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The tiny Arab country of Lebanon (not even three-quarters the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut) on the Mediterranean bordering Jordan, Syria, and Israel, has been in the news this week thanks to universal street protests - peaceful and held in a festive atmosphere - aimed at getting its corrupt ruling politicians to step down. Additionally, the little many Westerners have known about this country is outdated, from when it was convulsed from 1975 to 1990 by a brutal civil war as well as an invasion by Israel, causing large-scale destruction and loss of life. But this past summer, my husband and I decided to expand my travel horizons a bit outside our usual comfort zone. to visit a good friend from home while he was on a visit to his family here, and found it to be an extraordinary destination that more travelers should definitely consider once the protests have passed.
These days, long at peace, Lebanon does still live in a dicey neighborhood and is home to the militant, anti-Israel faction of Shi’ite Muslims called Hezbollah, but more than 40 percent of its population are Christians. And as we found this past summer, here Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully, and visitors will be not only safe and welcome, but amazed at the sophistication of capital Beirut (lauded in the 20th century as “the Paris of the Middle East” and arguably the same today); the friendliness of the Lebanese (quite a few of whom speak surprisingly good English); and the country’s wealth of history, culture, ecotourism, beaches, and other allures (even skiing!). If I may, allow me to take you on a quick tour of its highlights.