Fleeing the City For the City: An Unforgettable Stay at Gefinor Rotana

As city dwellers, we rarely think of escaping to the city. I often joke that downtown Beirut is my second home, since I spend nearly as much (and occasionally more) time there as I do at our residence in the Beirut ‘burbs.

But when an opportunity arose to stay over at the Gefinor Rotana, a towering five-star hotel in the heart of Clemenceau and Hamra, I couldn’t resist, even if it were midweek and work obligations loomed over us the next day.



Stunning views of Hamra, Kantari and Ain Mreisseh from Gefinor Rotana



14 hours is easily the briefest hotel stay I’ve ever been privy to. You can probably reduce that duration to 6 waking hours, as the balance were spent in slumber sprawled across a spacious king bed.

We arrived to our overnight hosts on a Thursday evening, having driven no more than one mile westward from our workplaces in downtown Beirut. A valet steered the car to its nest for the night, while we hastened into the lobby, past the security checkpoint and to the reception desk. There, Paul and Majeda welcomed us to Lebanon and asked how our flight had been. Judging by our disheveled states after a long workday (and workweek), I laughed it off playfully to the tune of “driving in Lebanon is as exhausting as traveling.”



The hotel lobby



Paul announced that we’d been bumped up from a Premium City View Suite to the Presidential Suite, of which there are only two in the entire hotel, both nestled on the top (17th) floor opposite the Royal Suite. We had to collect our jaws from the floor as Paul led us to our humble abode.


Accommodation

An expansive living room with two sofas, a dining table for four, and an LCD TV were decorated with a generous spread of complimentary nibbles, from fresh strawberries and 2013 Musar cuvée to premium kernels, luscious mignardises, and a basket of fruit. From the living room, a sweeping balcony exposes the cityscape with all its concrete character. Back inside, you can explore the guest bathroom and a miniature kitchen equipped with hot plate, microwave, stocked half-fridge, and plate- and silverware.



The living room


2013 Musar cuvée with premium whole kernels


Fresh strawberries and mignardises


But it’s the bedroom that beckons, leading to an adjunct room of closets and a Jacuzzi-outfitted bathroom. Bath and shower toiletries are exclusively L’Occitane, and there are double sinks for him and her apart from a walk-in shower closet and a massive porcelain hot tub. Yep, that Musar would prove indispensable indeed.



The king bed


Double sinks and L'Occitane toiletries


With just an hour and half to go before dinner, we didn’t have much time to contemplate a method of attack, but it ended up going something like this: wolf down the decadent delicacies (incidentally, chocolate-dipped candied fig, dried apricot, and loukoum all resting on a slab of white chocolate bark); uncork the bottle of red; and strip down to our birthday suits to validate the worth of the Jacuzzi. 



A Jacuzzi animates the bathroom



I apologize. In the interest of accurate journalism, I had to give you the proper exposé.


Fisherman’s Catch Dinner

An hour later and we were plummeting 17 floors to the Olive Garden restaurant (not to be confused with the American chain by the same name), where copious amounts of seafood fleshed out the mains and trimmings of a Fisherman’s Catch dinner (US$ 60 net).

The first thing that came to my attention is just how bustling the restaurant is. The Gefinor Rotana is a reputable business hotel in an area dense with universities, hospitals, corporations, financial institutions, and retail shops, so it should come as no surprise that on any given night, the hotel is at or above 80% occupancy. Sure enough, the front desk confirmed that on that particular Thursday night, 87% of the rooms were sold out. And it was equally reflective inside the restaurant, as we could make out tongues in both the local dialect as well as in Jordanian, Egyptian, and Gulf Arabian.

The food lineup is restricted to one wall along the kitchen, beginning with basic salad elements like palmito and beetroot and graduating to seafood-intensive salads (both savory and sweet) and eventually the hot stuff. Grilled prawns, boiled lobsters, and fried fish are prepared around the clock, which means you might find yourself waiting for your choice item to materialize. But there are hot dishes comprising a seafood pasta bake, shrimp fajita, steamed veggies, and baked fish which you can peck at as you stall for time.



And these are the just the appetizers!


Lobster and prawns


Dessert straddles both the Oriental and Occidental, featuring the likes of osmallieh and 7alewet el jeben next to gateau macaron, choux à la crème, and banana coins in caramel soup. But the sweets ushering forth from the kitchen are in constant flux, so if you see something you like, be sure to stock up on it. “While supplies last” is the name of the game here.



The dessert display at dinner


Our evening ended on a musical note as a female singer belted out tunes in the adjacent Moodz Lounge & Bar.


Dawn of a New Day

You may be in the thick of Hamra, but from the 17th floor, all you feel is ultimate serenity. There’s not a peep of street noise to jolt you, and quite happily it’s lonely on top.

We packed up our little belongings (how much can you tote for a 14-hour stay?) and descended to the 14th floor, where the Club Rotana Lounge peers out over the majesty of the Mediterranean. 



Behold the Mediterranean from the Club Rotana Lounge on floor 14



Seriously, there isn’t a better view to be had than from here, where comfy chairs and a collection of print media can preoccupy you for hours. A coffee machine, Dilmah tea bags, a tray of mini muffins, and three large vases layered with meringue form the morning alimentary regime, but I’m told in the afternoon, the options are more elaborate.



Club Rotana Lounge



Back down at the Olive Garden restaurant and terrace, the scene had transformed to breakfast. Half a dozen dispensers of cereal kick-start the queue, followed by fresh, canned, dried and candied fruit (there’s lychee!); jams; finger pizzas; Danish pastries; and croissants. For the more ravenous of appetites, order eggs à la minute and garnish with sautéed mushrooms and bacon.



For the serial cereal consumer!


Canned, fresh, dried, and candied fruits


Viennoiserie -- the zaatar croissants are unparalleled!



Deli cold cuts along with an army of cheeses—from halloumi to Babybel—inhabit the last counter, as do labneh (strained yogurt), olives, tomato wedges, cucumber spears, zaatar, sumac and cumin. Almost every palate will be tickled, although I’d have loved to see a more extensive suite of sweets: matter like pancakes, waffles, muffins, and homemade loaf cakes (banana, anyone?).



Deli cold cuts, cheese, and some crudites



There is fresh squeezed orange and carrot juices, but rather than canned pineapple rings, wouldn’t the fresh counterpart have been an enviable touch? The St. Dalfour individually-portioned jars of jam on each table are classy—kudos to Rotana for not subjecting us to the sugar-injected junk (I’ll refrain from naming the local culprits).


Checkout

As quickly as it’d begun, it ended, and we were rather miffed to have it wrap up so swiftly. But alas, it was still a weekday, and professional commitments beckoned.

That punctuated euphoria now seems part of a hazy distant reality, even though as I'm writing this, it’s been a mere 12 hours since we traded our room keys for the car keys. It’s almost as if I dreamt up the whole thing, from the grandeur of the Presidential Suite to the far-reaching vistas of the sea; from the whole-wheat zaatar croissant to the inverted tabbouleh chockfull of shrimp.

In my six years of life in Lebanon, I must have walked past the Gefinor Rotana a hundred times. On each occasion, I’d squint curiously inside, unaware of the world enclosed beyond those glass sliding doors. 

But henceforth I’ll smile fondly and wistfully, recalling that blink in time to crown all blinks in time when we fled the city for the city.

And no doubt it will forever grace the halls of my memory.



A Classic City View Room starts at $120 and a Premium Sea View Room at $136 with the super saver specials. For more details on rates, rooms, and bookings, visit this link.

Clemenceau Street
Hamra
Beirut, Lebanon
+961 1 371 888

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