Whisper it quietly – there have been too many false dawns since the Cedar Revolution in 2005 – but Lebanon seems ready to reclaim its rightful place on the holiday map. During the first 10 months of 2009, visitor numbers rose by more than 50 per cent (admittedly from a low base) compared with the previous year. In Beirut, the five-star Le Gray opened recently and the Four Seasons is due to open this month.
If you worry that you will find a country wallowing in sadness after years of internecine conflict, terrorism and war, think again. Yes, the pockmarked scars of battle mark Beirut’s 13 quarters, but it is as vibrant, youthful and multicultural a city as I have ever seen. And that is just the start. Lebanon may be no bigger than Wales, but the diversity of its landscapes is unparalleled. Less than an hour away from Beirut lie the swanky beach clubs of Byblos that Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner used to frequent (try Voile Bleu and Edde Sands for a taste of that Sixties hedonism). Not much further off are the ski slopes of Faraya – all right, it might not be the Alps, but Lebanon remains one of the few countries in which you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon.
For more classical sites, Tyre and Sidon to the north boast the legacies of the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines and Crusaders. These are impressive, but they pale into insignificance compared with the Roman ruins at Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley to the west. The marble temples are bigger, more beautiful and better preserved than anything Rome or Athens can offer. With flights from London taking less than five hours, all this is closer than you might think.