Inherent glamour and classic style at Beirut's Phoenicia hotel
Depending on the time you arrive, you may be ushered in through gaggles of glamorous ladies coming to lunch, or Beirut's moneyed and beautiful sashaying up to party in the hotel's newly revamped but legendary nightclub, Whisky Mist.
There is a real buzz around this hotel, not least because in many ways it should no longer be in existence; left as a bombed-out shell after the civil war, it reopened in 2000, only to suffer massive damage in the 2005 bomb which assassinated Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. The ebullient survival of the Phoenicia is the perfect metaphor for the city itself; unbowed, undaunted and apparently indestructible. This year is its 50th anniversary which has been marked by a $50m style refurbishment.
Ideally located in the centre of the city, it's around a 15 minute walk to the gleaming, newly built downtown area, with its Paris-style buildings and designer boutiques. Stand in the picturesque Place l'Etoile and it's possible to see Christian churches and mosques standing shoulder to shoulder; a symbol of the diverse religions that make up the city's population.
Alternatively, hop in a taxi from the hotel and head for the bars and restaurants of Ashrafieh and Gemmayze, the two hippest neighbourhoods in the city. Art lovers should take a stroll around the historic quarter of Gemmayze, where the streets are dotted with galleries and ateliers. For serious sunbathing, the St George Beach Club is directly opposite the hotel - and offers a fascinating glimpse of Beiruti life.
Slick and charming, just as you'd expect for a hotel that is part of the InterContinental brand, even though there is little outward sign that the Phoenicia is part of the chain. Family-run (the current owner, Najib Salha, is the grandson of the hotel's founder), the hotel succeeds in feeling Lebanese rather than international. Room service was quick - and the tea was hot and fresh - and waiting staff managed to succeed in being friendly and informal while also being highly efficient. Be warned, however, the little trays of treats left in your bedroom at turn down will do nothing for your waistline.
Two separate towers hold 446 rooms and suites that - at the moment - are more about size than style. Comfortable and spacious, the decor is pretty interchangeable with any upscale business hotel room, but this is set to change at the hand of British designer Martin Hulbert, who is redesigning the rooms as part of the hotel's ongoing facelift. From next spring, bedrooms will have a whole new look.
The Phoenicia has a diverse mix; businessmen doing deals over tea in the elegant Cascade Lobby Lounge, power-lunching Beirut ladies and weekending couples, emerging bleary eyed for late breakfasts in Mosaic. At the weekend, the twin draws of Amethyste and Whisky Mist mean that the outside of the hotel is lined with gorgeous young things; being able to flash your room card (or better still take the internal door from the downstairs lobby to Whisky Mist) and avoid the queue entirely is highly satisfying.
Try not to overdo the fantastic buffet breakfast in cool, airy Mosaic (although for $36 [Dh132] you may want to make it brunch), as there's hand-made pasta and pizza on offer for lunch at Mondo, or the largest selection of sushi and sashimi in the city at Wok Wok. At night, the rooftop Eau de Vie is the place to head; lifts open onto a long, slim bar decked out in soft brown and buttery chocolate shades. It's the perfect space to strut your stuff, past the sleek bar and into the restaurant where the high-end French cuisine costs around $60 (Dh220) for three courses.
The huge square swing-seats in the Amethyste chill-out lounge by the pool; plenty big enough for four, with billowing drapes and a view across to the sea that all adds to the chic Miami-style vibe. And don't miss afternoon tea in the Cascade Lobby lounge, where a mix of guests - western tourists, smartly-suited businessmen, glamorous ladies and holidaying families - sip tea and nibble sweets, all the while taking sideways glances at each other.
The escalators that take you from ground level to the reception area feel rather like going into an upmarket shopping centre. Walk up the wide, elegant staircase beside them and you'll feel infinitely more special.
The Phoenicia is a one-stop shop for the perfect Beirut weekend - swim, spa, eat and party all at the one address. The hotel's chic interior design sets it apart from the other more corporate-style hotels in the city, with ornate lanterns, richly-coloured drapes and geometric stucco work creating a classic Middle Eastern feel. Vibrant and lively, with a diverse mix of guests, the Phoenicia offers a real insight into Beirut society; women should ensure they pack their highest heels and sleekest frocks - glamour is the omnipresent dress code.
The bottom line
A double room costs from $288 (Dh1,058) per night, including taxes. The Phoenicia, Minet el Hosn, Beirut, Lebanon (www.phoeniciabeirut.com; 00 961 1369 100).
Updated: November 12, 2011 04:00 AM