Here's the first of what I hope will be many Plateplotter posts. The concept of this post is what first got me thinking about starting a blog because this is pretty much how I plan my holidays - I think about what I want to eat and what I want to see, and then create an itinerary that lets me do both.
So...if I had 24 hours in Lebanon's bewitching capital, this is exactly how I'd spend it:
9am: Morning man'oushe
Sprinkled with zesty za'atar, melt-in-your mouth man'oushe (manakeesh if you are planning on eating more than one, which you probably will) is a great way to get your carb fix before a day of wandering around Beirut. Although I prefer them straight out the oven from one of the city's many traditional bakeries, for atmosphere with my morning man'oushe I'd head to Al Falamanki in Achrafieh. Apparently one of the city's most popular cafes, I stumbled on it entirely by accident and extremely hungry - which made my meal there so much more satisfying. The place is huge, but the fact that it's made up of numerous rooms leading one into the other makes it seem very cosy. The strange collection of knick-knacks, from fezes to antique mirrors, cigarette cases and ouds, makes it an interesting place to start the day.
In and around the area: Mohammad Al Amin Mosque, Al Omari Mosque, Rafik Hariri's Mausoleum, Martyr's Square.
11am: Limon nana at Place de l' Etoile
A tall glass of quenching lemon with mint is the perfect pick-me-up after a couple of hours of staring at shot-at statues and slender minarets. Beirut's bustling central square (well, less a square more an intersection of several streets, hence the name - Place de L' Etoile - which refers to the street's star-shaped formation) is full of great cafes to grab a drink and people watch. It's bang in the heart of what was bombed out Beirut and is now the much discussed Solidere district. Yes it all looks a bit too shiny but I love walking around the area. It's one of those places that always glows in that peculiar way only cities lit by Mediterranean light do.
In and around the area: The Roman Baths, the notorious Holiday Inn Beirut - a massive reminder of Beirut's only too recent war-ravaged past.
2pm: A home-cooked meal
If you are lucky enough to have Beiruti friends and they invite you to their homes for a meal, say yes! If you think the food in the city's restaurants is super fresh and tastes like real food should, the home-cooked version is ten times better. Mezze, mujadara, fatteh, okra, kofta, molokiyah - you name it and I have pretty much eaten it or want to. Having a meal at home, so to speak, also gives you time to catch a nap before what is sure to be a long evening.
If you don't know anyone in the city, head to Laziz for a light lunch or grab a falafel from Barbar, both in Hamra, before napping away the afternoon at your hotel.
5pm: Turkish delight
Post siesta, head to Hamra street to stock up on jewellery and souvenirs. Then wander down to the Raoche stretch of the Corniche to catch the sunset at Pigeon Rocks, preferably over a tiny cup of sweet, hot Turkish coffee and perhaps some shisha at Bay Rock Cafe. Cliched I know, but I have nothing more to say other than the fact that it really is a pretty spot to watch the sun go down.
In and around the area: Hamra Street, AUB, the Corniche, Pigeon Rocks.
8pm: A traditional grill meal at Abdel Wahab
Great mezze, great grills, a buzzing atmosphere and most importantly within walking distance from Gemmayze - Beirut's bohemian, bar-packed quarter. The food at Abdel Wahab is delicious, especially the kibbeh nayyeh (think a silky, garlicky version of steak tartare mixed with burghul and topped with mint and pine nuts). A very enjoyable way to line your tummy before a night out.
In and around the area: Some of Beirut's prettiest Ottoman and French Era buildings along the windy back streets leading to the restaurant.
10pm: Bar hopping in Gemmayze
Gemmayze's bars are tiny but lively and the best way to see them is to start at one end of the street and work your way in. Settle down with a glass of Kefraya, or some aniseedy arak, listen to local jazz bands and toast Beirut. My favourite drinking holes are Godot, Bar Louie and Torino Express but you are sure to discover at least one new gem each time you visit.
In and around the area: Sursock Palace, Crystal Bar (never been, but hear it's the place to go if you want to do the whole champagne-and-sparklers routine... with very expensive magnums)
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