24-Hour Room Service: Four Seasons Hotel, Beirut
Saturday 02 October 2010
There are times, walking through Beirut, when the city feels like a classic Mediterranean coastal city: a Marseilles, perhaps, or a Naples. Then you spot a bullet-scarred building or one of the many machine gun-toting police that are posted on streets corners, clear reminders to visitors that this is a city with a recent violent past.
It is Lebanon's history of volatility that has kept it off most travellers' to-visit lists, but despite the heavy police presence (which, surprisingly, rarely feels intimidating), Beirut's upbeatfeel and dizzying nightlife are helping it to regain the hot-spot tourist status it enjoyed in the 1960s. Back then, before the 15-year-long civil war, people were drawn to the city's glamour and style; now the bright young things are beginning to return.
In the centre of Beirut, the signs of this transition are clear, with the streets full of freshly opened boutiques and luxury hotels (albeit interspersed with building sites promising more to come). A 10-minute walk from the heart of the rebuilt downtown area lies one of Four Seasons' latest offerings, part of a blossoming set of international five-star hotels to have opened after a decade of standstill in the city.
Rising 26 storeys above the above the Mediterranean, Beirut's Four Seasons is no small boutique bolthole. Instead it's a soaring, purpose-built tower that looks to the future rather than the past. Still, despite its size and modern exterior, inside the plush décor (designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, who has had a hand in many of the Four Seasons' properties, as well as the new look at The Savoy) gives it a comfortable feel. Classically decorated throughout, there are subtle nods to the region with Lebanese artwork dotted around the lobby.
The hotel's star attraction is the rooftop pool – apparently the highest in the city – which provides a wonderful panorama of the cityscape and the Mediterranean to be enjoyed while you sunbathe as the attentive staff ferry towels and drinks to your lounger.
Rather than offering a panoply of restaurants, the hotel focuses its efforts on just one: the Grill Room. The food it offers is undoubtedly delicious, but the menu of fresh seafood and succulent grills is neither daring nor particularly Lebanese. If you want a real taste of the country's cuisine – especially fresh mezze – then you'll fare better exploring the city's numerous restaurants.
The hotel's designers have been able to embellish and polish every aspect of the interior, but one area they have much less control over is the surroundings. The building enjoys a prime location opposite the Mediterranean, but thanks to the number of construction sites in the vicinity, it is slightly unclear quite how the area will take shape.
Apart from the St George Yacht Motor Club, one of Beirut's high-end beach clubs, there is currently little in the immediate neighbourhood. However the downtown area is close and the shops of Hamra and the numerous fashionable bars of Gemmayzeh – the place to be when night falls – can all be reached on foot. If you want to see more of the country, then Lebanon's size (half the size of Wales) makes much of interest accessible in a day trip, with the spectacular ruins of Baalbek less than two hours' drive away.
The style plays it safe, with discreet, unthreatening décor – lots of golds, blacks and yellows – that wouldn't look out of place in a five-star hotel in New York, Paris or London. However, for an extra touch of opulence, each room also has a furnished terrace, with almost all having views either on to the Mediterranean or the city itself, while the marble bathrooms – with walk-in showers and very deep bathtubs – are as refined as you would expect from the Four Seasons brand.
Four Seasons Hotel Beirut, 1418 Professor Wafic Sinno Avenue, Minet El Hosn, Beirut (00 961 761 000; fourseasons.com).
Double rooms start at $413 (£275), room only.
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