Your travel mission, should you choose to accept it? Go undercover with us on an "International Traveler of Mystery" series of exotic, daring locales worthy of the most stylish, seductive agents on the globe. Read on for the details of your first mission, to the chic Middle Eastern Mediterranean city of Beirut, Lebanon.
MISSION 001: BEIRUT, LEBANON
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Dazzle your top-secret passport with a stamp from this chic Mediterranean playground, known as the Paris of the Middle East (and one of Fodor’s top travel picks for travel in 2011). You’ll easily infiltrate the friendly party-shopping-beach crowd, with their confluence of languages, religions, and cultures. Slink past bombed-out buildings and beautifully restored belle-epoque plazas as mosques sound the call to prayer while church bells ring, and glamour girls in miniskirts giggle with their (just as stylish) headscarf-covered friends.
Contact on the Ground
Check in (under an assumed name, bien sûr) to the hippest spot in town, Le Gray Hotel. Keep your wits—and spy cam—about you to catch a glimpse of high-profile guests like Christian Louboutin, Prince Albert of Monaco, the presidents of Dior and Burberry, and plenty of handsome Lebanese suits. Frolic in your Bond-girl bikini or Bond-worthy swim trunks by the rooftop pool, or keep tabs on the entire city with panoramic views from the oh-so-chic Bar ThreeSixty, complete with a live music soundtrack to set the mysterious mood.
Anything goes in this liberal fashion capital, from halter tops to hijabs. Pick up a couture disguise courtesy of Louis Vuitton, YSL, or D&G at the upscale outdoor shopping plaza Beirut Souks, or a traditional needlework frock stitched by hand from Tourath in funky Saifi Village.
"Hi! Kifak, Ã§a va?" The Lebanese greeting encapsulates Beirutis’ trilingual skills, combining English, Arabic, and French to say: "Hello! Are you well, how are you?"
"Yalla bye!" is the in-the-know way to end a call. (Think of yalla like the Spanish catch-all vamos—let’s go!) English is widely spoken in Beirut, so no need for special language training.
Make a speedy alfresco getaway by renting a bicycle and pedaling down the seaside Corniche, past rocky outcrops, lighthouses, and beach clubs; then mingle with the yacht set at Zaitunay Bay. Arrange a secret handoff over a late lunch at the celebrated farm-to-table Tawlet, and immerse yourself in cultural artifacts at the Beirut National Museum.
As dusk falls, meet up with dashing senior agents for a mouthwatering Lebanese feast under palm fronds at Abdel Wahab restaurant, or go truly undercover at the Mexico-meets-Lebanon fare of Frida. Complete your mission with a late-night rendezvous at Dragonfly bar, in the buzzing Gemmayzeh district. (Beware of the artist-in-residence who might sketch your visage and blow your cover!)
Bring home evidence of your exotic getaway from shops like Sarah’s Bags, where you can collect fetching clutches and handbags handmade by female prisoners. Try Orient 499, where you can track down everything from high-end tablecloths and sheets with exotic patterns (perfect for seducing your counter-spy) to delicate jewelry and souvenir Hands of Fatima delicately hammered in silver. Or, hit up Bokja, a whimsical mid-century furniture store that upholsters treasures perfect for camouflaging your pied-à-spy back home.
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Good luck, good travels, and keep scanning Fodor’s blog for clues to your next assignment!
See what Fodor’s Community Members have to say about Beirut and nearby cities. Explore the Lebanon forum for tips and ideas from fellow travelers, and share your stories!
Photo Credits: courtesy iStockPhoto/dkaranouhl; Le Gray Hotel; Orient 499