Despite its small surface area, Lebanon has many contrasting landscapes. The highest point in this mountainous, 37 mile wide country is 3,089m above sea level. Mount Lebanon occupies the greater part of the territory.
Only a few miles separate the desert regions of Hermel and the agricultural plains of the Bekaa Valley from the forested areas of Akkar and the arid hills of Southern Lebanon. Although the legendary cedar forests are becoming increasingly smaller, the Jeita Grotto and the Kadisha Valley remain natural wonders that should be visited.
While Lebanon measures just 155 mi from north to south, 150 of these miles are edged by the Mediterranean Sea. The coasts therefore hold great importance for the country. The commercial side of the country's coastal towns and cities, such as Tyre, Tripoli, Sidon, Beirut and Byblos, often overshadows the fact they are located on the coast, and yet their pebble beaches are perfect for enjoying fun activities like water sports, even if they do not all benefit from the same level of cleanliness.
The Lebanese culture is complex. Partly still French-speaking, it has a large American presence. Lebanon has been an important cultural crossroads since the Middle Ages and has conserved a certain taste for all that is refined. For a long time, one of the fundamental elements of Lebanese culture was the development of cosmopolitan cities.
Traditional Lebanese song is inspired by the sad and nostalgic monotonous chants that were softly hummed by the mountain shepherds, as well as by those who worked at the ports along the coast. It is the basis of many liturgical poems that are sung. Improved over the centuries, this musical tradition is still alive among Lebanese artists.
Lebanon has been a cultural and economic hub since ancient times. A strategic point in the Crusades of the Middle Ages, Lebanon has long been a crossroads for people of different faiths, including Christians, Muslims, Jews and Protestants. Architectural and archaeological remains bear witness to this mosaic of cultural and spiritual influences.
There are many archaeological sites in Lebanon. One of the most interesting ones is Baalbek, an impressive sanctuary erected in honour of the sun god Baal. The colossal ruins can be admired by visitors. The birthplace of Phoenicia, Byblos alone has 10,000 years of history. With the ruins of more than 17 civilisations, it is certainly one of the most remarkable Mediterranean archaeological sites in the world. The town of Anjar is the only town in Lebanon currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to the ruins of the Great Palace, the mosque and the Small Palace.
Despite its relatively small size, Lebanon's biodiversity is quite impressive; it is home to at least 9,119 different species, including 4,633 plant species and 4,486 animal species.
Unfortunately, human activity represents a real threat to the biodiversity of Lebanon. Deforestation, urbanisation, the development of a road network, hunting and agriculture are the main causes of the decrease in fauna in Lebanon. The marine fauna is also in danger due to toxic pollution seeping into the water.
More than 246 bird species (which means about 500 million per year) migrate across the country and more than 500,000 storks nest here every spring.
It is impossible to speak about Lebanon's flora without mentioning its national emblem: the cedar. Although this tree has mostly disappeared since Biblical times, there are still a few places where it has been preserved, particularly in the shade of the mountains. Lebanon is actually the country with the most dense forests in the Middle East. The dominant type of tree growing in them is the pine tree, whereas along the coasts you will mostly find fruit trees, including figs and almonds.
Lebanese gastronomy is one of the best in the East. It is characterised by the mezze, a variety of 30 different simple dishes. The mezze represent a collective ritual that has existed since the time of the sultans and that no guest would dare refuse. Mezze consists of raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, salad, radishes and carrots, and starches prepared with a certain know-how in a variety of ways. They are served in many small portions to be shared and eaten with Arabic bread: khobz arabi.
Lebanese wraps are one of the country's most popular food items around the world. There are all different types for all different tastes. Shawarma is a wrap with grilled meat and various vegetables, while manakish is baked dough topped with thyme, cheese, ground meat, tomatoes or onions that is generally eaten for breakfast or lunch.