Baalbeck, Anjar and Ksara, (Lebanon)

“Heliopolis, the Sun City”, “The Wine region of Lebanon”

Anjar, Baalbeck and Ksara, Lebanon, May 2018

Our second of the major tours while visiting Lebanon was for the actual highlight of the trip itself, the fascinating Roman city of Baalbeck with its impressive constructions, some of the largest ever created across the entire former empire. This was once again, an organised tour departing from our base Beirut, same as we did the day before when visiting Byblos, Jeita and Harissa; but also including another two great sights: the small city of Anjar with its beautiful Umayyad ruins and to finalise the tour, the Ksara Caves now in use by Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest wine estate where a tasting will be offered. Both Baalbeck and Anjar are UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed, hence the added value that means for us.

While there are still some more amazing places in the country to see, we can say from our trip we are very satisfied for now, and certainly will return another occasion. Fingers crossed that by then it is at least as great as it is now; a beautiful and friendly country, safe wherever it can get, and not turning into any crisis or even a war as it’s sadly with the neighbouring country Syria.

On the same note as I explained for the previous guide on Byblos, you can find lots of tour operators over the internet offering similar day trips, however pay attention to what’s and what is not included. From this experience I found tours which did not include lunch and entrance fees to the sites, quite silly right? While other agencies were listing everything included and even at more competitive price. It’s a matter of some research then all is straightforward, and if you want to have it already done, let me tell you which one is the best for the tours we did in this country (as of May 2018): Viator. Not only the best in the quality and quantity of tours they offer, but also one of the most trustful out there as it belongs to TripAdvisor. This is the tour we selected, click here. (more…)

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Byblos, Jeita and Harissa, (Lebanon)

“First city of Phoenicia”, “One of the world’s oldest inhabited cities”

2 Byblos, Jeita and Harissa, Lebanon, May 2018

Our first of the two day trip we would be doing while in Lebanon, was of course for visiting some of the greatest archaeological sites and natural wonders in the country. After all, this is one of the major reasons why to chose this country and not going just to be in the capital, Beirut. As you know by now, we are not that kind of person who travels to countries for the sake of ticking “I’ve been here” and counting up the number of countries they’ve been. Not at all and actually it is all the opposite in our case especially when travelling farther beyond Europe and considering our continuous running out of holidays because so much travelling.

So as the planning for a trip to Lebanon came to a reality, then was the hardest task, what to see and where to go. A first stage is easy for someone like me who love to collect UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A quick search and some of the answers were defined. The whole trip would pivot around Baalbeck, Byblos and Anjar, the three major WHS, and of course the capital. Anything else would be extra and very welcomed. However with such a limited time we had altogether, the only way to visit as much as we could was getting into organised tours, and so we did. This is not the first time we do so, where in certain countries is strongly recommended like in Lebanon. Yes, it’s a rather secure and safe country, but it’s nicer to refrain from driving as a tourist.

While over the internet you can find lots of tour operators offering similar day trips, pay attention to what’s and what is not included. From this experience I found tours which did not include lunch and entrance fees to the sites, quite silly right? While other agencies were listing everything included and even at more competitive price. It’s a matter of some research then all is straightforward, and if you want to have it already done, let me tell you which one is the best for the tours we did in this country (as of May 2018): Viator. Not only the best in the quality and quantity of tours they offer, but also one of the most trustful out there as it belongs to TripAdvisor. This is the tour we selected, click here. (more…)

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Beirut, (Lebanon)

“European gateway to the Middle East”, “Paris of the East”, “Beirut, mother of laws”

Beirut, Lebanon, May 2018

Another country never been before, as excited as that can get for travelling onto what is it up to date, the country visited number 91! That’s a step closer to one of my desired dreams of travelling to 100 countries with the age of 35, no matter if by the first months on that age (which I know it will be impossible anyway), or if that’s by the last day before I turn 36, I will keep trying to make it a reality. In honest, the only thing that is holding me back from not doing this earlier is the huge logistic I am having in planning the holidays I have per year coupled with the bank holidays and the weekends in the best possible way to maximise the days and travel outside of Europe, since there are no more countries in the whole of Europe at the exception of Azerbaijan that I have not been.

Lebanon was for a long time now in the agenda, and considering how volatile these countries in that region can sometimes be, we thought it was about right to do it this year. You never know how the political situation or radical thoughts turn and change the fate of a country from the night to the morning, as is with the sad and unfortunate example of Syria. Lebanon nevertheless, since their civil war has been a pretty stable country, with an ongoing rising tourism, and overall rise in wealth as you can clearly see from the shiny and spotless capital city Beirut, where residential skyscrapers are the new trend, new designed neighborhoods everywhere, and a continuous restoration of the older parts that have become 100% gentrified with great bars, cafes, pubs and incredible nightlife.

Beirut is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities where many of the greatest civilizations have gained and lost their powers for ruling over the thousands of years. From Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman civilizations, to French colony and finally the Independent Republic of Lebanon after WWII. Turmoil has always been a constant threat through the centuries, and so in more recent dates as was from the 1970’s with the 15 years civil war that ripped through the country until the early 1990’s. Even since it has become once again a thriving holiday destination, centre for the arts and culture, financial and motor of the country however the unfortunate threat of terrorism is still the weakest point, as is with all the countries in this part of the world. (more…)

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Zakynthos, (Greece)

“The flower of the Levant”, “Italian Zante”, “Son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos”

Zakynthos, Greece, April 2018

Time to get to another Greek island, and this time to one of the most famous and celebrated. Finding such flights are not an easy task, and generally mean either horrible and odd flight times, or a very reduced overall stay. In our case this time, is the second, merely 24 hours in the island since there were no other flights at other times or dates that could work for us, unless taking “precious” days off work as holidays, but as anyone knows by now, that is the very last option. Such days are for the longer holidays hence not really keen to use them for short destinations.

Anyway, a day was good enough to have a glimpse of the island, enjoy a fabulous hot and sunny day, and the incredible Greek food as usual. That’s the second time in Greece this year, being only 6 weeks since we’ve been to Kavala. From now on it will be highly impossible to find any other deal anywhere in Greece since the beginning of the season is around the corner, so I would say it’s time to check what’s available from October 2018 through March 2019. Sounds crazy I know to plan that in advance, but hey! that’s how we manage to keep travelling almost every weekend of the year, and discover so many places in so many countries and all for a really great budget.

Zakynthos is nowadays one of the most popular islands in Greece for tourist, notably in search of great beaches and the weather of course, but the island is more than just a sea resort: nature in this case, and scenery. But for sure what you cannot expect or be looking for is sightseeing cities and villages. It is very unfortunate that the many earthquakes, notably the 1953, have flattened almost everything where only 3 structures were left standing at the capital city. Rebuilding everything had to be fast and did not care much in the aesthetics hence the lack of real sights worth visiting. (more…)

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Trieste, (Italy)

“Pre-Roman Tergeste”, “Roman Tergestum”, “Former Austro-Hungarian Empire city”

Trieste, Italy, April 2018

Once again it’s Italy! Yet never ever tired for coming to this fascinating country. It must be together with my mother land Spain, the most visited for sure. And even so that I’ve been to so many cities, from large to medium and small villages, there are still plenty more to enjoy and keep returning. I don’t mind even for repeating at some coming the case, there are always many corners not seen, Rome, Milan and Naples being the most renown cases. In this case, Trieste although not a new place, I can strongly feel and say as if it would be the first time.

It was back in March 2010 when after not having a positive experience in neighboring Slovenia, we decided to come to Trieste for dinner from Ljubljana. As you can imagine it was night hence not much we could do other than, you guessed it, having one of the most delicious pizza we did ever have back then, and a proper ice-cream. The mere fact of crossing the border from the rather boring and almost no life outside of Ljubljana to thriving Italy even at its tiny villages near Trieste, was already enough to enjoy the trip.

So finally here I am writing a guide for this beautiful city after the very well deserved visit. Very often bypassed by tourists who head towards the larger cities of Milan and Venice, or nearby neighboring Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia; it is in the other hand an incredibly beautiful city with impressive architecture. It is one of the rare examples with plenty of Autrian Empire architecture, hence its elegance and resemble to the avenues you see in in Vienna or Budapest, coupled with a priceless addition, the Mediterranean Sea at the backdrop. (more…)

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Lecce, (Italy)

“Florence of the South”, “A Baroque City”

Lecce, Italy, March 2018

Reaching our second destination for today, and the highlight of the day without any doubt after spending the morning in Brindisi, we arrive to the farthest south we’ve ever been in Italy: Lecce. A small city yet packed with sights on every corner, a Baroque masterpiece hence its well deserved nickname, the Florence of the south. To be honest I was not expecting to enjoy so much this place, nor I knew there was that many great sights and places to visit all over the city. Should I’ve known this beforehand, I would have planned a little bit better around by cutting extra time from Brindisi which after all, it was nothing special, and give it instead more to Lecce. This is another of the reasons why I’ve split Brindisi and Lecce into two separate guides, as my original plan were both in the same.

Anyway, the city is quite small and of course a day is more than enough. Any longer than this and you would not know where else to go unless other cities nearby. Its historic old town is so compact that it’s a matter of minutes from one to the other end, although that won’t be the case for a tourist, since visiting around means getting lost through the narrow streets and squares admiring the architecture and history at every turn.

The major landmarks are next to each others. starting with the remains of the Roman coliseum where an entire quarter is excavated and implemented in one of the largest squares, still being used for performances; and through a street from here leading towards the Cathedral Square, the next of the unmissable highlights.

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Brindisi, (Italy)

“Greek Greek Brentesion”, “Roman Brundisium

Brindisi, Italy, March 2018

Continuing on the second part for this weekend after visiting Matera, Alberobello and Fasano the day before, we set off to the streets of Brindisi, the city that we actually flew into, and later in the day to spend the afternoon in nearby Lecce before returning for the flight back to London. Another great day ahead of us with plenty of sights and lots of history, beautiful corners and a nice weather considering it was March. And so, the usual “suspects” adding to the good times: coffee, ice cream, baba cake and of course, a stone baked pizza.

While at the beginning I was going to combine both cities in the same travel guide, it is after visiting Lecce that I decided it would be better to split it into separate guides. Basically, Lecce is quite an unique and truly worth it city, with lots of sights hence the best way was to have a guide alone. Brindisi in the other hand, is a small port city, very important since antiquity for the trade links with Greece and Africa across the Aegean Sea, but something very strong as of today. Linking it to the capital of the former Roman Empire is the Via Appia, the city being the southern terminus which you can see marked by the monumental Roman column still standing in place at over 2000 years since its creation. Although there were originally two such columns, the second fell to pieces in the 16th century, then taken to the city of Lecce and rebuilt to hold the statue of Saint Oronzo, patron of that city.

There’s not much to see in this city hence it won’t take you long to visit, that’s the reason why you should include Lecce as we did, or other nearby destination. After all, it’s also nice to sometimes travel to smaller cities and not “kill” your feet walking for many kilometres or rushing in an attempt to visit as much as possible. All the contrary here.

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Matera, Alberobello and Fasano (Italy)

“Most intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean”, “Drywall constructions”

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Finally the time we’ve managed to come to this region, although for a very short time and a larger than average program to visit as much as we could. So while our point of arrival was Brindisi that city together with Lecce would be scheduled for the following day while today instead, driving towards two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, and the Trulli di Alberobello; ending up in the small city of Fasano towards the evening for a nice dinner before returning to the base for the night, Brindisi. Incredible we managed to do this all in a day, considering it was literally right after landing from the very early flight from London, hence tired and sleepy without much rest from the short night before. Quite unfortunate there were no other more suitable flights!

Glad we found these flights anyway, during the low season avoiding the hordes or tourists and high prices for everything, especially accommodation, and good to know how nice all this region in the southeast of Italy is. Definitely worth for returning in the near future, possibly with a flight to Bari instead and continue to enjoy up north from there. Our less visited part of Italy in the other hand.

So as you’ve guessed, the UNESCO sites collectors that we are, this was our plan and main aim for the trip. Matera, home to the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, fully dotted with caves and rock churches with invaluable painting works or art covering the walls and ceilings; and on the other hand something unique legacy from prehistoric techniques still in use today, the trulli constructions found in the southern region of Puglia, being the most remarkable the ones at Alberobello. These are limestone dwellings built drywall (mortarless) in the general form or cones. Really fascinating and impressive to see, and honestly nothing I could compare it to. (more…)

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