Sixteen kilometers from Beirut lies the romantic coastal city of Jounieh. Known widely as the Jewel of Lebanon, Jounieh is home to a number of important sites, landmarks, natural treasures, and cultural symbols, which include the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon, Jeita Grotto, Dog River, and Casino du Liban, among others. Apart from all these national treasures, Jounieh is cherished by the Lebanese for how it preserved its old charm and interesting ancestry. Not very far from the bay is an area known as Old Jounieh. It is here where locals and tourists come to dine, stroll, reminisce, relax, and enjoy the Mediterranean sunset.
In the past, this area by the bay was an old stone souk (market) area where ancient traders and merchants sold their products. It was a busy marketplace, which was perhaps the busiest spot in this otherwise sleepy port city.
Old stone buildings still stand today and have been renovated so that they could better reflect the city’s original charm. Some concrete structures have been repainted or repaired, but were made sure to maintain the way they looked through the years.
Tourism flourished in the city during the civil war when business was not doing well in the capital city. Beiruti traders migrated to Jounieh, and the wealthy Christian Beirutis also arrived to relax and enjoy the beach. While the war raged in Beirut, the foundations for what Jounieh is today were being laid.
Today, the old souk area is teeming with boutiques, artisan shops, banks, restaurants, outdoor cafés, motels, and hotels. It’s never been busier. After the sunset, the bay area comes alive with lights and music from the stretch of pubs, night clubs, restaurants, and bars. Many stay open until the wee hours of the morning. This bay area alone is refutably the most happening spot in the entire Arab world.
Night clubs and entertainment centers line up from Jounieh all the way to Maameltein to the north. There are different forms of entertainment, which include belly dancing, Arabic music and sexy showgirls. The foods and drinks are also inviting. There are more than 25 major bars and restaurants in Old Jounieh and some of the more popular ones include 3sixty, Addict, Bali, Café Toni, Cuba Libre, Express Corner, Hooligans, Lush, Old Wheel Pub, Q’ba, and Vitrine.
The most extravagant of all the joints along this stretch is Casino du Liban in Maameltein. It’s the place to go for the wealthiest and most prolific gamblers in Europe and the Middle East. Before the civil war, it’s been visited by the likes of Omar Sharif, King Hussein of Jordan and Aristotle Onassis. It was the glitziest and most glamorous casino in the Arab world and one of the most popular in Europe. Casino du Liban was the only venue outside Europe where the Miss Europe pageant was held and they did it for five consecutive years.
Other than the lights, music, fun and drinks, Old Jounieh also stands for the Maronite faith of Jounieh residents. It was on the bay in the old town where French protectors docked and paid homage to the Patriarch of the Maronite Christians on the hill of Bkerké. On top of mount Harissa near the seat of the Patriarch stands the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon. With arms outstretched, she welcomes each and every visitor to the city who comes in through the old port.