A visit to Lebanon reveals Roman treasures, natural wonders, outstanding food, cosmopolitan fun and a growing gay scene
Lebanon is a melting pot of European, Mediterranean, eastern and western cultures.
The St Georges Beach and Marina is the best example of this and is the best place for those who wish to mix and mingle with the locals. Here the hottest beauties the city has to offer lounge around in their swimwear. Sadly photography is not permitted but Zaitunay Bay is THE marina in Lebanon where the largest yachts and all that goes with them can be found.
At the end of the yacht basin is the Hotel St George, the ‘in’ spot in the 1960s, now a derelict shell caught in disputes with local investors. This is also the neighborhood of the former Holiday Inn hotel, partly destroyed by mortars decades ago and the place where a car bomb killed Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, in 2005.
But if all that sounds a bit real, you’ll be surprised to learn that walk along the promenade is a genuine delight at night with the amazing lights!
The nightlife in Beirut is vibrant. The people here love life and show it. There are numerous outdoor restaurants where one can enjoy a water pipe and the warm evening breeze along with the delicious and varied Lebanese cuisine.
One of the best addresses for this is the restaurant Republic located in Zalka. This is a haunt of extremely good looking, wealthy, young men and their stunning, high heeled girlfriends, much to the distraction of the abundant, attractive and attentive waiters. Visit the ground floor toilets when you are there, you will be amazed!
Bardo (Mexico Street, Clemenceau) is the new playground for the young gay scene in Lebanon’s latest effort to recapture the era when Brigitte Bardot was a regular guest to the city and Beirut was a fashionable playground for the rich and famous. Nowadays Arab visitors from Saudi Arabia or Jordan seek carnal pleasure here without the religious restrictions which they are subject to at home.
A recommendation which will help pass the time until the clubs are busy is the Armenian Restaurant Mayrig (282 Pasteur Street, Gemayzeh). The numerous dishes ranging from cold followed by warm starters and the main course followed by dessert is an explosion of tastes and perfumes. Try the meatballs with a red cherry sauce or the Rose Turkish Delight ice cream – just to mention two highlights of the excellent menu. The attractive waiters are a further delight.
After dinner the club Milk (in Port of Beirut, Salifi) or Ghost (Saloumeh / Dekwaneh, behind Freeway Center) await to entertain you with oriental sounds and great looking guys. These clubs are frequented by locals and the exotic music animates spontaneous belly dancing. The entrance fee of around US $20 (â‚¬16) includes an open bar, so once you arrive you end up staying long after sunrise.
There is something special about this emerging gay scene, which has been long lost in Europe and America. The genuine ‘joie de vivre’ electrifies. The clubs don’t get busy until midnight – even during the week, when they are notably emptier. Photography in these clubs is not allowed, due to the double lives lived out by many of those who flee their families and go clubbing for a few hours of fun!
For those looking for a traditional hamam, Shahrazad in the Al Massaken Street, Burj Hammoud is your best bet. Take a taxi because this place is difficult to find. A towel is needed in all areas. The sauna itself is on the lower floor with a dry and steam sauna and a Jacuzzi, with cubicles for massages and scrubbing.
A visit to the country’s most popular tourist site, Jeitta Grotto, is also a priority and well worth the effort. Considered a world wonder, these caves are very impressive. Especially popular is the phallic shaped stalagmite which stands on the path on the main cave. A boat takes you through the lower cave on a 7km ride. Apart from when the lower cave is flooded by the melted snow, the caves are open all year round to the public.
An insider tip for accommodation in Beirut is the Cosmopolitan Hotel Beirut with affordable and very comfortable rooms, a great garden with pool and a fully equipped gym as well as free wifi.
Despite previous strife, Beirut is now one of the safest and most fun places in the region. Arabs from the Gulf states and Iranian tourists fear driving through Syria but still do so as this is by far the cheapest way to reach this pulsating city on the western Mediterranean shores. Saudis and Jordanians escape the summer heat at home and visit Beirut. For the gay scene this means a mixture of visitors from throughout the Middle East and beyond.
Bertho, LebTour’s boss, is also the local organizer of the Bear Arabia event and many other fascinating events and tours in the Arabian world. A since LebTour and LGBT organization Helem were founded in 2005, both as groundbreaking projects in this region, gay Lebanon has transformed, Bertho told us.
‘Legally homosexuality is prosecutable under article 534, however, this penal law has not been used for decades although affectionate behavior in public places is not advised,’ he said.
‘The situation for gay Lebanon has improved significantly in the past few years. And recently Beirut hosted the International Lesbian and Gay Travel Association media trip to start promoting itself as an LGBT regional destination.
‘Gay bars and clubs operate freely and an LGBT center has been created to cater to all the needs of the community.
‘Despite the aftermath of the recent conflict with Israel much of the country is safe and the Lebanese people are extremely friendly and hospitable. Lebanon is a fast changing country and is inherently capable of recovering from any challenges. Each time you visit, it will be like visiting a different country with new experiences.
‘Beirut remains the only gay paradise of the Arab World and I always believed in Lebanon and it’s citizens and how nice they are. It’s a country to be visited during all seasons; you can ski in some of the best, soft snow in the world, go to the beach, and party all night long all in the same day.’
Outside Beirut gay life is sparse and more difficult to find. So, as LebTour is the only professional gay travel operation in Lebanon, their help is even more invaluable here.
The ancient Mediterranean port city of Byblos (42km north of Beirut) was founded around 5,000BC and was conquered and inhabited by over 17 civilizations since then. It is said to be the oldest, continuously-inhabited city in the world.
The latest highlight of Byblos is the Eddésands Resort – the largest resort in the Middle East. This five star complex was built on the former gay beach Paradise in 2003. The gay scene moved to St Georges Beach in Beirut, although a small, gay beach is now located on the far end of the bay.
A visit to the self-help project Batrouniyat, located in Batroun is especially recommended around lunchtime. This restaurant, with a shop offering homemade local produce such as rose water or soap, oils and sweets, was opened in 2007. The owner recently returned to Lebanon after living abroad for many years. On Sunday an extremely popular brunch is served here with local specialties including their locally famous lemonade.
The Shouf Mountains, the greenest part of Lebanon is another must. Stop at the Beiteddine Palace which is 45km from Beirut and at an altitude of 900m and experience how Emir Bechir El Chehab II lived. This is the best example of Lebanese architecture. Just above the palace was the Mir Amin Palace hotel where we found we could live like kings in 22 charming guestrooms, decorated with exquisite fabrics and antique furniture.
Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, is home to the annual Baalbeck International Festival (the oldest and best-known cultural event in the Middle East) in June to the end of July. The town, 85km northeast of Beirut and about 75km north of Damascus, is indisputably one of the finest examples of imperial Roman architecture and, naturally, a World Heritage Site.
A gay trip to Lebanon or many other exotic destinations can be booked via the unique gay travel company OUT Adventures. By choosing OUT Adventures, you’ll stay at locally owned hotels, travel with local guides, support local craftsmen and eat at local restaurants. Plus, in small groups you can make friends and be sure to be yourself. No stress and maximum fun. Robert from OUT Adventures will be delighted to help you with your next gay trip. See the OUT Adventures site for more details.