Lebanon is a beautiful country. Despite the political and religious challenges it’s been through as a nation, it remains to be one of the liveliest, most elegant and most attractive nations in the Middle East. Its capital and largest city is Beirut, one of Lonely Planet’s 10 liveliest cities in the world in 2009. Several kilometers to the north are the coastal city of Jounieh and its adjoining sister-city, Maameltein. When war erupted in the capital city in 1975, the Beirutis only had one place to go: Jounieh-Maameltein.
In the Arab world, when you hear the name Maameltein being talked about, people are mostly hushing. The place is most commonly associated with adult bars and strip clubs. There is a stretch of lively pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants on the coast from Jounieh to Maameltein, and often those who want a more risqué form of entertain go to the Maameltein area.
The area, however, is also the home of Lebanon’s most glamorous venue for entertainment, Casino du Liban. For decades, this privately owned casino had almost singlehandedly placed Lebanon on the map. When it opened in 1959, it easily attracted the wealthiest and most influential men in the Middle East and Europe. But word really went around when billionaire Aristotle Onassis came and played with other international high rollers. There was no other place in the Mediterranean that rivaled Casino du Liban.
It is located on a sprawling 35,000-square-meter wide area on a hill that overlooks the majestic Bay of Jounieh. During its golden era from the 60s to 70s, Jounieh’s sister-city regularly received foreign tourists, gamblers and players that included celebrities, royalties and politicians, including the Shah of Iran, the prince of Monaco and the king of Jordan. Hollywood star Omar Sharif also came to play.
Due to the civil war, however, the casino officially shut down and closed its doors to foreign rollers from 1975 to 1990. Operations continued but it wasn’t as glitzy or extravagant. Perhaps the only good thing that came out from the war is that Beiruti merchants and businessmen moved their trade to Jounieh. This marked the modern development of this otherwise obscure fishing town. One by one apartments, hotels, restaurants, and high-rise buildings were constructed, and in no time, Jounieh became a bustling coastal metropolis.
Leading international hotel brands came to Jounieh. They include Century Park Hotel, Holiday Suites, Regency Palace and other 5-star and 4-star hotels. Cheaper hotels line the coastal area that leads all the way to Maameltein.
In 1996, Casino du Liban re-opened and very soon it began attracting international players yet again. Apart from the hundreds of table games and slot machines, Lebanon’s premier casino also entertains its guests with world-class entertainment, lively shows and elegant dining. There are two private golden rooms that are reserved for the most privileged members. Maameltein once again took its seat as an important destination among the wealthy Arab and European rollers.
The charm of Jounieh today is largely influenced by how it harmoniously blends its rich ancestry and modern advancements. Visitors get to enjoy nature and ancient landmarks alongside modern infrastructure and facilities. Together with Maameltein, Jounieh is simply one of the most romantic spots in the Middle East.