Lebanon’s historic southern city is well known for its impressive ruins and long stretch of sandy beach, but there is so much more to see. LT reveals five alternative things to do in the Tyre region this summer
1.Glass blowing heritage
On your way down South, make a stop at the ancient town of Sarafand, located about halfway on the road between Saida and Tyre. Archeological excavations in Sarafand, show the town was once an important center of industry with evidence of glass and porcelain production, and the tradition of glass blowing continuing to this day. And right next to the remains of old pottery kilns and workshops is the Sarafand Glass Factory (03 906091, Sarafand) of the Khalife family – where father, brother, son and daughter still produce blown-glass items today.
Only a few years ago the workshop was at risk of closing, with the competition of cheap China-made glass imports and declining numbers of foreign tourists to Lebanon taking a hit on the business. But after the Green Glass Recycling Initiative ( ggrilebanon) partnered up with them to recycle the waste beer bottles that usually end their life in landfills, business is now booming.
“Just two years ago we would only open for work a few days a month. But after getting a contract with Almaza a few months ago we became so busy, working almost 24 hours a day,” says Rima Khalife, a member of the family business. “They make seven million bottles of rubbish a year and we recycle the glass and make glasses from it. For every eight bottles of waste, we make one recycled glass.” At the workshop you can see firsthand the glass-blowing tradition in process. Afterwards stop by the small shop, where they sell their artisan products – from bowls, vases and glasses to chandeliers and lamps.
2.The olive mill of Maarakeh
In the village of Maarakeh, 7km north of Tyre, stands the 50-year-old olive mill where Daoud Roumieh (03 355990) still presses the family olive oil; a tradition passed on from his father. The olive press is a part of the cultural heritage of the area – each olive season locals from Maarakeh and the surrounding villages make their pilgrimage to the Roumieh mill, bringing their harvests to press the traditional way. Stop by in harvesting and pressing season, which usually begins mid-October, to see the mill in action or call in advance to have a tour of the mill and press and meet owner Roumieh, who will explain the process.
3.The Christian Quarter
Head to the end of the Port and you’ll enter Harat el Masihiyeh, the quaint Christian Quarter of Tyre that is home to some of the city’s fishing community and moves to its own slowed-down pace of life. Narrow cobbled streets twist and turn, passing by century-old sandstone houses, serene courtyards with flowing fountains and small gardens with flowers in full bloom. In this old community, daily life spills out onto the streets – washing hangs outside, families grill on the pavement and scooters speed by, carrying the morning’s catch of fish. Here you can always feel the close proximity of the sea. Wander down the area’s charming alleyways and you’ll come across a catholic church, the oldest in the area. Here too you’ll find the center of Tyre’s nightlife scene where pubs are hidden within its narrow streets. Start with dinner at the charming Al Fanar (07 741111, 03 665016, alfanarresort.com) for a seafood dinner on the seafront. Then head to cozy pub Tavolino (07 740135, Al Fanar Street) for fresh cocktails made with the season’s ingredients. There’s also the relaxed pub-restaurant Diver’s Inn (03 059052) with arched stone ceilings and tons of atmosphere and Blue Line (71 504094) which occasionally features live music.
4.Meet Tyre’s fishermen
Tyre’s picturesque port area is an essential stop for any trip to the city. For a more immersive experience, stop to talk to the fishermen who you’ll find fixing their nets, bringing in the morning’s catch or grilling fish in front of their fishing boats, and hear the stories of the city directly through them. For a unique eating experience, buy fresh fish from one of the fishermen or one of the nearby fish shops, rent a fisherman’s flouca (fishing boat) and have a BBQ on the small rocky island, Zireh, facing the port.
5.Swim in Naqoura
At the southern-most tip of Lebanon’s coastline is Naqoura; a small city perhaps best known as the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL), but also characterized by its rich green valleys, agricultural fields and orchards of banana trees. Few know about its stunning rocky coastal scenery and clear waters, but as the last point to swim within Lebanese waters, every summer families from the city gather to picnic on its cliffs and rocks that drop away into the sea, smoke narguileh and bathe in its shallow turquoise blue shores. Bring a picnic and BBQ and buy some fish from one of the local fishermen, then find a secluded spot on the pebble beach or rocks and settle in for a tranquil afternoon.
Where to eat
Meat for breakfast might seem odd, but trying one of Mahfouz’s (07 740131) famous fatayel sandwiches – made from fried meat, wrapped in paper-thin bread with tomatoes and tarator sauce – is a must. Customers gather from 7am every morning outside the sandwich shop, located in the old souk. Foul Baroud
(03 949652) is the most popular foul stop in town, serving the traditional Lebanese breakfast every morning from 5-10am. A stay in Tyre also has to include fresh fish – head for a long lunch at any of the charming restaurants on Tyre’s rocky beach Al Jamal, after a scuba dive to see the underwater ruins.
Where to sleep
Located right on the water’s edge Al Fanar Restaurant & Auberge (Details as above) makes for an atmospheric place to spend the night. Take some time to speak to the hotel’s characterful owners who transformed it from the family home and are full of stories on the area. The larger hotel Rest House (07 742000, 03 356663, resthouse-tyr.com.lb) offers luxurious rooms and its own golden-sanded beach. For a countryside escape just south of Tyre stay in Al Yasmine (03 372888, alyasmineguesthouse.com), a boutique guesthouse in Maaliye amongst grounds where deer run wild and swans and flamingos wander through the grounds.