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48 hours in Lebanon

The sparkling Mediterranean beckons as you touch down at Beirut airport.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2010 00:47 IST

The sparkling Mediterranean beckons as you touch down at Beirut airport. Pulsating lights from nightclubs give the capital a joyous, constant rhythm. Glamourous people drive fancy cars.

That was Lebanon during the free-wheeling 1960s, when Marlon Brando and Brigitte Bardot used to stop by at the Saint Georges yacht club.

The place is reliving that glamour in 2010, trying to shed a past marred by civil wars, assassinations and conflict with Israel.

While fears of war with its southern neighbour Israel are always simmering, for now the tiny country is trying to make the most of this window of peace. Once-warring politicians have put aside their sectarian differences to work together to change the image of Lebanon into one of a country of prosperity and tolerance.

And 48 hours are good enough to soak up the Lebanese spirit. Western passport holders can get a visa at the airport, but make sure you don’t have any stamps from Israel, still in a formal state of war with Lebanon.

On Day 1, drop your bags and head downtown where the Ottoman-era Grand Serail governmental palace stands regally on a hill top. To get an idea of Lebanon's diverse religious demographics, stop by the St George Maronite cathedral, right next to the blue-domed Mohammed al-Amin mosque. Explore the parking lot-turned-mausoleum in Martyr's Square, where former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is laid to rest. Hariri and 22 others were killed in 2005, sparking four years of political turbulence in Lebanon.

Walk along the boulevards lined with cafés and smoke a narguileh — a flavoured waterpipe — as you watch locals and tourists flock to designer stores.

On Day 2, visit the ruins of Baalbek, which include the largest Roman temples of Jupiter and Bacchus, dating from the first century BC. The temple of Jupiter’s six columns stand a breathtaking 23 metres (75 ft) high. The temple of Bacchus is said to be the most beautifully decorated in the Roman world. One of the mysteries surrounding the ruins are the huge foundation stones that support the temple of Jupiter. Archaeologists still wonder how they were moved.