The World’s Oldest Inhabited Town
If history is your thing (even if it isn’t actually), you should take a day trip from Beirut up the coast to Byblos. It is a UNESCO World Heritage city believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world (occupied first between 8800 and 7000 BC). It’s less than an hour’s drive north and it makes a nice change from the big city.
A group of us had flown in to Beirut for a long weekend, and we roped in a friend’s uncle to drive us up there for the day. Well actually he insisted, because he would charge us much less for his van. So we all piled in and headed out. (You can rent a car, or get a taxi to take you there if you don’t have a friend in town).
Byblos used to be popular amongst the rich and famous back in the 1960’s and 70’s, with the likes of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra sailing into the little harbor for some Mediterranean fun in the sun. But that all ended when the civil war started and scared them all away. These days it’s become popular again with the younger crowd who head out to the beach clubs and restaurants on weekends.
The Souk And The Ruins
We parked at the quaint little fishing harbor and walked up the cobbled streets. We spent about an hour walking through the beautifully restored souk in the historical quarter and I was surprised to find a large stone church right next door to a blue-domed mosque. We happened to be there around prayer time, and the mosque was filled, with worshippers spilling outside into the alleyway.
We headed off to the old Phoenician, Roman and Crusader ruins, next to the souk. It’s a fairly large area, with crumbling ruins that house a very modern museum, filled with ancient artifacts. We strolled around the museum, then climbed the walls for a great view over the ruins, harbor and the coastline back towards Beirut.
Fortunately, Byblos is famous for its seafood restaurants, and seeing as I love seafood, I was very happy to walk back down to the picturesque harbor, to get out of the sun and reward myself with a long lazy lunch.
Harbour Side Eating
Although Uncle, as we all called him, insisted on taking us somewhere cheaper to eat, we all decided we wanted to stay in the harbour because it was so charming. There are two main places to worth eating at. The very popular Bab el mina http://www.babelmina.com , or the older, legendary Chez Pepe right next door. We decided to go with history, and headed to Pepe’s.
It’s perfectly situated, built into the rocks overlooking all the yachts, and thanks to its colourful founder, has become quite the institution. The walls inside and out are covered with photographs of the founder and all his famous guests over the decades, when Lebanon had its heyday.
We spent an awesome afternoon gorging on seafood platters and drinking bottles of chilled Lebanese wine. (Yes they make wine, and some of it is pretty good). So by the time we eventually headed home, thankful for Uncle’s driving, we were all singing merrily. We arrived back in Beirut in time for sundowners.