast at Meouchy Guest House before burning off those calories and putting your hiking boots to good use. Nature lovers, it’s time to hike down the valley to snap the perfect picture of the majestic Jezzine waterfall and feel that cool breeze. By now you’ll have worked up quite the appetite so head to one of the restaurants overlooking the waterfall such as Al Shallal. If you’re after a home-cooked meal with local delicacies made with produce grown on its own farm, you’ll just adore Keif Jezzine.
You can’t say you’ve been to Jezzine unless you take back some locally made ornate firebird cutlery as souvenirs. The town is famous for them so you should easily be able to find these in the old souks. Finish your day at the Fakhreddine Cave where Emir Fakhreddine hid whilst fleeing away from the Ottomans. After a lesson in Jezzine’s rich history, enjoy wine o’clock at Karam Wines. Then, call it a night at Honey Guest House in nearby Bkassine.
South Lebanon is just waiting to be explored and not to be missed when you’re next in the motherland. So come on over and give your friends and family abroad some serious FOMO southern style!
Marie Lou is a Lebanese architect, diamond grader and jewelry designer with a passion for food, photography and adventure. Also known as @lougoes, Marie Lou has created her own digital gallery, through which she portrays her Lebanese tourism adventures with a simplistic approach. She can be found wandering through hidden gems, creating episodes of her exploitations whilst sharing her love for Lebanon.