Friday, December 07, 2007
The Al-Fanar Hotel in Tyre wins 3 UN stars
Someone wiser than me once told me that you can tell the quality of a hotel in a warzone by the number of United Nations 4x4 vehicles parked outside. They are like mobile Michelin stars - they show where the richest arrivals in the neighbourhood like to eat and stay. I first saw this phenomenon in Axum in Ethiopia (the Remhai Hotel, if you are interested), close to the contested border with Eritrea, where the car-park was a sea of blazing white. Just over a fortnight ago, I was reminded of its accuracy in southern Lebanon.
The British Foreign Office advice on going to southern Lebanon is unambiguous.
"We advise against all travel south of the Litani River. There remains a serious risk from unexploded bombs remaining from the 2006 conflict between Hizbollah and Israel [many of which were dropped in the final days of a war that the British government refused to condemn- JB] and a risk [of] violence near the Israel/Lebanon border (the Blue Line). You should heed local advice in areas that have not been declared safe from unexploded ordnance."
But I wouldn't let that put you off, unless you are a rambler wanting to assert the "right to roam". Ever since the Bali bombings in 2002, the Foreign Office has realised that its published advice hangs like a millstone round its neck. So, fearing being quoted in the newspapers, it has warmly embraced the precautionary principle and discouraged British travellers from going anywhere they might end up in trouble that it could conceivably have foreseen. My experience is that the roads in southern Lebanon are quite safe (barring the driving - still the most dangerous factor), and the people are wonderfully hospitable. Just do beware the Israeli drone that buzzes miles overhead.
The Al-Fanar hotel, next to the rusting lighthouse in Tyre, south of the Litani River, is delightfully quiet. Promisingly, outside, when I arrived, were three UN 4x4s. It is, quite simply, the most tranquil hotel that I have visited in the Middle East. It is bang on the seafront, as its name suggests (it's Arabic for lighthouse), and has large, simple rooms that look out over the Mediterranean. I can't remember the cost, but it was cheap. There's an excellent seafront bar, and you fall asleep to the waves lapping against the stony beach. It is just perfect. But please don't trust my judgement: rely on the photograph above.