Land in Beirut and you’ll find the Mediterranean on your left, and the mountains on your right, and oh my, is it a city that is buzzing. Vibrancy oozes from the art to the food to the nightlife, rivalling the likes of New York, Paris and London. And Lebanon, in spite of it being such a small country, nowhere is more than two hours’ drive away. Hit the beach in the morning, go skiing in the afternoon, top it off with a night of clubbing and you’ve basically accomplished a Lebanese “triathlon”.
THE PACKING EDIT
Having gone through years of serious conflict and devastation, Beirut has rightly earned its moniker as the City That Will Not Die for it is a city that has rebounded and thrived. Nicknamed the Paris of the East (the country was under French rule until 1943), there are undertones of Paris everywhere. From the French-speaking Lebanese to the food and the architecture, the city is rich in its history and its culture.
At the centre of all of this sits one of the city’s most iconic buildings and indeed hotels, Phoenicia Beirut. Built in 1961, it exudes Middle Eastern glamour with an enormous marble staircase on arrival, indoor fountains, numerous restaurants (including the newly opened Italian), extensive contemporary art collection, and the Spa Phoenicia. You can see why it was the original party pad hosting the A-list elite from Marlon Brando to Bridget Bardot.
The hotel closed for twenty years, being a victim of the Lebanese civil war and had to close down. After an extensive refurbishment, Phoenicia reopened in March 2000 as a landmark of Beirut with brand new rooms overlooking the azure blue Mediterranean Sea.
While grandeur is its middle name, it avoids the tipping point of tack, rather giving a gentle nod to what one might imagine ‘old Lebanon’ to look like, with green marble panelling, slick silver and pale green furnishings, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows.
Moving alongside its traditional and extravagant surroundings, Phoenicia is adding to Beirut’s burgeoning art scene, as a strong supporter of artistic talent, with works from a number of established artists including Howard Hodgkin, Therese Oulton and Ronald Cameron, all forming part of the hotel’s extensive art collection with pieces displayed throughout the Hotel.
From the sea, marina, pool to the city, each room gives you an enviable view over one aspect of Beirut’s splendour. Rooms are comfortable with an old-world swagger, writing desks and swags of fabric over beds, ila toiletries and the added benefit of limousine airport transfers in the premium rooms. Book a suite and above and you’ll enjoy private balconies, butler services, your own private gym, jacuzzi and sauna, a weekend just won’t be enough.
Eating and Drinking
Lobby bars is something the Middle East does well, a constant buzz of people, open round the clock, with a live piano playing. As soon as you enter the lobby, you walk right into this at the Cascade Lounge Bar.
Breakfast is renowned to be one of the best in the Middle East and the largest in Lebanon. It’s something you wake up in time for, with a lavish banquet of cuisines. Manakish are freshly cooked on a dome oven, eggs are prepared in front of you, while separate stations serve everything from an array of olives and salads to cheese, labneh, foul, sausages, honey and smoked salmon.
The newly opened Rossini is a welcome Italian addition to the roster of 5 restaurants, preceded by cocktails by the pool at Amethyste Pool. Anywhere in the hotel, you can select from some of the world’s rarest and oldest Cognacs and Armagnacs, single malts or wine vintages. They take their selection seriously, so you know you’ll want to end, or even start your evening here.
It’s no coincidence that Beirut has been named number one culinary destination for several years. And as a result, Phoenicia has created a culinary institute, a gastronomic academy where amateurs can improve their skills, and professionals seeking a career in the industry can enjoy unmatched training and education.
The seductive Phoenicia Spa is worthy of our Spa of the Month, specialising in Balneotherapy, Thalassotherapy, Thai Relaxing Therapy and Ayurvedic Medicine.
The spa is accompanied by an indoor pool, 24-hour gym, outdoor pool — once an oval-shaped beauty — set against a backdrop of waterfalls. And from the shade of the pool’s colonnades you can see the old St. Georges Hotel, designed in the 1930s by Parisian architect Auguste Perret. Not to mention, 22 private treatment and therapy rooms, mineral whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, aquagym and jacuzzis.
Recommended treatment: Book in for the Manipura spa treatment. A 90 minute revival to your solar plexus, a purifying and detoxing scrub that will send you straight to heaven and back. A marma massage, lymphatic drainage and application of hot Himalayan salt poultices, executed tremendously, leaving you lighter and floating.
A spot of shopping
A walk to the downstairs of the hotel and you’ll find branches of local boutiques selling everything from Persian rugs to evening wear. A must buy from Beirut? Head to Sarah’s Bag, the chic handbag line which employs at-risk local women to hand-craft the exquisite purses, totes, and clutches. There are pieces designed with everything from beaded Arabic calligraphy proclaiming “passion” and “my heart,” to hand-painted psychedelic prints and lucite clutches in the shape of Backgammon sets.
Outside of the hotel, Beirut has set the stage of some of the world’s leading designers. A wander through their ateliers will leave you astounded from the architectural wonders of each space to the creations and workmanship that the designers create.
If you haven’t yet been to Beirut, picture the South of France. Directly across from the hotel is the magnificent Zaitunay Bay, perched on the edge of an active marina, Lebanon’s very own yacht bay, with a pier full of fantastic restaurants, crawling with well dressed visitors. Stop in one of specialist Lebanese seafood restaurants for an unforgettable meal. Oh and while you’re there, rent a boat. You won’t be sorry.
By taxi, you can explore Beirut’s other lively districts. Head to Gemmayzeh for bars and restaurants, Hamra street for shopping and cafes or go along the corniche to enjoy shisha and fresh seafood with views of the picture-postcard Raouché Sea Rock.
With its green valleys, ancient cities, beautiful Mediterranean beaches, great Cedar forests, breathtaking mountain views, and exquisite gastronomy, Lebanon has so much to offer. It should be at the top of anyone’s destination list. And The Phoenicia Hotel is a seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age. Simply unmissable.