Overlooking the city’s famous Corniche, Zaitunay Bay and the Mediterranean Sea beyond, this Beirut landmark is located close to Beirut Souks and Downtown’s hotspots.
It first opened its doors in 1961, attracting international royalty, celebrities and world leaders alike. Unsurprisingly, its 2010 refurbishment celebrated its illustrious past, refreshing its ornate high ceilings and sweeping staircases. Its grand entrance, with its green marble pillars and stunning chandelier leading to a glamorous fountain in the reception atrium, harks back to Lebanon’s glitzy pre-war years.
Beautifully displayed treats, including gold leaf-topped macaroons, mendiants, chocolates and baklava welcomed us. With sweeping sea views, our traditionally furnished, spacious Premium room included a working and a seating area, a super comfy king-sized bed (there’s a pillow menu for personal preferences and allergy sufferers), a well stocked mini bar, iron and ironing board, complimentary Wi-Fi and 90 satellite channels. The slightly awkwardly shaped bathroom felt a little dated, although it did have a walk-in shower, bathtub and was stocked with indulgent, all-natural Ila goodies.
Mosaic, located on the mezzanine level, features floor-to-ceiling windows, with views of St Georges Hotel – sadly closed – and a glimpse into the country’s recent troubled history. Breakfast provides a perfect introduction to the fabled Lebanese hospitality. Its buffet – the largest in the country – includes many Lebanese mezze, salads, breads (both oven-baked mankoushe and ones made on the saj) and hot dishes, from chicken kofte to sweet knafeh. Friday lunch features a seafood buffet, while Sunday offers live cooking stations. The drinks list has a number of Lebanese offerings, including Chateau Kefraya and arak, an aniseed liquor, which is traditionally served with mezze.
Rooftop private dining space Eau de Vie offers customised menus and set-ups for a personal experience, while the newest eatery Rossini is located on the ground floor. It’s a casual, Italian that was probably still finding its feet during our January visit – the tiramisu was the only dish that really delighted us, while service wasn’t quite as polished as elsewhere in the hotel.
Who goes there?
Mostly wealthy Lebanese and families from the GCC region.
Out & about:
If you choose the right room, you’ll overlook the former Holiday Inn Hotel – the infamous epicentre of Civil War’s ‘Battle of the Hotels’. Indeed, it only takes a stroll to discover the city’s rich history. Tick off the Roman Baths, Martyr’s Square and the Sursock Museum, which houses a contemporary art collection in a stunning 19th century Italian-style mansion. If you want to hit the shops, head to the reconstructed Beirut Souks in Downtown.
Beirut is a foodie’s paradise – we enjoyed a delicious mezze lunch at Café Badaro, located in residential neighbourhood Badaro and a healthy supper, seated at the bar of atmospheric Café Vert, in bohemian quarter Gemmayze, followed by drinks at liquid library, The Malt Gallery in old district Ashrafiyeh, which boasts more than 2,000 fine bottles of alcohol.
It’s also worth taking time out to relax in the hotel’s spa, even if only for a quick swim in the light-filled pool, with its jet showers and separate hot tub, surrounded by palm trees.
The worst thing:
In comparison to our experience of Mosaic restaurant, my starter and main course at Rossini felt a little lacklustre.
The best thing:
The hotel’s character and history. This is the place to stay to get a real feel for the city.
Room rates start from USD300 per night, which is based on double occupancy, and includes breakfast, taxes and fees.