Here comes the jetty set
There aren't many downtown hotels in the world where you can walk straight into the foyer after mooring your private yacht on the doorstep, but the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut is one of them.
After years of civil war and political turmoil, Lebanon side-stepped this year's Arab Spring, which spread across the Middle East like wildfire, and its capital is now a Mediterranean magnet for the region's VIPs and hedonistic jet setters. Nowhere is this more evident than at the five-star Four Seasons, the focal point of downtown life. Situated in front of the marina, it is circled by a flotilla of yachts and motorboats.
Entering the lobby, the signature welcome from the Four Seasons' roster of concierges and doormen isn't the first thing that strikes you; it's the blissful air conditioning. Next to the reception are The Boulevard, a gold and black Oriental-style meeting place where Viennese coffees and cakes are served, and a series of dimly lighted, retrofitted lifts. These lead to 230 rooms and 60 suites spread over 24 floors, making the Four Seasons the highest inhabitable tower in the city.
With interior design by Pierre-Yves Rochon, the rooms are elegant and super-comfortable. Flourishes such as suede-upholstered headboards, elliptical-shaped desks, marble bathrooms and deep-soaking tubs underline the fact that this is no ordinary five-star hotel. Nearly all rooms look out across the dazzling Zaitunay Bay marina below - with floor-to-ceiling windows and vertiginous balconies - where, from the higher floors at least, the boats look like bobbing champagne corks.
The suites are where the real money is, though. The Royal, Diplomatic, Premier and Residential suites offer unrefined luxury that isn't replicated elsewhere in the city. The five-room, 106 square metre Premier Suite is decorated in rich green tones and fitted with vintage armchairs, an executive desk with stationery, a widescreen television, an entertainment console, an iPod docking station, a double walk-in wardrobe, a king-size bed and a double private terrace. Its ensuite dining room and sofa lounge can even accommodate private dinner parties.
The centrepiece of the hotel, however, is a few more floors up. On the open-air 26th floor, under the shade of its white-washed sail-capped tower, is a swimming pool with a 360-degree view of the city and mountains. Next to this is a sophisticated chill-out area with see-and-be-seen four-poster beds, draped in white linen: it's the perfect antidote to the balmy Mediterranean climate.
If you need any more proof of this scene-stealing vantage, then come back at dusk and you'll find yourself in the company of the city's rich and famous, as they soak up vodka cocktails as the sun sets. Before it turns into an ambient club around 10pm, the waiters serve a variety of gourmet Asian-inspired tapas, including steamed prawn dumplings, chicken satay sticks and Thai beef salads. When the lights dim, in the distance you can see the city's most famous rooftop nightclub, SkyBar, at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Centre. If you can swing a table reservation, it really shouldn't be missed.
A morning visit to the signature spa with its seven treatment rooms and private whirlpool is time well spent; then a spot of shopping might be in order. The hotel is within walking distance of the city's shopping district, which can be quite an experience. The Beirut Souks offer more than 200 shops - including every fashion label under the sun - and even has its own dedicated jewellery souk. It is a cross between Los Angeles' Rodeo Drive and London's Bond Street, but with added Levant style. A short stroll away is the tourism heart of the city - Martyrs' Square and the restored Ottoman-style Hamidiyyeh Clock Tower, which looms over the parliament.
Like the clock tower, the Four Seasons has become emblematic of the new Lebanon: one that is not afraid to show some swagger, build on the past and invest in having a good time. Beirut is striding into the future and, with the Four Seasons helping set the pace, the locals and those lucky enough to have visited wouldn't change modern Beirut for the world. And long may that continue.
Moor the merrier
Four Seasons Hotel Beirut
1418 Professor Wafic Sinno Avenue, Minet El Hosn, Beirut
Standard rates from US$375 (US$455 including breakfast) for two adults
Flights to Beirut with Qatar Airways via Doha or with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul (or with Cathay Pacific and its code-sharing partner Etihad Airways via Singapore and Abu Dhabi)