Radisson Blu Beirut: A Tranquil Oasis in the Heart of the Lebanese Capital
If you saw the photos of the entrance lobby at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut during the months of August and September, you’d rethink any air travel in a heartbeat. Lines of passengers snaked through the entrance halls, threatening to spill outside onto the curb, and it was estimated that around two hours were required before reaching the duty free zone. The Lebanese are not particularly renowned for their organizational skills, so you can imagine folks belligerently cutting line in a bid to make it in and past the madness.
We recoiled at the horror stories and decided that a staycation would deliver roughly the same purpose a quick getaway abroad endeavored to: change of scenery, pampering, and respite from the travails of quotidian life in Beirut.
And thus, on the last weekend of September, to coincide with our five-year wedding anniversary, we – the trio of me, my husband, and our toddler – checked in to the Radisson Blu nestled in the heart of the Ain Mreisseh district in Beirut. Our stay was a few hours shy of 24 hours, but it delivered exactly on its promise: in-suite comfort, warm hospitality, and delicious international fare.
Lounging in the hotel lobby, we actually felt as though we’d been transplanted abroad. The Radisson Blu, a worldwide network of upscale hotels with headquarters in both Belgium and the United States, enjoys high brand recognition. Rigorous standards in hospitality and hygiene ensure that you “feel the difference,” as their tagline attests. We certainly did, as soon as we pushed past the door to our junior suite and took in the sight of our temporary residence.
Situated on one of the corners of the second floor, our suite comprised a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom with tub and shower. Nearly the entire rounded corner features floor to ceiling glass, which makes for a fine view of the street below. Apart from the king bed and two small nightstands flanking it, there is a desk with chair, a sofa and armchairs, TV, minibar, closets, iron board and iron, espresso machine, and electric kettle.
The room comes fully equipped with all the amenities you might need, from razor and shaving cream to toothbrush, toothpaste, bath toiletries, hair dryer and slippers. Of note, the incredibly pressurized water! Never in Beirut have I witnessed such strong water pressure, whether from the faucet or shower head. Hot water readily gushes forth, and you’ll likely want to draw a bath and indulge in some me-time if your schedule permits.
We loved that the room was decorated with eight blue balloons and a plush teddy bear to greet our toddler. He was beaming for a good half-hour as he pranced around the room parading his loot. What was also convenient was a baby crib already set up in the bedroom. The personal touch is everything.
|Our toddler Stephen was greeted with balloons inside our junior suite|
Our junior suite granted us access to the tranquil business lounge on the sixth floor. We were greeted by a warm, familiar face who actually remembered us vividly from previous visits to the Radisson Blu! Rita El Sheikh treated us like guests in her own home. She led us to the refreshments area, where loaf cake, miniature muffins, apples, bananas, and fragrant biscuits awaited us, along with coffee, a selection of Dilmah tea bags, water and soft drinks. We made ourselves comfortable on one of the sofas before relocating to the terrace, where a beautiful breeze coupled with the shade of the building rendered a wonderful afternoon lull. You can scan the facades of buildings in the neighborhood and catch sight of the Mediterranean, which is unfortunately obstructed by newly developing high rises towering above the sea.
|Staff member Rita El Sheikh posing with our toddler Stephen on the terrace of the business lounge|
From 5 to 7 PM, the business lounge hosts happy hour, decked out with premium Qanafar local wines – red, white and rosé – Johnny Walker Black Label whisky, and other spirits. There are dainty canapés on offer, too, as well as square bread rolls stuffed with cheese or labneh and fried cheese fingers (“rkeket”).
|Nibbles during the business lounge happy hour|
Worth mention are the astonishingly fast internet speeds available to guests with no cap on consumption. Download and upload rates could be measured at roughly 70 and 50 Mbps, respectively, on WiFi. There are two desktops, a printer and fax machine to round out the lounge.
After enjoying a few sunset drinks, we descended to the lobby to have dinner.
I’ve always enjoyed the casual nature of a meal in a hotel lobby. Not only does the menu tend to be no-fuss and no-frills, but the opportunity to watch people come and go animates the entire experience. We sat at a round table encircled with comfy armchairs and proceeded to order a number of international dishes, like lentil soup, chicken quesadillas, Butter Chicken and a platter of unsalted fries – gotta indulge the toddler!
Lentil soup with croutons and a wedge of lemon are popular in this region, so it’s nice to initiate your meal with a traditional, local favorite.
|My husband's favorite: red lentil soup|
True-to-taste Tex-Mex cuisine has proven hard to come by in Beirut, but Radisson Blu makes an honorable attempt to get it right with its chicken quesadillas. Homemade flour tortillas are filled with a blend of pan-fried chicken strips and veggies which, while admirably tender and moist, borrow more from shawarma spices than they do Mexican cuisine. The guacamole is 100% fresh mashed from real avocadoes – don’t take this for granted in Lebanon, because I’ve often seen guac derived from powders or jars. The sour cream, however, is much too sour, which shouldn’t be the case. Rather than mimic the variety you find in North America, the kitchen would do well to simply whip labneh. It serves as a fine substitute.
Though the butter chicken was generous in portion, I found the consistency of the stew to be rather grainy. This Indian dish is heralded for its creamy texture and mild spices, so Radisson has some work to do in both categories. Furthermore, the menu description included naan bread, but our dish came up short!
On weekends, Radisson Beirut serves breakfast at their restaurant Olivos from 6:30 to 11 AM, which is a generous window catering to both early- and late-risers. Wind your way around the long food display, beginning with the breads and viennoiserie, accompanied by manakish, muffins, no-sugar biscuits and jams. Next up, fresh and dried fruits, from pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes and plums, to dates, apricots and prunes.
|Breads, croissants, and other brunch delights|
If your appetite is more ravenous at the day’s start, there’s a mezza corner festooned with tabbouleh, hummus, "mutabbal" (baba ghannouj), and stewed chickpeas, in addition to cheeses and deli meats. You could also pour yourself a bowl of cereal or muesli and top it with raw nuts, seeds or raisins.
|Levantine-inspired dishes at breakfast|
Or you could make a beeline for the hot dishes, packing in falafel balls, "balila" (boiled chickpeas), "foul mdammas" (boiled fava beans), scrambled eggs, sautéed mushrooms, sausage (both pork and halal), and potato wedges. Concoct your own Morning Mary using the kit and instructions next to the juices, or simply order a cup of joe to inject caffeine into your bloodstream.
|Fancy a Virgin Mary in the morning?|
How to bide the time between meals? There’s a majestic pool carved out for the gods on the lower level, beneath the fitness center. Swim a few laps or unwind in the Jacuzzi to shrug off the burdens of the work week. A sauna and steam room occupy both the men’s and women’s locker rooms, if heat and/or humidity are your cup of tea.
|What a lofty setting for a pool!|
The hotel is a two-minute walk from the seaboard, or corniche. An evening stroll or brisk morning walk as you take in the view of the deep blue sea provides physical and mental therapy. Walk to Zaitunay Bay, a strip of restaurants and cafes teeming with both locals and tourists, or trek in the opposite direction, toward the lighthouse and Pigeon’s Rock beyond it.
Both Hamra and Beirut Souks are walking distance from the hotel. There’s no doubt your location is central and easily accessible from every direction, a major plus if you plan to explore the city.
When conjuring up a getaway or escape, many folks prefer to leave the hustle and bustle of the city in favor of the mountains or countryside. But if you ask me, after a treacherous week of commuting in Beirut traffic, a swift drive into the city on a weekend, when the capital is fairly quiet, sounds compelling. At the very least, you have more time to exploit your home away from home and make the most of every minute.
Couple that with excellent hospitality, agreeable accommodations and decent cuisine as we witnessed at the Radisson Blu, and you’re well on your way to a successful staycation.