Both because of and despite the ghosts of Lebanon’s civil war (which came to an end just shy of three decades ago), much of Beirut has been immaculately rebuilt to the point that it’s often called the “Paris of the Middle East”. Though still very much a city in progress (and at times politically volatile, so as with any destination, always check official advice before planning your trip), the unique mix of its newfound character and old-world Levantine flair gives it a certain charm inimitable by any European destination.
Just outside the city centre, the leafy streets of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael aren’t short on concept bars, cafes, boutiques and galleries. Locals and tourists alike also take full advantage of the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, regularly flocking to beaches and beach clubs. But for something a little less crowded, try nearby swimming pool Sporting Club Beach. The entrance fee of about $25 might seem steep, but the pay-off comes via the feeling of being transported to the pages of a Slim Aarons coffee-table book.
In the Beirut Central District is Le Gray (lhw.com), the work of regarded hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray (also behind London’s One Aldwych and the dreamy Carlisle Bay Antigua) and part of The Leading Hotels Of The World group. There are 12 rooms and 75 suites in total – all the way up to the Presidential Suite, with its two
bedrooms and a separate living area – but even the most standard of rooms is spacious by the city’s measures, at 40m2 minimum. While many have a private balcony or terrace, the vistas from those without are nothing to baulk at either, and the perfect place to take in the buzzing cityscape below.
With an infinity pool boasting views out to the crystal waters of the Mediterranean and plenty of spots where you can enjoy a tipple, the rooftop is a huge drawcard. Sip on a sundowner in the Pool Lounge then, if your bedtime is past 9pm, venture back to Cherry On The Rooftop, the resident nightspot, before a nightcap at one of the many bars or clubs nearby, such as Iris and Skybar.
In the morning, knafeh (a traditional pastry dish) or pancakes from downstairs cafe Gordon’s will cure any remnants of a hangover. The eatery sprawls out on the kerbside in a trés Parisian manner, backdropped by the meditative sounds of the Muslim call to prayer from nearby Mohammad Al-amin Mosque (recognisable by its blue domed roof).
Stretch your legs with a walk to nearby Beirut Souks, a chic shopping destination where you’ll find outposts from Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and Chloé. By the time it comes to leave, you’ll wonder why a trip to one of the oldest cities in the world took you quite this long.
MAKE A SPLASH: Cool off at Beirut icon Sporting Club Beach
INS AND OUTS: Le Gray’s rooftop oasis, and (below) a chic suite