Rank #13: LEBANON
A dynamic country capitalising on its cultural clout
Momentum is starting to gather in fascinating Lebanon, and its crumbling crusader castles and intricate mosaic-paved streets, which have become tourist-free in recent years, are ushering in culture-curious travellers once more.
Earlier in 2019, the British Foreign Office changed its travel advice regarding Lebanon – which previously warned against visiting areas including the Bekka Valley – deeming it safe for travellers to return. As such, adventurous tour operators are introducing exciting itineraries for 2020, opening up Lebanon’s world-class restaurants, shortbread-sand beaches and ancient ruins for exploration.
At Baalbek lies one of the largest and best-preserved Roman sites in the Middle East, with its monumental 2,000-year-old temple to Jupiter and six towering, free-standing columns. As the home of the Phoenicians, the early traders who controlled most of the ports in the Mediterranean, the country is full of similarly intoxicating ancient sites, including the enormous hippodrome and Roman ruins of Tyre, which can also be admired underwater while snorkelling (you may have to jostle for space with the resident sea turtles, though).
A melting pot of religions, traditions and cultures, Lebanon’s appeal is perhaps most apparent in Beirut, where a burgeoning arts scene draws in young creatives and alternative business owners. At Tawlet, a different woman from a local community cooks the food of her village every day on rotation, and the same non-profit runs the spice-scented farmers’ market at Souk el Tayeb. Less than an hour away, you’ll find Ixsir, which stakes a claim to the title of ‘the highest altitude vineyard in the world’. Indeed, the country’s wine industry looks set to make (fresh on the nose, stone-fruit-scented) waves in 2020. In the 1980s, there were just seven wineries in the Bekka Valley, now there are more than 40, some of them producing world-renowned bottles such as Chateau Musar.
Add to that fine-sand beaches, a sprawling network of mountains and expansive, lung-cleansing cedar forests, and it’s not hard to see why Lebanon’s on the up.
Original Article: Condé Nast Traveller