From the golden sands of a public beach, to pebbled bays and luxurious beach clubs, Lebanon Traveler takes you on a tour of some of the beach highlights along Lebanon’s rich coastline
With the rising temperatures, there’s a completely different perspective to life across the summer months in Lebanon, as the city empties out and Beiruti’s migrate to the coast. With a coastal strip that stretches the 225km length of the country, the beach is never far out of reach and yet everyone has their favorite beach spot to recline in the sun, enjoy fresh seafood and the glistening Mediterranean until the sun sets.
For those not wanting to spend the morning sat in traffic with the mass exodus of city dwellers to the coast, the Beirut beach provides a day in the sun without the hassle. Where much of the Lebanese coastline is eaten up with pricey private beach clubs, Beirut’s public stretch of beach, Ramlet al-Baida, located south of the Corniche just beyond the famous Pigeon Rocks, is a must see. It’s a tad scruffy, but full of character with visitors from all walks of life. Families gather for a picnic and nargileh [water pipe] with a sea view, couples stroll along the wave’s break and children play football, making it perfect for people watching. We can’t vouch for the cleanliness of the sea here though; instead settle in with a book on the sand against an iconic backdrop, lined with legendary ‘60s buildings, a memory to Raouche’s once grand past.
If escapism is what you’re after, La Plage (01 366222, Ain El Mreisseh, Corniche. Facebook: La.Plage.Beirut) has it all on offer. The polar opposite of its scruffy neighbor, Ramlet al-Baida, this private beach club and restaurant is where Beirut’s young, glossy socialite crowd hang out. At La Plage luxury is the name of the game; cushioned beach beds and attentive waiters will have you pampered in no time. And dining on the pier from the extensive menu is the cherry-on-top. Close by is the sun-lover’s paradise, Sporting Club Beach (01 742481, Manara, Beirut) which remains almost un-changed since opening back in the ‘60s. Its concrete minimalism gives it a retro charm and the area around its three pools gets packed out with a down-to-earth family orientated crowd during holiday season. After the sun sets, Beirut hipsters flock to see international DJs at the now renowned party, Decks on the Beach. St. Georges Yacht Club (03 958379, stgeorges-yachtclub.com. Ain Mreisseh, Beirut) offers a day in the sun within walking distance from Beirut’s Central District. Dubbed “Beirut’s playground since the 1930s,” it’s an iconic part of Beirut’s heritage and its name is still synonymous with a time when Beirut was an essential holiday stop for Hollywood film stars.
Veer Boutique Hotel and Resort (09 222623, veer.com.lb) located in Zouk Mikhael, Kaslik is a must visit. Set upon a beautiful stretch of coastline its contemporary design offers luxury to the extreme; luxury accommodation with a sea view including a boutique hotel, beach rooms, villas and four underwater bungalows. The lagoon by night is simply stunning. Beach club, Praia (09 221216, 03 806806, praialebanon.com. Facebook: Praiaresort. Zouk Mosbeh Sea Road), only a short drive from Beirut is unique in its design. Run by Cinco Lounge and Le Maillon Group, expect the beach party vibe, with a crowd catching some sun between rooftop bar hopping. A bar divides the pool in two, ensuring the drinks keep flowing. Though many public beaches in Lebanon are not well maintained, Jbeil Public Beach, just north of the port, is a reliable choice. The curved bay with pristine white sand is full of life throughout the summer. Here is where you can get to the true essence of beach life. If you don’t feel like bringing food a few humble cafes serve up basic food.
Along the way to the North look out for hidden coves, which dot the coast. South of Byblos, in the sleepy coastal town, Fidar, is one of the country’s best kept secrets; a small unspoiled tranquil pebble cove, hidden behind holiday apartment buildings. Locals though, are obviously in the know so get there early to find the best spot. Family-run restaurant, Stellamar (09 478203) that looks down on the cove, serves up delicious Lebanese mezze, along with the perfect homemade arak accompaniment. 2km South of Batroun is Joining (03 517492, Kfar Abida), a small but popular café with the perfect location. A clean public beach formed from hefty rocks that provide a direct platform into the sea, is yours to explore for free. Entering the sea is recommended with jelly shoes or else getting in and out can be precarious. The rocky seascape makes for interesting sea exploration and dramatic rocks provide a spot for adventurous youngsters to jump (with caution.) Joining serves coffee all day long as well as delicious fish for lunch and dinner.
Just before Batroun, one of the oldest cities in the world, lies a strip of some of the most picturesque beaches in Lebanon. Pierre & Friends (03 352930, Facebook: Pierre-Friends) attracts the cool Beirut crowd who come for the seafood but stay for the drinks. Despite the party atmosphere the music is not overwhelming and the beach still maintains a laidback mood. On the same strip is Bonita Bay (06 744844, 76 744844, bonita-bay.com) a more refined experience of tranquility for those wanting seafood in finer settings. A short walk down is White Beach (06 742404, 06 742505, whitebeachlebanon.com, Facebook: White Beach Lebanon.), popular with a more down-to-earth crowd and families. First set up in the late ‘80s, it has a solid menu of fresh seafood and Lebanese mezze – don’t miss the Lebanese sushi, and the story behind it from the friendly owner.
Follow the coastal road all the way to Tripoli for a trip to the stunning Palm Islands Nature Reserve. Located 5.5km Northwest of Tripoli, the three islands were declared a protected site by UNESCO in ’92 and made into a nature reserve the following year. The islands are home to endangered loggerhead turtles, rabbits, rare monk seals and hundreds of species of migratory birds. An oil spill in 2006 had a catastrophic effect on the island’s habitat and recovery efforts are still being made to help the return of its finely balanced eco system. The islands are best seen during July-September. You can pick up a free permit from Tripoli’s tourist office and negotiate a price to get there from one of many boat owners along Al Mina Port.
Not far from Beirut, the beaches of Jiyeh offer a stretch of unspoiled sands. Jonas Beach (07 995000, jonas.lbgo.com) was the first beach to open in the area, back in ’83 and it remains the most charming. Circular yellow and green umbrellas that dot the beach give Jonas a distinct retro feel, and the beach stretches on for what seems like forever. A snack bar offers basic fast food and there’s also a full menu of simple homemade Lebanese cuisine. Many sports activities are on offer from volleyball and canoeing, and there is a children’s play area. On the same strip, but a world away, is Orchid (07 996303, 03 040420, orchid-resort.com), a stunning white luxury beach club, with colorful flowers spilling over the stone walls. The pool area, lined with beach beds, is impressive enough, but if you’re really looking to splash out you can rent a private Royal Hut (LL600,000) which comes complete with a private terrace, bathroom and Jacuzzi. If you’re not quite relaxed enough, a massage in the in-house Body & Soul Spa should do the trick.
You’ve not completed the Jiyeh experience until you’ve spent a day at Beiruti favorite, Lazy B (70 950010. lazyb.me). This relaxing beach club, set in the midst of a green landscape, offers something for everybody. There are three freshwater pools, including one for kids, three natural swimming pools, a children’s playground with organized activities and an opening onto a huge stretch of golden beach. Highlights include an Italian and Lebanese restaurant, four poster beds for horizontal reclining and, of course, the absence of music. On the same strip of Jiyeh is beach club, Bamboo Bay (03 513 888) which has a tropical feel.
Scylax Escape (Info 03 073111, events 03 074111) is a highly anticipated new resort in Jiyeh, set to open in early July. Its unique design, by Jean Bou Doumit, has a respect to the surrounding landscape and as such its white lounging areas, accommodation – including bugs, chalets and beach huts complete with private Jacuzzis – is set upon grassy banks. With a large infinity pool and a Plain D’eau area with eight Jacuzzis you won’t want to leave when the sun goes down.
It might be a long 84km drive from Beirut to Tyre, but it’s certainly worth the effort. South of the city is the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve, a 7.7sqkm stunning stretch of white sands that are among the cleanest in Lebanon. The reserve is a nesting site for rare migratory birds and sea turtles and fresh springs that flow into the sea also make for varied sea life biodiversity. The beach shacks along this stretch of public beach are simple to the extreme and basic plastic tables and chairs and umbrellas form unpretentious restaurants. Cloud 59 (03 517996) is one of the best, a simple shack that plays the perfect chilled soundtrack and attracts a crowd of devoted regulars from Beirut who make it their weekend hangout. Seafood and Lebanese mezze here is cheap and you can enjoy beers in the shaded baroque beach club or at the sea’s edge.
If you’re looking for a unique experience, away from the crowds, Orange House (07 320063, 03 383080, orangehouseproject.com) is at the southern most tip of the Lebanese coastline and makes for a picturesque weekend retreat. Run by environmentalist Mona Khalil this homely B&B has a family feel and is the base for her activities helping to preserve the nesting site of the endangered turtles that come to the shore during nesting season to lay their eggs. With only three guest rooms its advisable to book a few weeks in advance. Foreigners will need a permit to pass the checkpoint just before the B&B, which can be obtained from Sidon’s army headquarters. You can get involved in the turtle conservation project while staying at the Orange House, or kick back and enjoy one of Lebanon’s wildest and most beautiful beaches.
REACHING THE BEACH BY SEA
We all know summer traffic to the beach can be painful, so why not instead kick back and relax and travel the coast via sea? Luxury Yachts & Cruises offers a variety of daily tours with unparalleled views of the coastline framed by the mountains, while cruising 100m from the shore. You can swim in crystal clear water out at sea when the boat docks, try your hand at watersports such as banana boating and jet-skiing and get a view of the impressive private villas that line the coast. They have four tours on offer including Beirut By Sea, Jounieh Bay, Byblos City and Aamchit Harbour that all include lunch. There’s certainly nothing like arriving by boat. Go with a big group for cheaper cost per person. 01 880122, 03 569956, Luxuryyachtsandcruises.com
With such a rich stretch of coastline in Lebanon, it’s saddening to see rubbish piled up on its beaches. Luckily there are several NGOs and community actions working to clean them up. Operation Big Blue Association (01 742700, operationbigblue.org) is one of the most active. The environmental NGO, founded in ’97, held their first big beach clean up on 11 May and will continue throughout the summer.
Other community-instigated movements have proved successful such as the Adopt A Beach Program in 2011 by Beach Body Tan (beachbodytan-lebanon.com). “The idea was that we can begin somewhere; picking up a piece of garbage is certainly within reach,” says co-owner of Beach Body Tan, Ester Lascar. With help from the community, they successfully cleared Fartouch Beach, Byblos, in the summer of 2011. Get involved in a local beach clean up campaign and do your bit to keep them clean.