ELLE (Australia) - - Travel -

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 (, 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

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