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Beiteddine

Some 50km (30mi) southeast of Beirut lies Beiteddine (House of Faith), the name of both the village and the magnificent palace complex that lies within. The palace, perched on on 850m (2790ft) elevation, rises from the surrounding landscape like a fairy tale vision; a Scherezadean delight rendered with Italianate flair (the architects were, in fact, Italian). Work began on the palace in 1788 but wasn't completed for another 30 years, during which time Emir Bashir, the Ottoman-appointed governor, oversaw the building of a monument that would reflect the power and glory of his reign. Visitors to Beiteddine have to be grateful for the Ottoman's streak of egomania. The result is one of the finest remaining examples of 19th-century Lebanese architecture which even the Israeli invasion could not destroy (it is estimated that 90% of the palace's rare and precious contents were lost). Its grandeur is partly due to the three main courtyards, huge vaulted stables, small museums, guest apartments, water fountains, marble portals and marquetry, and luxuriously decorated and domed hammams (bathhouses) that dot the complex, and partly due to its collection of Byzantine mosaics. Many were excavated from the ancient city of Porphyrion and kept for sake-keeping at Beiteddine throughout the war. It is thought to be one of the most spectacular mosaic collections in the eastern Mediterranean, if not the world. The village itself hosts a festival every summer in July and August, featuring an eclectic mix of inernational and Arab musicians, singers, dancers and actors.

 
Zahlé

About 40km (25mi) inland from Beirut, Zahlé is a charming, attractive resort town set along the steep banks of the Birdawni River. There are literally dozens of open-air restaurants lining the river in the upper part of town. During summer, these are full of locals and Beirutis enjoying some of the finest Lebanese cooking in the country. Zahlé is also the spot in Lebanon for downing arak, the local firewater. Arak is an aniseed-flavoured brandy fermented from the leftovers of wine making. It's a clear, pure alcohol which will get you drunk very quickly but leave you blessedly free of a hangover. After a few hits it even tastes drinkable.


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