Glamorous and challenging, scarred by war and yet remarkably stable, Lebanon defies all expectations.
This tour delves into the country’s recent past, explores the impact of the conflict in Syria and looks at the balance of power between its diverse religious groups. We meet with some of Lebanon’s best-known political leaders, explore Tyre in the south, the border with Israel and visit the wonderful Roman ruins at Baalbek. The tour is led by Nicholas Blanford, one of the world’s leading experts on Hezbollah and the region, as well as Leena Saidi, a British born Lebanese journalist.
|DESTINATION||Beirut, Tyre, Baalbek|
Led by Nicholas Blanford
Single supplement: £500.00
Our journey starts in Beirut and then winds its way down the Mediterranean coast to Tyre in the south. After visits to forts both ancient (Crusaders) and modern (Hezbollah) we view the border with Israel and then head north through the Bekaa valley and its vineyards. From Baalbek we return to Beirut for talks with some the country’s leading figures.
Despite huge pressures Lebanon seems calm: We look at what is keeping the country together, how it is coping with its refugee crisis and how young people are striving to give it a better future. It is also home to some great food and a booming wine industry.
The tour includes meetings with a wide range of communities including the Palestinians, Syrians, and the main key Lebanese religious groups; Christians, Shia, Sunni and the Druze.
The tour is lead by Nicholas Blanford, one of the foremost commentators in the region and a frequent writer on Hezbollah. We first ran this tour in 2016 and again in 2017 to rave reviews.
Price from: £4500.00
Single Supplement: £500.00
As with all of our expert-led tours, we ensure that our groups remain small and intimate, and will not exceed 14 people. Flights to Lebanon aren’t included in the tour price and should be arranged by customers themselves or with an agent.
Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.
COVID-19: We won’t go to a country until it is safe to do so- we remain guided by the UK Foreign Office travel advice. For this reason some dates may change depending on the situation on the ground.
Most meals and all accommodation are included in the price. If you would like to join this tour please contact us at [email protected] or call +44 834 289 2349
Watch our recent webinars about the region
4 minutes in Lebanon with Nicholas Blanford
Lebanon: Debt, Revolution & Covid19
Lebanon based reporters Leena Saidi and Nicholas Blanford discussed the impact of Covid19 on a state already struggling to cope with significant problems. Before the onset of the pandemic the government in Beirut had just defaulted on part of its colossal national debt. Nationwide street protests brought the previous government to its knees. And on top of that it is home to at least 1.5 million Syrian refugees. How do measures like quarantine work in these conditions? Is there an alternative approach?
Can Lebanon be fixed? – An Insight Special
Last week’s explosion (4 August 2020) in Beirut injured over 4000 people, killed at least 220 and has left several hundred thousand homeless. There is growing anger at what is seen as the government’s failure to prevent the blast. Political Tours’ experts Leena Saidi and Nicholas Blanford – both in Lebanon at the time – join us live from Beirut. They speak about their experiences, the ongoing clear up operation, and the hopes for reform of the country’s deeply sectarian and corrupt political system.
Saturday, 27th March: Arrival in Beirut
Dinner with Political Tours team and Nicholas Blanford and Leena Saidi.
Sunday, 28th March: Beirut
Tour of central Beirut. From the civil war to the huge development boom of the 2000s we take a look at how the capital has changed. Walking tour of the Green Line with two former fighters from the civil war. Meet with an architect and local activist. We head downtown for an introduction to the city centre and government buildings. We visit Buri Hammoud, the Armenian Neighbourhood. Meeting with a member of the municipal council; and a local Armenian family that has lived in the city throughout this time. Armenians are hosting many families from Syria. Later we meet with the Director of the Asfari Institute at the American University; and author of “Refugees and Lebanon from 1948 to the present.” Overnight in Beirut
Monday, 29th March: Tyre
We stop en route at Mleeta, a former Hezbollah base and now tourist centre. We visit the Beaufort castle en route which has spectacular views of the border area before entering Tyre, where we meet with a dynamic local film director who runs a NGO working with separate religious communities. Dinner in the port at Tyre. Overnight in Tyre
Tuesday, 30st March: to Chtaura
Tyre is a Hezbollah controlled municipality. Meeting with the mayor of Tyre, who outlines the main challenges facing the city. We head to the southern border with Nicholas Blanford. We visit the Blue Line – the redrawn border after Israeli withdrawal in 2000. We view all three borders (Israel, Lebanon and Syria) as well as Mount Herman. Later we head north towards Baalbek and visit a vineyard in the Bekaa valley. Lebanon’s wine trade is a major success story; visit Chateau Khoury. Overnight in Chtaura
Wednesday, 31st March: Baalbeck
Meeting with the mayor of Baalbek. The impact of the war in Syria and the extent of the refugee crisis is by far the most pressing issue in Lebanese politics. There are major Syrian refugee camps here. We meet with a local NGO supporting Syrian refugees. There are an estimated 100,000 in the municipality. Visit to Roman ruins and the Palmyra hotel (in the footsteps of Charles de Gaulle, Jean Cocteau and the Shah). Meeting with a Syrian family and return to hotel for dinner and discussion with Nick Blanford. Overnight in Chtaura
Thursday, 1st April: Beirut
The Palestinian refugee camps played a significant role in Lebanon’s civil war and are a reminder of the long term legacy of receiving high numbers of refugees. Are there lessons to be learned here? We visit the Chatilla refugee camps (situation permitting) with a local NGO. We then head downtown to the American University in Beirut. Meeting with the vice-president of the Central Bank, as well as one of Lebanon’s best-known journalists and an academic. Visit to the Daily Star and meeting with the editor-in-chief. Overnight in Beirut
Friday - Saturday, 2nd - 3rd April: Beirut
Meetings with senior Lebanese politicians, diplomats and analysts. These meetings are subject to confirmation nearer the time. Friday morning; we head to Sfeir in the southern suburbs for a meeting with Hezbollah’s Charge D’Affaire International Relations. Walk along the Corniche and meet with NGO fighting against appropriation of Beirut Coast. The same groups are also involved in the rubbish protests. Further meetings will be confirmed closer to departure. Overnight in Beirut
Sunday 4th April: Beirut
Tour ends after breakfast.
Dates: Sat 27 Mar – Sun 4 Apr, 2021
Cost £4500.00 Single supplement £500.00
This tour starts and ends in Beirut
COVID-19: We won’t go to a country unless it is safe to do so- we remain guided by the UK Foreign Office travel advice. For this reason some dates may change depending on the situation on the ground.
The tour includes all of your accommodation, meals with water, as well as local transport whilst on tour.
You are accompanied throughout the tour including at meals by your leader and Political Tours team. All meetings with various speakers and guests are included. On any tour you meet numerous different speakers giving you access to all sides of the story. We give you access to political experts, as well as getting to see ordinary life and meet real people in areas less often travelled by tourists.
The tour excludes any flights, visas, transfers from/to the airport, alcohol/other drinks, as well as any of your personal expenses.
Four star hotels throughout the tour.
Do I need a Visa?
British, American and Australian citizens can apply for a free single entry tourist or family visit visa on arrival. Entry requirements are subject to change, so you should check with the Lebanese Embassy before you travel.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into Lebanon.
Arriving in Beirut
The Beirut airport is small, efficient and easy to navigate. Most people speak English. Everyone needs to fill in a landing card which you are given on your flight.
Once you are off the plane you go straight to immigration. There are counters for Lebanese nationals and to the right of these for “Other Passports”. You go straight to the queue at the “Other Passports” Immigration counters and do not queue at the Visa queries or Visa payments counters.
You do not need to pay any money, your passport is stamped, your landing card taken and you enter the luggage collection area.
FCO Website – Travel Advice
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes regularly updated travel information on its website www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo which you are recommended to consult before booking and in good time before departure. Where it considers it appropriate to do so, the FCO may advise against all travel or all but essential travel to particular countries or parts of particular countries. Similarly, the FCO may withdraw any such previously given advice. Where the FCO issues such advice, we may as a result cancel your tour or make changes so as to avoid the area concerned (see clause 10). Alternatively, we may ask you to sign a form confirming you wish to proceed with the tour notwithstanding the FCO advice. It is in the nature of the itineraries we offer that the FCO may have issued such advice in relation to the country or parts of the country we are intending to visit prior to confirmation of your booking. In this case, you will be asked to sign the above form before we confirm your booking.
Advice on health requirements may be obtained from your GP, or alternatively from the Department of Health leaflet Advice on Health for Travelers, or the Department of Health in the UK. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx
US Dollars and Lebanese Pounds are the currencies used. You can change British pounds for Lebanese pounds using a machine at the exit of the Beirut airport. There are also ATM machines, the charges are high, and we recommend you bring US Dollars with you. Most shops and restaurants have price tags in both US Dollars and Lebanese Pounds. Money-changers are also available in most areas.
Balmy after Britain (if that’s where you are travelling from). Late teens to low 20 degrees Celsius in the day, and around 10 degrees Celsius at night. It will be cooler on higher ground in the Beka’a Valley.
Layers and a jacket are necessary. Sunglasses, sunhat and rain coat may be needed!
Men: Will need a jacket and tie for some of the meetings.
Women: Will need some smarter attire for one or two meetings.
European two prong plugs are used.
Nicholas Blanford has been a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, writing on Lebanon and other areas of the Middle East, since 2002. He has covered Lebanon’s complex and turbulent politics, including the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, and the uprising in Syria. He has also reported for the Monitor from Iraq, Syria, Qatar, and Kuwait. In addition, he writes regularly for The Times (London), The Daily Star (Beirut), and Al-Jazeera America. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, and The National (Abu Dhabi).
Nicholas is a defense and security consultant for IHS/Jane’s. He is a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative (MEPSI) at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
He has lived in Beirut since 1994. Blanford covers the politics and security affairs of Lebanon and Syria. He is an acknowledged expert on Lebanese Hezbollah, particularly the organization’s evolving military activities which have remained a focus of his work for two decades. He regularly participates in seminars and conferences and has briefed government agencies and militaries on issues related to the Levant. He has also participated in Track II discussions connected to the Middle East peace process.
Blanford is the author of “Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel” (Random House, 2011); and “Killing Mr Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and its Impact on the Middle East” (IB Tauris, 2006). He wrote the Lebanon chapter in “The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are,” ed. Robin Wright (Woodrow Wilson Center, 2012); and the introductory essay to “The Voice of Hizbullah: The Speeches of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah” (Verso, 2007).
Born in Manchester of Lebanese parents, Leena moved to Beirut in 1987, three years before the end of the country’s civil war.
She joined the national television station, where she was an anchor and reporter for the News in English for 14 years. After which she became a freelance journalist and producer covering Lebanon and the region for a variety of international media outlets, including The Independent, Humo magazine, Der Speigel, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Economist, The New Yorker, British Channel 4, SBS TV Sydney, PBS, VOA, Vice-HBO, The Sunday Times, Holland’s NTR, Vocative, Unreported World and Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter, to name a few..
Among the documentaries she has worked on are “Is Torture A Good Idea”, “A Tale of Two Alis” and “Return to the Lion’s Den”. In 2016 a documentary she helped produce “The World according to Mouseiur Khair” was premiered at the Amsterdam International Film Festival and the most recent documentary she produced, “Finding my Lebanon”, had its world premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and was shown the same year at the International Film Festival (Sydney) and Beirut International Film Festival.
Leena also headed the Journalism program at the Lebanese American University from 1988 – 1995, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s international press office from 2001 – 2003.
“The Tour was excellent and I loved it. I would recommend it to others and have already been doing so. Leena was an outstanding tour leader. She was certainly an essential component to my enjoyment. Not only did she ensure that all the arrangements went smoothly but her flexibility and personal interaction with the group by sharing her own experiences and contacts were excellent.” RC, Lebanon 2019
“I have taken many tours during the past 10 years. However, this was unique in that its core consisted in a series of interviews with political leaders and others involved in the political life of Lebanon. I should say that I am something of a political activist with a long term interest in countries of the Levant. The tour more than satisfied my interest in political matters in Lebanon. It was in many ways the most interesting tour I have ever taken. “SS, Lebanon 2019
“Nicholas Blanford was tremendous value and I particularly valued his re-balancing of the comments we heard from other speakers. Immensely knowledgeable, part of his authority derived from him being a measured commentator who was slow to rush to judgement.” Lebanon, March 2016
“Nick Blanford was terrific . Not only very knowledgeable , but great style , just picking up the mike with no prep, and speaking . I’ve sent for his book.” Lebanon, March 2016
“I thought it was beyond excellent – an exceptional introduction to and portrait of a complex, multi-faceted country in just a week. I had high expectations of the tour, having been on a PT before, and there is always a consequent risk that the new tour will not be as good. But it was… and possibly better.” Lebanon, March 2016
“Fabulous. Exceeded expectations, access unparalleled. Nick Blandford great value.” Lebanon, March 2016
“As usual on PT trips the speakers were of high quality and interesting . They were just the right length of time as well . Not too long so I was able to absorb a lot of information and not get overloaded.” Lebanon, 2016
Lebanon Reading List
Nicholas Blanford’s Warriors of God is a first rate overview of Hezbollah, it’s rise to power and role in the region. https://www.amazon.com/Warriors-God-Hezbollahs-Thirty-Year-Struggle/dp/1400068363
He’s also written a very good account of Rafik Harriri’s assassination and Syria’s role in Lebanon: Killing Mr Lebanon. https://www.amazon.com/Killing-Mr-Lebanon-Assassination-Hariri/dp/1845112024
“Pity the Nation: Lebanon at war” is the story of long-time Middle East correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk, who was one of the very few who stayed on in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war.
Kama Salibi: “A House with Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered” (1988). Some 247 pages.
Then there is David Hirst, another former Middle East correspondent, this time of the Guardian, who wrote “Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East”, his version of Lebanon’s largely involuntary role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
We also have a more academic reading list for those who are interested. Please contact us for the full list of recommendations.
The Economists recommendations for up-to-date news on Lebanon:
Geography has not been kind to the tiny country of 4m. With Israel to the south and now-war-torn Syria to the east, Lebanon is ruled over by fractious politicians and still dealing with the legacy of its own 15-year war that ended in 1990, not least sectarian tensions. Still, few Arab countries can rival the country for its freedom of press and smart, well-educated and trilingual intelligentsia. That makes for ample resources for learning about the country.
For straight news, there are three go-to places for English articles: the Daily Star, Lebanon’s daily, Al Akhbar, and NOW News, an online news site formerly known as NOW Lebanon. Executive magazine is the best publication for business news. Not all agree with its perspective, but privately-funded Al Monitor closely covers Lebanon.
Qifa Nabki, run by Elias Muhanna, a professor at Brown University in America, is the leading blog on Lebanese politics. The Beirut Spring blog is a good stop for news as well as lighter spots. Karl reMarks remains one of our favourite sites for witty coverage of Lebanon and the rest of the region. Since Beirut is a hub for foreign media, many journalists cover Lebanon on Twitter. Patrick Galey, is a well-informed former Beirut resident. Foreign Policy Middle East editor David Kenner is now based in Beirut and appears to be online day and night. Joyce Karam is the Washington DC-based correspondent for Arab news sources Al Hayat and Al Arabiya, and tweets extensively about Lebanon. Rami Khouri at the American University of Beirut always has interesting things to say on Lebanon. Human Rights Watch’s Nadim Houry is based in Beirut and is astute on Lebanese machinations and well as flagging up rights violations.