Beirut is a city reborn. Relics of the Lebanese Civil War may still exist, but development is running riot with new skyscrapers springing up every year; Rolex clocktowers keeping lookout over mosques and churches; and the city’s former bustling souq has been transformed into a high-end shoppers’ paradise, infiltrated by designer brands. This city was the jewel of the Middle East in the 1960s: a place of showy opulence, casinos, yacht clubs and ostentatious hotels. But its heyday isn’t over. In fact, downtown Beirut has been painstakingly returned to its former glory, and its immaculate-yet-antique streets are lined by Lamborghinis and Ferraris, parked outside effortlessly glamorous hotels. The sumptuously crumbling neighbourhoods of Achrafieh, Badaro and Gemmayzeh are full of boutique and offbeat accommodation and Beirut’s waterfront is dotted with big-name resorts, crowned with rooftop bars; while the mountains that form its backdrop conceal historic forts and palaces, reimagined as luxury retreats.
For lavish living: Four Seasons (£££)
Within minutes of arrival at the Four Seasons Beirut, everyone from the manager to the maids will know you by name. With uber-polite staff, the Four Seasons upholds its five-star reputation with aplomb. Thrusting heavenward above its neighbours, and just 15 minutes’ walk from downtown, rooms have fantastic views over the marina to the sea. Their sun-soaked balcony brunches, which literally throw open the kitchen doors to the public, are a local favourite, while the cocktail-lounge-cum-restaurant is a brooding Belle Epoque boudoir with dark deco.
Rooms: $330 (£244), room only.
For superheroes: Smallville (£)
As the name implies — to anyone who watched Superman on TV in the Noughties, that is — Smallville labours a superhero theme over its 18 levels. The theme is unevenly applied on my floor, which is decorated with wall-to-ceiling supermodels, with characters from the Godfather trilogy in the bathroom. Meanwhile, OTT vaudevillian vibes extend throughout the lobby, restaurant, and rooftop pool and bar. Rooms are sleek and great for visitors exploring the nearby National Museum, and the hip bars and cafes of the Badaro neighbourhood. Just pack a sidekick.
Rooms: $128 (£95), room only.
For A-listers: Grand Hills (££)
Like an ancient citadel, Grand Hills is a sprawling, labyrinthine hotel of epic proportions. It holds the world’s largest hotel suite (actually a property in its own right), as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records. The main hotel is crammed with 1,200 pieces of eclectic artwork and heirlooms, so you can lounge on a couch once owned by Napoleon in the warren-like lobby, or look out from your balcony across the expansive grounds, and over distant downtown Beirut to the sea. The spa offers an array of treatments, from the full-body chocolate wrap to fruity salt scrubs.
Rooms: $200 (£148), room only.
For city slickers: Le Gray (£££)
Situated on the edge of the sandstone-brick downtown district, looking every bit like its recently renovated neighbours, Le Gray conceals a surprise inside. The cylindrical atrium, the hotel’s stunning centrepiece, twists right up through the building’s core revealing floor-to-sky views from every level. Cool, contemporary, swish and stylish, all charcoal-grey hues and high-gloss furnishings, this is the perfect place to chill out after a day’s work (or sightseeing), although if you do want a night out on the town, Le Gray is a stone’s throw from all the action.
Rooms: $355 (£260), room only.
For active families: Le Royal (££)
This mega-complex mixes mass-appeal resort vibes with uber-luxurious living to jarring effect. In part, it’s as regal as its name suggests, with two sprawling luxury penthouse suites while the affordable accommodation downstairs and the cruise ship-style buffet is more suited to families with kids. The Royal Spa is utilitarian rather than luxe, but it features every conceivable type of equipment, from free weights to Jacob’s ladders, plus a squash court, swimming pool, sauna and much more. Open each summer, the hotel’s Watergate Aqua Park is perfect for the kids.
Rooms: $222 (£166), B&B.
For vintage vibes: Albergo (££)
The antithesis of modern identikit accommodation, Albergo is Beirut’s most distinguished character property. A museum-piece, art deco elevator squeaks its way from the lobby up through the central stairwell to the rooftop restaurant. Here, waiters nonchalantly whisk away side-salads and crèmes brûlées, all served on oversized crockery. Suites creak with plenty of charm — from threadbare oriental rugs on antique patterned tiles, to ornately inlaid furniture beneath crystal chandeliers — feeling every inch like your very own Parisian apartment.
Rooms: $225 (£166), room only.
For nostalgia: The Phoenica
One of the city’s original ’60s boomtown properties, The Phoenicia sits in the former hotel district between downtown and the stretch of seafront known as La Corniche. Other nearby hotels haven’t fared as well as this grande dame; Holiday Inn now stands derelict after being a prized sniper tower during the conflict. However, The Phoenicia is flourishing: it boasts the sort of marble-clad amenities you’d expect in any top five-star hotel, a tempting clutch of restaurants and lounges, all mixed with a generous helping of memories of its Golden Age heyday.
Rooms: $235 (£178), room only.
For romantic recluses: Miramin Palace (£££)
Once home to the last emirs of Lebanon, this historic 19th-century castle was built in 1838 and today offers mammoth suites and authentic, historic grandeur without being overly extravagant. This hilltop retreat, in the village of Beiteddine, at 3,115ft above sea level, is hewn from huge blocks of sandstone in a commanding position, taking in spectacular views of the Chouf Mountains. Located 27 miles south of Beirut, Mir Amin is a weekend getaway for locals escaping the city’s bustle, who come for sunny lunches in the courtyard.
Rooms: $270 (£202), B&B.
For beaches & bling: Eddésands (£££)
A little like being in a rap music video, the beaches of Eddésands are full of beautiful people bronzing themselves on sun loungers. Situated next to the must-see ruins of Byblos (home to archaeological remains dating back to around 8,800BC), Eddésands is a family-run resort, which — while claiming kid-friendly credentials — looks more like one for the Kardashian crew. The spa is its trump card; therapists are skilled, welcoming and friendly. Sipping on gin and juice in the spa’s huge hot tubs is a distinctly Kanye experience.
Rooms: $277 (£204), B&B.
For indoor explorers: Remhala Guesthouse (£)
Raymond Yazbeck’s peculiar little hotel is more a labour of love than a business. He’s been endlessly extending, renovating, decorating and even adding ramparts to his extraordinary home on an infinite basis. Set in the valley village of Remhala, just seven miles from Beirut’s airport, many of its rooms and terraces overlook the mountains. Its five guest lodgings range from pokey to cavernous, and all are decorated like fairytale grottos and littered with antique clocks, brass lamps and an eclectic collection of objets d’art. Rooms: $66 (£49), B&B. T: 00 961 3 377 098.
Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)