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After years of instability, Lebanon is getting its groove back.
Although the U.S. State Department maintains a travel warning, which advises Americans to avoid Lebanon because of safety and security concerns, a political agreement last year has restored calm.
Foreign tourists have been flocking back to the Mideast country's pine-covered mountains, fancy Mediterranean beach clubs and buzzing night life. About 1.3 million visited last year, up 30% from 2007, government officials said.
Damage from the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas has been largely repaired, and in any case was concentrated in south Beirut and southern Lebanon, areas that most foreign tourists avoid. Tensions among Lebanon's mix of Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze have cooled considerably.
Beirut's restored downtown, an apocalyptic minefield during the country's long civil war, has been turned into a gleaming shopping district, with Four Seasons and Hilton hotels expected to open soon. The city center's heart remains an ancient Roman bathhouse and St. George's Greek Orthodox Church.
Restaurants and outdoor cafes abound. At night, visitors mingle with perfumed and buffed-up young men and women partying until the wee hours in the bars and nightclubs of the trendy Gemmayze district.
Two hours' drive from Beirut are magnificent Roman ruins at the ancient temple complex in Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley. The well-preserved monuments are minutes away from the nation's wine country, including the natural underground caves at Chateau Ksara, open daily.
The Crusader fortress in the seaport of Byblos offers a look at Lebanon's ancient history and a chance to dine at the legendary waterfront Pepe Abed fish restaurant.
For tourist information, visit www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb.
-- Raed Rafei
The Acropolis reopened March 12 after striking workers yielded to pleas from President Karolos Papoulias and ended their job action, which had closed the Athens monument five times in two weeks. Most strikers were contract workers demanding permanent jobs and back pay.
-- Associated Press
Berlin launched a "friendliness" campaign to woo tourists, issuing red pins to police, taxi drivers, airport staff and others to signal they were ready to lend a helping hand. "Berlin has a reputation in Germany of being a rude city, but we're a rude city with a heart," said Rene Gorka, head of Berlin Partners, a marketing group that promotes the city.
-- Reuters News
Citing "the current business climate," Tangula Luxury Trains postponed the launch of its Beijing-to-Tibet route from April to spring 2010. The high-end service would be the first foreign-invested passenger train in China. Tourism in Tibet has languished amid a security crackdown aimed at preventing political unrest.
-- Associated Press
Beaches on the popular Sunshine Coast near Brisbane reopened March 21 after a cargo ship spilled 250 tons of oil in cyclone-whipped seas, blackening the sands. Cleanup operations continued at Moreton Island, home to a national park.
-- Australian Associated Press
The State Department recently issued warnings or alerts for these areas:
Madagascar, because of escalating civil unrest.
Saudi Arabia, because of terrorist groups that may target Western interests.