As long the new expressway cars sweep down in a graceful curve onto the narrow strip of coast between the mountain and the sea. To the left a small, picturesque town of stone houses, arched windows and red tile roofs straggles off along a curving beach. To the right, nearly 2,000 feet above the town and the bay, soars the precipitous wall of a pine-clad mountain with orange and olive trees clinging to the foot and a tall white statue standing on the summit. This is Jounieh, the jewel of Lebanon.
Jounieh's primary asset is its natural setting, a half bowl of rugged cliffs and forested mountains clutching the shimmering bay like the prongs of a Tiffany setting. The mountainside is so steep that the view from the cool terrace restaurant at the top is like looking down from the back of a bird, A little higher, in the village of Harissa 1,700 feet up, a towering statue of the Virgin Mary—"Our Lady of Lebanon"—turns her back on snow-covered peaks to look down from her conical pedestal as though to bless the 30,000 people in the cluster of hillside villages and the town below. To the west, seemingly at her feet, the waters of the bay ripple toward the sea, changing shades and tones with the passing hours. And to the north and south rocky cliffs extend into the sea, cupping the bay like weathered hands.
But if nature has been good to Jounieh so has man. With imagination to match the grandeur of the area, far-seeing entrepreneurs have begun to construct in Jounieh a series of such splendid developments that this glimmering crescent of mountain, sand and sea may soon be the most lustrous jewel in the chain of coastal resorts that have won Lebanon the apt title, "Riviera of the Middle East"
Bracketing the bay, for example, are two luxurious motel complexes that combine an unforgettable setting with some of the most up-to-date architecture in the Mediterranean. To the south, only 7½ miles from Beirut's skyscrapers, is Holiday Beach, a unique resort at the mouth of historic Dog River. On the northern end of the bay, still only 13 miles from Beirut, is Tabarja Beach, lying beyond a dramatic deep-water cove dominated by a 14th-century watch tower and cypress trees on the cliff top.
And within the bay's encircling arms, on a slope high above them, is the famous Casino du Liban, the jewel's gaudiest, yet most elegant facet. It is an extravagant tourist palace with a theater, a nightclub, European and American gaming rooms and the most lavish supper club and floor show this side of Paris.
There are other attractions in Jounieh too. One is the téléphérique, a mile-long cable car ride that, combined with a funicular, carries visitors from the shore to the top of the mountain in 11 minutes. From the tiny cars of the telepkerique visitors get still more breathtaking views. To the north they can see two bridges, one a handsome stone structure left by the Romans, the other a soaring concrete span longer than a football field, that bridges the Maameltein Gorge where the modern expressway swings into a deep cut in the mountains behind the Casino. Both cross the River Maameltein, once the boundary of two rival crusader fiefs.
To the south, in a harbor now under construction, are three basins. The first basin, the largest and deepest, is scheduled to become a home for all yachts and sailboats now anchored in Beirut's busy commercial harbor. There too, on land claimed from the sea, the Automobile and Touring Club of Lebanon, "a private association of recognized public interest", has been granted a government concession to build a major sports and tourism complex with a club house, tennis courts, swimming pools and all facilities for yachting and sailing. Its opening, projected for the summer of 1969, will be marked by a three-way rally, land, sea and air ("terre, mer, air") converging on Jounieh from all over the Mediterranean.
The second basin will serve units of the Lebanese Navy and Coast Guard, also being moved from Beirut, while the third, closest to the town and its old houses, will shelter some 250 small fishing boats from a score of villages near Jounieh. And if the efforts of some concerned local citizens are successful the small cafes on the waterfront, the weavers at their looms, the colorful covered passage ways and twisting alleys of the town will remain as a charming attraction of the area: a haven in which to stroll in quiet admiration of the interplay of sun and sea at Jounieh.
William Tracy is Assistant Editor of Aramco World Magazine.