The best thing about Lebanon is that the capital, Beirut, is located by the coast and in the middle of the country. This makes day trips and weekend getaways to the rest of the country really easy and accessible. Renting a car at the airport was a breeze and relatively cheap, with plenty of discounts (link below!). There is always this feeling of adventure when you first sit behind the wheel of a car in a brand new country that you have never visited. There is that feeling of excitement and uncertainty and not knowing what the roads will bring. Having done a few road trips in the last year or so (Mosselle in Germany, Bulgaria, Oregon and Malaysia), it is really interesting to see how the driving culture differs. It is not just the excitement of driving on new roads, but also the diverse views and scenery you get to experience, as well. It is all fun and Lebanon's countryside was no different! Driving was a little crazy here but once you get used to the local rules and customs, you will be loving it. The next few posts are based around a series of road trip, first heading South of Beirut to Sidon and Tyre!
The first stop of this southern ride was at the historical port of Sidon, about a 45 minute drive along the beautiful coastal waters. It did bring back memories of my road trip along the Adriatic Sea, when we drove from down the Croatian coast. Sidon is a fishing town and is the third largest city in Lebanon, with a really long history dating to pre-historical ages. The bible actually referenced Sidon a few times, calling it the first home of the Phoenicians on the coast of Canaan. Solomon entered into some sort of alliance with the Sidonians (1 Kings 11) and Jesus himself visited the region as well (Matthew 15:21 and Mark 7:24). In fact it was recently discovered that Sidon is one of the world's 20 oldest cities, with inhabitants since 4000 BC.
Sidon is now a sleepy town with a fishing trade. The main tourist sight is the sea castle that was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century. Park your car near the waterfront and head on in to marvel at the ancient fort and climb onto one of upper floors for the incredible sea view!
Right next to the sea fort is Saida Rest House, a perfect place for a late lunch by the waters. It was so nice to get out of the sun and into the shade, while enjoying delicious hummus and grilled meats with the incredibly expansive sea views. It is unbelievably relaxing to dine while listening to the waters against the shore. It did bring back memories of my recent trip to the Le Goulette, just outside Tunis, where I had a really enjoyable coffee by the still waters!
With jetlag slowly creeping in, we had one more stop to make and it was slightly further south at the city of Tyre. Historically, this was an ancient Phoenician city established around 2750 BC and was the birthplace of Europa and Dido (Elissa). Tyre has also been mentioned multiple times in the Hebrew bible, often known as a strong city (Joshua 19:29), with many people visiting too. I wanted to come to Tyre mainly to see the UNESCO World heritage site of the Tyre Roman Hippodrome. Having established as a heritage site in 1979, this historical hippodrome is considered the biggest and best preserved Roman hippodrome in the world.
There are notable and standing ancient structures and you can just about make out the used to be 480m long and 90m wide horseshoe shaped hippodrome. This used to sit 20,000 spectators to watch the old Roman sport of chariot racing. This is quite similar to the sights I saw in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. It was all pretty fun to wander around the huge site and taking in the views. Some of the large structures standing are really impressive. There was so many cool photo opportunities round the structures.
All in All
This might have sounded like a short day trip from the capital, but considering the 5am arrival from the evening flight, we did pretty well visiting both of these historically important old cities. We have been warned against travelling any further South of Tyre due to the ongoing conflicts, which was understandable as the border with Israel was only about 30 km away! But I will definitely be back in the future to visit other areas of Southern Lebanon, such as the Mleeta Landmark (war museum) and Beaufort castle! Stay tuned for my next post around road trips to the North of Lebanon!
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