Shopping, dining and spas aplenty in the capital of Lebanon
Time Out Bahrain staff
Beirut has a well-deserved reputation for being a party town, and there’s no denying that Lebanon’s guys and girls know how to paint the town red – the city’s nightlife starts late in the evening and continues until the early hours. Yet Beirut can offer a long weekend of so much more than just clubs and bars. There’s more to life than partying all night and feeling rough the next day; if you think Beirut is all about the nightlife, think again.
Lebanon’s capital is only three hours from Dubai and, with budget flights running with alarming frequency, if you’ve never been, there really is no excuse. Grab a few friends and head over for a spot of retail therapy and pampering. After all, Dubai may have the malls, but Beirut has the boutiques.
Where to shop
Beirut is the middle of a building boom and the area now known as Downtown has benefited over the past five years, creating an airy city centre that is pedestrianised and pretty. Arabic architecture mixes with Mediterranean-style pavement cafés, resulting in a sand-coloured space that’s both relaxing and inviting.
Leaving Dubai’s traditional A/C shopping behind, head to the Beirut Souks, where plenty of top-end designers have taken up residence; here you’ll find flagship stores from Missoni and a branch of Dubai’s very own Boutique 1. In newcomer store Vicky’s, check out handbags from Articles de Paris and clothes from Lili la Tigresse.
For clothing and accessories that are a little more quirky, head to Saifi Village, just off the top end of the central Martyrs’ Square (which could be mistaken for an old car park at the moment). A new development of winding streets and independent boutiques and art galleries, Saifi Village is a treasure trove of chic little places that make window shopping a treat. Although it’s another area of fairly new renovation, the quiet streets and plazas have a distinctly European feel. Lime is a clothing boutique that stocks designers from London as well as Lebanon, while Cream is the place to pick a gold, lip-shaped clutch bag or some vintage Chanel sunnies. There are also plenty of pavement cafés dotted about where you can rest your weary credit cards.
Where to eat
Downtown is full of the kind of chain restaurants that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dubai mall, but for something a bit more interesting, head over to Gemmayze and try Olio, an Italian restaurant offering a speciality range of olive oils and mouthwatering desserts. Gemmayze is a short walk from Saifa Village: for drinking spots, go back onto Martyrs’ Square and dive down the street that runs to the right of Paul Café. Despite appearances, some of the city’s best bars and restaurants can be found in this warren of streets. These include Kashmeer, a hip lounge bar that plays vinyl and cool mixes, headed by the guys behind the legendary Basement club.
If you find yourself in Achrafieh for a night out, head to the Shah Lounge for delicious Moroccan food with an international flavour. Also in Achrafieh, L’Atelier du Chocolat, is a superb venue for afternoon tea and a couple of decadent chocolates. And, of course, while you’re in town and need Lebanese treats, head to hip Café Blanc in the new ABC Mall, also in Achrafieh.
For a meal with a view before a night out try, Indigo on the Roof at new boutique hotel Le Gray (also on Martyrs’ Square). This al-fresco rooftop eatery boasts some amazing city skyline views, and the food’s not bad either.
Down bustling Monot Street in Gemmayze you’ll find plenty of clubbers filling up on delicious mezze, tapas and bar snacks at various indie bars before hitting the clubs at about 1am. If you spot a restaurant during the day that you fancy trying later on, it’s best to book a table to avoid disappointment. For the ultimate view of Beirut, head to the Four Seasons’ rooftop club, Club26 – at 119 metres above sea level, you can take in the city’s legendary beach and snow-topped mountain view, all while sitting in the Middle East’s highest swimming pool.
Where to relax
After all that hard work shopping, eating and taking in the best of the city, why not make time for a spot of Lebanese luxury pampering? Le Gray’s spa is already a hotspot among fashion fans, who come in for the Pure Indulgence signature treatment. While you’re there, take a dip in the purple-tiled infinity pool, which juts out six floors up, leaving you swimming over the edge of the hotel.
Old stalwart the InterContinental Phoenica is home to a lot of ladies who lunch (and spa). Its remit goes beyond normal beauty treatments – how about an LPG non-invasive liposuction session or a fake tan while you’re away? A weekend in here and you could return home a completely different woman.
Finally, no trip to Beirut is complete without a stroll along the Corniche. Start outside the Four Seasons, opposite a new marina development, and head left – you can walk the length of the city and watch the architecture and districts ebb and flow between cultures, while the city’s elderly residents bask on the rocks by the lighthouse in all their leathery-skinned glory. You can walk for up to 7km, to a collection of cliffs known as Pigeon Rocks. Sit and sup a well-earned coffee before grabbing a cab back over to Downtown, where you began.
Need to know
Getting there Gulf Air has daily direct flights from Manama, from BD136 return (www.gulfair.com). Bahrain Air also flies daily, from BD105 return (www.bahrainair.net)
Where to stay If you want a touch of European chic, book a room at Le Gray, a new boutique hotel that opened a couple of years ago. Suites are kitted out with every mod con imaginable and there are exclusive products in the bathrooms. From Dhs1,270 per room per night, including breakfast. www.campbellgrayhotels.com
If you’re on a tighter budget, try the Radisson Blu Martinez near the Corniche, which offers comfortable double rooms with mod cons from Dhs643 per night. www.radissonblu.com/hotel-beirut
What to see If you’re feeling cultural, Beirut’s museums are a must. The National Museum of Beirut charts the history of Lebanon as far back as 3,200 BC, and has more than 1,000 artefacts on display. Lebanon and Beirut are some of the oldest continually inhabited areas of the world and the museum is a treasure trove for history buffs.
Although a lot newer, take a trip to see the modern Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, in Martyrs’ Square – it’s a great example of Beirut’s emerging history.
For natural attractions, head to Pigeons’ Rock, a distinctive rock formation off of the coastline in the Raouché area. It makes for a picturesque photo opportunity.
History and geography
• Beirut has been inhabited since the 15th century BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. • The city points west into the Mediterranean. Along with Byblos further up the coast, it was a major trading port for hundreds of years. • Baalbek to the east features the largest and most well preserved Roman temples ever built. It was made a World Heritage Site in 1986 and can be considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.