Where to Stay/cation In Lebanon: A Guide For the Local, Expat and Tourist

Perhaps now more than ever, the notion of a staycation has become relevant and essential. With Lebanon mired in deep economic and financial strife, exacerbated only by the real threat of the coronavirus pandemic plaguing the world, travel and tourism must be completely reimagined.

Since my move to Lebanon in 2011, I spent every single summer within its borders. Sure, our perch on the Mediterranean is a stone’s throw from Cyprus and no more than four hours by plane to the European mainland. But who in their right mind would ditch the abundant sunshine, soothing blue sea, majestic mountains, and beautifully balanced cuisine that Lebanon boasts? I certainly never felt that inclination.

But it’s not quite a vacation unless you leave your house to seek shelter elsewhere and transform scenery. And that’s what we would do on occasion, checking in to hotels big and small, in the capital or far from it, by the sea or tucked away in the mountains. Each lodging with its own charm, character, and spirit would in turn revive ours, lending a cathartic break from the day-to-day hustle.

I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, and there is no doubt that our country’s hospitality standards set the bar high. And if there were ever a time to support our local establishments, it is now. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite properties in Lebanon and invite you to bookmark this guide. Whether you’re looking for a secluded stay with sweeping views of Mount Lebanon, or you’d prefer to cozy up by the sea and roam civilization’s oldest city; whether you’re after a five-star luxury affair with unmatched dining, or you fancy a modest, no-frills sojourn housed near ancient Roman relics, you’ll find it all here – in this blog post, of course, but namely within our magnificent Lebanese frontiers.

Self-described as a “modern classic for Beirut,” Gordon Campbell’s Le Gray Hotel takes its throne in the historic downtown district. Many pass by its edifice, failing to realize what lies within. Straddling the now-shuttered Virgin Megastore on one side and Annahar on the other, the five-star property opened its doors in 2010 and is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.

On several occasions, I’ve brushed past the likes of English pop artist John Newman and Swedish singer-songwriter John Martin staying at Le Gray. These prominent artists embody what Le Gray might be in the personified state: artistic, hip, and ultra-modern. And just as they are up-and-coming artists with a brilliant future before them, Le Gray too carries oodles of potential at becoming Beirut’s bastion of smart hospitality.

Hardly stuffy and far from being pretentious, this is your destination for topnotch dining and opulent overnight stays in a central albeit cozy setting.

Read more here.

The grand atrium spirals upward in a sweeping fashion at Le Gray

The Radisson Blu Martinez in Ain Mreisseh, tucked along a quiet street behind Phoenicia, is no humble hotel. Boasting 185 rooms and suites with free turbo-speed Wi-Fi throughout the property, the upscale international chain has an enviable indoor pool, an extensive breakfast buffet, and genuinely dedicated staff who don’t stare down at you.

Lounging in the hotel lobby, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transplanted abroad. Rigorous standards in hospitality and hygiene ensure that you “feel the difference,” as their tagline attests. Look forward to in-suite comfort, warm hospitality, and delicious international fare.

Read more here and here.

Olivos Restaurant at the Radisson Blu Martinez

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

As city dwellers, we rarely think of escaping to the city. I often joked that downtown Beirut was my second home, since I spent nearly as much (and occasionally more) time there as I did 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.

Read more here.

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

Driving down Monot, it's hard to imagine that a decade ago, this very street was the nightlife bastion of Beirut. Littered with bars, restaurants, and night clubs, the unidirectional cobblestone lane would teem with revelers shuffling from one outlet to the next, in search of nightlife nirvana.

Today, however, Monot is a rather quiet quartier, host to a wine cellar, a gluten-free bakery, an organic eatery, and at its very edge, Beirut’s premier boutique hotel. Towering formidably over Saifi Village with a panoramic vista of Beirut’s downtown and port, O Monot is hardly six years old but has already snatched distinction as a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Walking past the glass sliding doors into a smart, divan-decked lobby, the immediate impression that took shape in my head was how scrupulously relaxed the hotel is, totally detached from its environs. The length-wise lobby terminates in a den doubling as a bar, where wood-and-brass staggered bookshelves house a volume of antiquated Encyclopedia Britannica and artsy knickknacks from every corner of the globe.

Read more here.

The O Monot rooftop, which towers high in the sky, neck to neck with Achrafieh's apartment buildings

Beit Mery has always held a certain spell over me. Straddling residential Ain Saadeh and summertime hotspot Broumana, this charming village has arguably the most breathtaking vantage points of Beirut, the Mediterranean, and everything in between.

Most recognize it as the setting of Al Bustan, a hotel lush with sprawling gardens constructed over half a century ago by entrepreneur and statesman Emile Bustani. Others have come to identify the town with its ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins nestled below Deir Al Kalaa, or Couvent Saint Jean, an Antonine Maronite monastery that doubles as a majestic wedding venue.

But there’s far more to Beit Mery than meets the eye: The parallel streets that narrow to the width of a car despite remaining two-way. The yellow-stone buildings that have withstood the inclement harshness of many a winter. The crisp, cool air in the early morning and late evening on a warm summer’s day. And, as I recently came to unearth, an endearing establishment named Hotel Wakim perched centrally on the Beit Mery roundabout yet so easily overlooked by passersby.

Read more here.

The lobby (more like a den!) at Hotel Wakim

Located squarely at the port of Byblos, the five-star boutique property perches right on the Mediterranean and boasts an expansive seaside cove. Therein sit Sophia Bay, a zen for sunbathers and seafarers, and Al Marsa café. “Charming” is the best adjective to describe the hotel, from the cream-colored, chandelier-decked lobby with local artwork on display, to the den-like breakfast buffet site turned evening pizzeria, Café Tournesol. 

Present moments with past precious pieces adorn the walls to form a heritage collection. Inside suites, discover hand-woven decorative lace mounted on walls, and stones from the sea serving as closet door handles. Throughout the property, cherish silk-woven carpets, antique furniture, vintage books and a restored Mediterranean Byzantine mosaic picturing birds native to Byblos.

Spend a day at Byblos Sur Mer, guest to its rustic hospitality, and you’ll lose all notion of time.

Read more here.

View from the junior suite balcony at Byblos Sur Mer

Though it figures as the second largest city in the country and famously houses Kasr el Helo of A.R. Hallab, these days Tripoli rarely comes to mind as a leisure destination. Life is calm in these parts, veering on the mystical. It’s like taking a trip back in time to the previous century, with vendors and souk merchants along every street corner, rock-bottom prices, and a lulling pace. Here the air is far cleaner than in the capital, and folks still make their livelihoods from catching fish, crafting olive-oil soap, churning salep ice cream, or baking wheat bran pita pockets. It’s as if history was carefully preserved and continues to play out dutifully.

Via Mina is one telling example.

You could easily stroll by without it drawing your notice. A three-level edifice with whitewashed walls, tiffany blue shutters, and a tranquil garden out front adorned with wooden tables and chairs combine to form your first impression. The front door, half ajar, creates a homey feel of welcome.

Read more here.

Entrance to Via Mina

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