WINTER 2011I sea&iI49cityguideAbove:the famousPigeon Rocks of RaouchéOpposite page: Le Gray's Indigo on the Roof restaurantoverlooks the cityAmid tough competition, Beirut is emerging as thejewel of the Middle East. Echoing Paris' chic style, it is aneminently glamorous, exciting and enticing destinationByKate RigbyArabian lightbeirutAdecade and a half of conflict may have left anindelible mark on Beirut, but despite itsturbulent heritage this Middle Eastern cityand capital of Lebanon has beaten the odds toemerge as a high-profile travel destination that is fun, beautiful,sexy and vibrant.Strung along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut iscaught between two cultures, dipping a toe in both Arabic andEuropean camps. With a history dating back more than 5,000years, and a democratic, forward-thinking Government, it is themost fashionable of all the Arabian cities. Fondly cited as theParis of the Middle East, the city has undergone a significanttransformation in recent years. Its landscape was pockmarkedby the civil war of 1975 to 1990, but this war-torn façade hasstamped the city with something of an edgy charm, and alongwith the glamorously poised rooftop pools of the five-starhotels and the designer boutiques luxuriating way belowthem, Beirut exudes a fashionablyfun frissance. The shoppingis excellent, fashion shows strut alongside classical concerts andworld-class theatre,Phoenician ruins merge with vibrant newwater parks, and 300 days of sunshine every year mean all thiscan be enjoyed in the perfect climate.PILLOW TALKIf classy hotels are a barometer of a city's style, Beirut isscorchinghot. One of the key players is the Four Seasons HotelBeirut, fresh from its opening in January 2010. Ten years in theplanning, the hotel has hospitality spot on with a service thatreflects the vibrant and welcoming spirit of the country. All 230rooms and suites have large terraces, there is a marble andgold mosaic spa and a team of concierges with expertknowledge of the city's 5,000 years of cultural attractions.?
50Isea&iIWINTER 2011Another recent addition, Le Gray Hotel(sister propertyto Antigua's Carlisle Bay and London's Dukes Hotel and OneAldwych) was always going to add more than a touch of luxuryto the city when it opened just a year ago. Located in the smartCentral Beirut District, it has views of the Mediterranean andMount Lebanon, a rooftop restaurant, a bar and chlorine-freepool, and 87 rooms and suites with Aqua televisions in thebathrooms. The PureGray Health Club and Spaincludes acouplestreatment room and wet room, along with a gym.Gefinor Rotana Hotelin the heart of the city, just 15 minutesaway from Beirut International Airport, is also worthconsidering for an overnight stay. The hotel has threerestaurants that, between them, cover breakfast, lunch,dinner, morning coffee, afternoon tea, evening cocktails andpoolside snacks. Speaking of poolside, the hotel has a rooftopswimmingpool overlooking the Mediterranean, along witha fitness centre, sauna, steam bath and massage services. TheMetropolitan Palace Beirutlikewisemakes a toweringstatement with its 183 rooms and suites on Sin El Fil. Thepenthouse on the 17th floor has a private terraceoffering cityand Mediterranean views, its own marble lobby, sitting rooms,a private dining room, a master bedroom with terrace, threeguest bedrooms and staff quarters. The hotel also has a healthclub, tennis court, beauty salon and Elixir Spa extending overthree floors, complete with heat cabins and snow rooms.LeRoyal Beirut, meanwhile, crowns a hilltop near the cityattractions and overlooking the Mediterranean, with some ofits suites featuring a kitchenette, a living room and terrace.Its Royal SPA is on three levels, including an indoor swimmingpool, Jacuzzis, mud and Turkish baths, squash and tennisfacilities and spa treatments. Younger visitors will love itsWatergate Aqua Park- one of the largest in the Middle East.And in the heart of the famous Hamra district, Le Commodoreis all about understated natural earthy tones and overdosingluxury, with great rooms, an outdoor pool and an impressivehealth club. EAT, DRINK, DANCEEAT.Venezia Ristorante Italianoat the Metropolitan PalaceBeirut is a mini replica of Venice, both for its architecturalintricacy as well as its cuisine. Indigo on the Roofat Le Gray isa rooftop restaurant serving Mediterranean delicaciesfrom anopen kitchen. A fabulous wine wall and illuminated city viewsadd to the experience. The Al Dente Restaurant at Hotel Albergodescribes itself as "1910 Italy meets 2010 Beirut". It has bolddécor, and has earned the title of best Italian restaurant inAT A GLANCE.LanguageArabic is the official language, but English and French are widely spoken.Currencythe Lebanese pound (LBP)CultureBeirut is one of the most laid-back and westernised of Middle Eastern cities,but Lebanon is a very religious country so respectful clothing and behaviour areadvised at all times.