I've finally found the place in Beirut that I will describe as a "must see" destination. In downtown, situated near the west edge of the Grand Serail, there's an old mansion, home of the Robert Mouawad Private Museum.
The collection is eclectic. Chinese pottery from the 15th century, Syrian pottery and metalwork, burial reliefs from Palmyra, rugs, books, the second biggest diamond in the world, and lingerie Heidi Klum modeled on the runway for Victoria's Secret in 2005.
But it wasn't the collection that sparked my curiosity about the museum. It was the house. I'd heard that the house was the real treat--and it was. Of course, the collection is interesting, but the house is fascinating. At one point, I simply sat and stared at the walls, the beautifully inlaid, artistically crafted, intricately designed, meticulously maintained, excellently preserved, walls.
Photographs inside were not allowed. Bummer. I was just brave (defiant?) enough to take ONE anyway--on top right in the collage. The others are from the grounds outside where photography was no problem.
Visiting information is (very oddly) not on the museum's website, so, as a public service here it is:
The museum is open from 9-5 every day except Monday. Admission is $1 for children and students, $3 for Lebanese, and $6 for foreigners. It is worth every penny.
For $20, you can schedule a tour (give them a few days' notice if you want the tour in English).