Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

My hometown: Welcome to the beautiful city of Saida, Lebanon

Arts editor Samia Badih takes us on a tour of her favourite areas in the ancient Phoenician city where she was born

The Sea Castle in Sidon in Lebanon. EPA
The Sea Castle in Sidon in Lebanon. EPA

On the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon sits a beautiful small city called Saida, also referred to as Sidon. That’s where I was born and raised. The city is about 25 minutes to the south of Beirut and has much to offer tourists and visitors.

My top spot

Saida is an ancient Phoenician city with a lot of history to it. Its most legendary site is its Sea Castle, pictured above, which visitors can enter for a small fee of 4,000 Lebanese pounds or Dh10 only. The fortress, which was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century, is surrounded by water and is connected to the mainland via a walkway. It sits right across from the city’s old town.

My go-to for visitors

To get a taste of life in Saida, you should visit to the city’s old town, which is made up of small alleyways that lead to the old souq, or the market. The market has so many different shops – everything from sweets and spices to souvenir shops. As you walk around, you pass by many food stalls that are great for short breaks and a quick bite. However, besides the market, the old town has some interesting places to visit. One place is the Debbane Palace. It is a beautifully restored Arab-Ottoman residence, open to visitors. There is also the Great Al-Omari Mosque, an architecturally beautiful structure, which is also open to non-Muslims to visit. The Soap Museum tells the history of soap-making, which Sidonians were famous for.

My best advice

The Saida Sea Castle and the old town are within walking distance of each other. If you’re interested in exploring the seaside, you could walk along the Corniche. You could even rent bikes near Saida’s International Stadium, also by the Corniche side. For travelling into the city, car would be your best choice.

My favourite food

Traditionally, Saida has been known as a fishermen’s city – my grandfather was also a fisherman – and it has a reputation for its seafood and hospitable people.

If you prefer to sit down and eat at a restaurant, then head to Rest House, a traditional Lebanese restaurant that is in view of the Saida Sea Castle – it is on the right side in the photo above.

But, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys trying different foods as you explore the city, I would recommend

a mini tour, stopping along the way for some treats.

Falafel Abu Rami serves up some of the best falafel in town – it is crunchy and their sandwiches are massive, and cost only $2 (Dh7). If shawarma is what you’re after, you must stop by Shawarma Abu Bahij. This was my absolute favourite thing to have in the world before turning vegetarian. For dessert, Al Jardali Sweets on the Corniche road has the best kunafa in town.

If you would like to try traditional ice cream, then Al Ramlawi Sweets is the place to check out. They also make the absolute best petit fours in the world. That’s not an exaggeration.

Updated: October 18, 2019 10:14 AM

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