Saida, Lebanon- every reason to fall in love with one of the oldest Inhabited cities in the world
Sidon, was the name it was given when Lebanon was once a french colony, but Saida, I write it and pronounce it like the locals do, and is the most common name for this beautiful city.
Having traveled to the Far East, waited in the most local bus stations in Tabasco state of Mexico and walked into Tanzanian villages that have rarely ever seen tourists. Lebanese people, are by far the friendliest I have come across and the energy of the country itself sucks you right in, and leaves a footprint on your heart.
I drove 2 hours south of Lebanon's Mediterranean coast until I reached what they call the Saida Rest House. One of the most popular seaside restaurants in the city. Arabic coffee was served in Lebanon's own style pot and coffee cup. While the aroma filled the air, the view was nothing short of taking my breath away with its deep blue and turquoise sea.
The Rest House is a perfect place for people watching over a full blown lunch- the Lebanese way. By that, I mean the best fattoush, hummus, grilled Chicken, the fatteh, the list is endless and the menu is extensive.
The Lebanese cuisine is remarkably one of the best cuisines in the world. Even with such an extensive menu, the best yet is getting an invitation to someones house to try the authentic home made food not found in any restaurant!
A short walking distance from the rest house, is the peaceful Saida Sea Castle which was built as a fortress in the 13th Century by the Crusaders . This is one of Lebanon's most prominent historical landmarks in this ancient Phoenician city. It had endured quite a lot of hardships because of wars, earthquakes, Phoenician and Mamluk rulers, yet it still has its charm.
Across from the Castle starts a narrow entrance to the labyrinth streets of Saida's souk. A mind blowing cultural warmth of smiling faces of children, old people that have been there since their childhood doing exactly the same thing, selling whatever it is they sold.
The labyrinth street walls transported me to a different era, after all, it is one of the 10 oldest inhabited cities in the world. Everything can be found on these narrow streets, a hairdresser, tailor to a cobbler. A phone shop, grocers, or even local handmade craft shops all line up the labyrinth streets. It's interesting what can be found in this souk, merging the old with the new.
With plenty of hidden treasures in Saida, the oldest Mosque in Lebanon stands on a corner with electrical wires that entangle its beauty. This place was surely unlike any other. This is the authentic side of Lebanon and the most cultural it can get as I watched men leaving the Mosque, the women buying from the fruit Market, and the mid 30 something man selling apples off a large wooden fruit tray on wheels.
From the oldest mosque in Lebanon to randomly finding a set of steps with a sign in the labyrinth streets leading to one of the oldest churches in Lebanon, the Latin Church. The Church dates back as far as 1836 but it no longer was a church but an active school.
Saida, has always been famous for soap making and is the first city to do so. This isn't however just any soap, it's a special olive oil soap, created organically with no chemicals. The soap museum which dates back to the 17th century with an amazing gift shop is a perfect place to learn how soap is made back in history and take away some authentic creative gifts for family and friends.
To end the day perfectly, Saida has incredible public beaches that are peaceful with no crowds. While it is quite a conservative area, I decided to take a walk on the promenade until the sun set.
For more places to eat in Saida, the restaurants that have been tried and tested over several visits are:
Beit Al Samak, meaning house of fish, serving home made Lebanese food and a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Tawlet Saida, meaning Saida's table, is a buffet style lunch made up of different home made Lebanese dishes and stews.
Saida Rest House, which is the most popular of all due to its location being right in-front of the Sea Castle and water, and also serves traditional Lebanese dishes.
For more on Lebanon, check out these blogs: