If you read part one of this blog you may have pin pointed the hot destination I recently visited. If not, all will soon be revealed.
Day three saw yet another adventure for us; a quick dice with death moment crossing the road to board a luxury speedboat boat, ready to whisk us on our way. The blue waters of the Med’ and the sun on my face was like a little mini-break for the soul! We roared along a rugged coastline of resorts, towns and settlements; there were lovely looking little villages winding their way up the mountainous backdrop (from where the skiing is amazing between Jan – March). So coffee in hand, sun cream plastered over my face, arms and bare legs, we were heading to the oldest continuously settled ‘city’ in the world for a look around the remains of empires past with our very own local guide and archaeologist. What I was not prepared for was just how beautiful the arrival in to the tiny harbour would be. The backdrop was of ancient buildings framing the narrow road, with colourful bougainvillea everywhere you looked. It had cool restaurants and boutiques and even a castle perched up high, overlooking the port – a real Kodak moment. This was the view from the boat whilst the skipper ‘parked’ the boat in a non-existent parking space, created by bump-parking the £400k vessel between two knackered old fishing boats! Contrasts everywhere you looked.
So off for another walk we go – to learn about a little more culture. More clues for you, did you know for example, that the original inhabitants were the world’s first ‘international’ sailors? They traded far and wide and were sophisticated and resourceful. Past populations have left us a treasure trove of clues on how life might have been 8000 years BC, they certainly new a stunning location when they saw one! We then had a quick look at the 300 year old souks for a spot of shopping. I personally headed to a tiny museum that displayed (and sold) 100 million year old fish fossils, discovered in the limestone (with some displayed at the Natural History Museum in London). I bought a small one, thereby doing my bit for the local economy and for the museum. This UNESCO world heritage city, the one that gave us our alphabet, the name for the Bible, really was a rather lovely surprise. We then headed back to the boat for a quick trip north to Batroun, a wine growing region for a spot of wine tasting and yet another beautiful lunch high in the hills. The local wine is sublime!
After getting back ‘home’, we had a little chill time before dinner at the Four Seasons, a treat… I had eaten way too much on this trip, but the food, wine and service at the hotel was worth loosening the belt for.
So there you have it, a wonderful, packed itinerary in one of my new favourite Mediterranean destinations, a place where anything goes, people are genuine, generous, friendly and fun….wonderful Beirut! Yes, you read correctly, Beirut (and Byblos).
Whilst my trip was clearly very enjoyable – I work for one of the UK’s premier events agencies… so with my work hat on, I should ask myself the question of “would I take a group there?” My answer would be an unequivocal ‘”yes”. It would not necessarily be for everyone, but the infrastructure is great and it has all the trappings of a great incentive destination in particular. If you have a group that has been everywhere, that likes to see and experience new things, but requires a familiar theme (i.e. sun, good hotels, great dining and superb tour experiences), then Beirut hits the spot. Sure, its geography is interesting to say the least (north and east has Syria, whilst to the south, Israel – neither country on friendly terms with Lebanon). However, I never once felt intimidated, threatened or on edge. We were nowhere near the 5km buffer line that the FCO advises avoiding (in fact, there is a whole mountain range between you and ‘them’).
Without attempting to be flippant, or to trivialise the real effects of delegate perception… don’t you sometimes have to go outside of your comfort zone in order to enjoy new experiences? The reality however, was that our little group never felt like we were outside our own, unique comfort zones; we thoroughly embraced and enjoyed the experience to the full.