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Lebanon tourism rallies

After years of instability, Lebanon is getting its groove back.

After years of instability, Lebanon is getting its groove back.

Although the U.S. State Department maintains a travel warning, which advises Americans to avoid Lebanon because of safety and security concerns, a political agreement last year has restored calm.

Foreign tourists have been flocking back to the Mideast country’s pine-covered mountains, fancy Mediterranean beach clubs and buzzing night life. About 1.3 million visited last year, up 30% from 2007, government officials said.

Damage from the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas has been largely repaired, and in any case was concentrated in south Beirut and southern Lebanon, areas that most foreign tourists avoid. Tensions among Lebanon’s mix of Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze have cooled considerably.

Beirut’s restored downtown, an apocalyptic minefield during the country’s long civil war, has been turned into a gleaming shopping district, with Four Seasons and Hilton hotels expected to open soon. The city center’s heart remains an ancient Roman bathhouse and St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church.

Restaurants and outdoor cafes abound. At night, visitors mingle with perfumed and buffed-up young men and women partying until the wee hours in the bars and nightclubs of the trendy Gemmayze district.

Two hours’ drive from Beirut are magnificent Roman ruins at the ancient temple complex in Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley. The well-preserved monuments are minutes away from the nation’s wine country, including the natural underground caves at Chateau Ksara, open daily.

The Crusader fortress in the seaport of Byblos offers a look at Lebanon’s ancient history and a chance to dine at the legendary waterfront Pepe Abed fish restaurant.

For tourist information, visit www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb.