BEIRUT: Some people have long been prepared for this upcoming break. They marked up their yearly calendar on Jan. 1, identifying public holidays that yielded extended weekends and booking a series of short escapes accordingly.
Others have cobbled together a plan at the last moments, and are reveling in their spontaneity.
But likely you’ll find yourself in a third category – rolling over Saturday morning, with a three- or four-day weekend stretching out in front of you and your days as lacking in plans as the Lebanese sky is bereft of clouds.
Fear not – at The Daily Star a four-day break is a mythological phenomenon, but that has not quelled fantasies about how such free time might be spent, so here are some suggestions.
Sleep in. You don’t have a flight to catch or a hotel to check in to, so there’s no rush to rise. And when you finally do, how about a slow and satisfying brunch?
For an extensive international menu and a tea selection so broad choosing is almost a nuisance, head to Gou just off Charles Malik.
If eggs Benedict is your thing, then Ginette in Gemmayzeh treats its weekend customers to an excellent version. Meanwhile, across the street diversity and one of the best French press coffees around, replete with Internet access and leather armchairs, await you at Urbanista’s brunch bar.
One of the great boons of the Lebanese summer is that weekends in Beirut tend to be quiet. After you’re finished brunching, take advantage of the deserted city by staying in town. Continue your lazy day by hitting one of the beach clubs to top up your tan, or browse the sale rails at Beirut Souks and ABC Mall free from the jarring elbows of overly eager fellow customers.
This may be the last weekend of fasting ahead of Eid al-Fitr, but for those who have found enduring the lack of football since Spain triumphed at Euro 2012 a far greater challenge than forgoing daytime meals, the end is even closer. Both the English and Spanish leagues are back in action Saturday evening, so find a TV and see how the sides are looking after the wheeling and dealing of preseason.
Cap the day with an indulgent iftar. The Phoenicia Hotel offers the best in town, although the relaxed atmosphere of Falamanki’s garden on Damascus Road is ideal for those after a more casual dining experience.
Alternative: If lazing around the capital is wholly unappealing, The Daily Star recommends making an excursion to the Mzaar Summer Festival in Faraya.
This festival began Tuesday and runs through Sunday, but Saturday promises to be an especially fun-packed day in the area you probably last saw during the ski season.
The action begins at 11 a.m. and Saturday’s schedule includes a beauty contest for dogs, a performance by a percussionist from London and a fire show.
Other attractions include jugglers, stilt walkers and an exhibition of local crafts and produce.
Take a day trip Sunday. With so many people away for the weekend, traffic should be reasonably light on the main thoroughfares in and out of Beirut, making driving far less tedious than usual.
However, it is likely a wise move to bear in mind the security situation in the country and check the news before leaving home.
If you’ve already spent plenty of time on the beach this summer, why not head inland instead?
Drive to Zahle for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the Berdawni River. Here Lebanese mezza like no other is served in the shaded grounds of an area dubbed Wadi al-Arayesh (Valley of the Vines).
Dining choices abound, and you may want to flip a coin to choose a restaurant, as each appears more tantalizing than the last.
Alternatively, you could just take The Daily Star’s word for it and head to Casino Mhanna, where delicious specialties include raw meat mezzas and mushroom kebabs.
After lunch explore the centuries old town’s many churches, or take in a local vineyard – Chateau Ksara, Domaine de Tournelles and Chateau Wardy are all in the vicinity.
Alternative: Sign up for a hiking trip. Many of the usual suspects are running tours throughout the country this Sunday. Liban Trek is heading to Sannine, where hikers can choose between exploring the Ridges of Zaarour or the Dome of Sannine. Meanwhile, Vamos Todos invites hikers to Arz al-Hadath, a village overlooking Annoubine Valley and the Cedars in north Lebanon.
Indulgence is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to do something a little altruistic or socially conscious too. The final day of C.H.A.T.S., a weeklong annual event run by the NGO Save Energy Plant Trees, offers just the ticket.
Join the team Monday as they head to Batroun for a morning of contributing to environmental sustainability by planting lemon trees at the Ibrine convent.
Fear not, the morning’s toil is following by an afternoon of fun activities, including hiking in the Tannourine Cedar reserve, sightseeing and, of course, plenty of eating.
What’s great about outings like this is that once you show up at the meeting point and board the organizer’s bus, you won’t have to spare a single thought for such tedious affairs as navigating, parking or decision-making for the rest of the day.
However, the excursion does require an early start (the meeting time is 7:30 a.m.) and it is a little pricey at $65 for adults and $25 for children under age 12, although these prices are all-inclusive. For more information or to book a place, call Pierre at SEPT on 03-836-139.
Alternative: If rising at the crack of dawn and marching to someone else’s schedule for the day sounds too reminiscent of frightful school trip experiences, then plot out your own action packed agenda.
Perhaps get in some exercise by biking north up the coast road, where on a public holiday traffic will be light. Visit historic sites, such as Nahr al-Kelb, or take an afternoon beach break along the way.
Go to the beach – even if you’ve been almost every weekend this summer. It’s already late August and who knows how much longer this gloriously hot weather will hold.
It’s probably wiser to head north of the city rather than south this weekend, so chose your favorite beach club between Jbeil and Batroun, or do something you’ve never done before – perhaps a trip to the remote and undeveloped sands of Rabbit Island off the coast of Tripoli – before finishing off the weekend with a great dinner.
For great end-of-weekend feasts, here are two ideas: Stop at Abu Walid in Tabarja on route home for a bigger fish fest than you’ve ever imagined, or take advantage of Tuesday’s $40 open sushi and wine option at Al Kamanja restaurant on the Halat Highway near Jbeil.
After dinner, perhaps make a final pit stop in Jounieh’s old souk to take in “The Longest Bar – the Sequel.” The town’s pubs will once again join together to create a more than 400-meter-long bar over which they’ll only too happily serve you your drink of choice.
Alternative: It’s your last chance to catch “Man in the Mirror,” the show that celebrates the late Michael Jackson, before it leaves Lebanon. So bag yourself a ticket, and then spend the day at home practicing singing along to the King of Pop’s classic hits so as you fit in with the overzealous crowd set to flood the Beirut Souks’ performance.