You just can't keep a good city down. Or, in Beirut's case, a turbulent past of decades of civil war hasn't taken the sheen off its glossy, cosmopolitan swagger. Lebanon's capital is far from your "regular" Middle Eastern city: Nestled on the Mediterranean coast, Beirut is an enticing combination of French designer boutiques in rebuilt Downtown, chi-chi private beach clubs where bling is king, cutting-edge galleries in converted warehouses and magnificent third-century mosaics in the National Museum.
You'll adore Beirut's juxtaposition of old and new, traditional and downright funkiness. Restored Roman baths stand in the midst of the business district, surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers and an Ottoman palace. At Music Hall, in an old cinema hall, fez-wearing traditional musicians play Arabic ballads for their 15-minute spot, after an '80s cover band, while cocktail-dress Beiruti women belly dance with their designer-jeans-clad partners supping cocktails. Soldiers with machine guns keep one eye on families drinking coffee at midnight, with squealing kids playing, on pedestrianized Place de L'Etoile square. Le Gray luxury boutique hotel sits a moment's walk from the bombed-out Holiday Inn, still bullet-ridden from 1976 Lebanon Civil War.
Small is definitely beautiful in bijoux Lebanon. In Beirut, you're never far away from a ski slope (Faraya, 45 minutes away), cedar plantation (an hour) and ancient Roman Temple (Byblos is an hour by bus). And on your way to Byblos, you can whisk up by cable car to Harissa, the immense hilltop statue, Lebanon's patron saint. Oh, and of course there are beaches, right here in the city.
And the icing on the cake? Well it has to be the food. From street food of hot m'neesh al zataar (flat bread with herbs) to a tableful of Middle Eastern mezze washed down with chilled Almaza beer or home-cooked Armenian cuisine, locals love to dine out. And then party, hard.
London-based Emma Levine is author of the Frommers.com Beirut guide, Frommer's Istanbul Day by Day and Dublin Day by Day. She has written countless destination guides for Whatsonwhen.com.