Beirut is a city of contradictions. It has a rich French-influenced history, a proud culture, and a warm and affable people. Yet Beirut has suffered from great political turmoil over the preceding years and it shows—a strong military presence permeates the city and you cannot escape the sight of tanks and armed soldiers when wandering down the historic avenues, through mosques and churches, and around the myriad of outdoor cafés the city is known for.
But you must not let that stop you from visiting. I enjoyed Beirut tremendously and with its mix of culture and more liberal social mores, Lebanon is a unique country in the region and quite safe today. Beirut has many fine hotels, but I chose to stay at the Four Seasons for its location and because a friend of mine had recently stayed there and highly recommend it.
I arrived from Istanbul very late—at 2am—and was in no mood to bargain with a taxi driver to take me on the ~20 minute journey from the airport into town, so I took advantage of the Four Season’s pick-up service. Just outside immigration, a suited man with a placard bearing my name was waiting and I was whisked out to a roomy Mercedes Benz, bypassing the touts and stress that go along with it.
Since I was using the hotel’s pick-up service, the hotel knew I was arriving and a representative was waiting to greet me when I arrived. Despite the penchant for the Lebanese to keep late hours, the lobby was deserted, so perhaps that explains the more personal service. My passport and credit card were quickly copied, then I was led up to my room, a spacious room with a particularly nice bathroom.
It had been a long day already (I did not start the day in Istanbul, but instead in Cyprus) so I was ready for bed. I drew a bath, wanting soak for a bit after being on my feet all day traversing the divided capital of Nicosia. As I waited for the tub to fill up, I took note of the quality of the room, its fixtures, furniture, and appliances.
You’ll always get a nice looking room in a five-star hotel, but I’ve found that looks can be deceiving—stay tuned for a future report on that. Every lamp, painting, table, and chair in this room was nice. I can’t really think of a more apt adjective, to say everything from the L’Occitane soap to the tableside lamp, from the coffee maker, to the balcony chairs were top quality, and I appreciated that.
After my bath I put on a plush robe and did a bit of work before crashing into bed and sleeping soundly for the next six hours. I try not to set alarms on trips, but I did not want to sleep through breakfast so I requested a 10:00a wake-up call, which was delivered right on time.
I had been so tired the night before I had not noticed my room had a balcony—a nice one with a great view. Despite the beautiful view, there was an even better view. More on that in a moment.
Breakfast was another survey of quality, though in this case there was not a tradeoff between quality and quantity. A buffet of cold items, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, salads, and bakery goods was available as well as an assortment of cooked-to-order items on the menu.
I chose a couple of locally inspired dishes including eggs with minced lamb, veggies, and hummus with hot pita bread. It was a great breakfast, fueling me until the late afternoon.
With only one night at the hotel, I did not want to leave, but I had to explore Beirut a bit. I mentioned the military presence in my opening paragraph, but take a look at the classical architecture, the juxtaposition of Christianity and Islam, the shopping and cafés, and the walkability of the city. I was out for about four hours and I saw quite a bit before returning to the Four Seasons.
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque
Memorial to assaisnated Prime Minster Rafic Hariri (whose death lead to the Cedar Revolution)
Four Seasons Hotel Exterior
The hotel has a pool on the roof and I wanted to swim. I did not expect to encounter what instantly became my favorite part of the hotel—sweeping views of the city and a sense of total tranquility on bustling Sunday afternoon. I spent the next couple hours lounging on the roof, swimming, reading, and taking in the views.
But my time in Beirut was drawing to a close. I had an evening flight back to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and as the sun began to set, I returned to my room, gathered my belongings and headed downstairs. My car was waiting, and I was soon whisked to the airport.
A note on the service. With the exception of one rather rude security guard who questioned me about taking pictures (I can understand I looked like a tourist rather than a hotel guest…), the staff was great. Highly polished, I was always addressed by last name—and I would have expected nothing less from a $400/night Four Seasons. But I have to give the hotel staff credit for learning names. I don’t know how they learn guest names, but everyone seemed to know mine by the time I left.
Beirut has emerged as a go-to city in the Middle East and I loved my brief visit there. The Four Seasons was a treat and I recommend it. You must balance the tradeoff between an expensive hotel and the luxuries it provides with budget properties that abound, but this was truly a special splurge for me. The room, the breakfast, and the rooftop pool all made the price tag very worthwhile to me.