Make it a two-centre trip with a couple of nights in hedonistic party city Beirut (pictured left), the city-on-the-sea, before heading to a beach hotel in Byblos to soak up its ancient charms.
STAY: Uber-chic and sumptuous is Le Gray hotel in Beirut’s central district, right on Martyr’s Square (www.legray.com). One of the Leading Hotels of the World, it’s famous for its rooftop sundeck and infinity pool and its luxurious rooms and suites with REN toiletries (which got the Sugahfix seal of approval before we’d even checked in). Down by the sea on the corniche is the five-star Movenpick Hotel & Resort Beirut, voted Lebanon’s Leading Resort, with its Olympic size outdoor pool and numerous bars and restaurants. It’s in Beirut’s downtown area, located directly on the Med, and is just an hour’s drive from the nearest ski resorts. Pick a resort hotel in Byblos for chill-out time after experiencing the thrills of Beirut.
SHOP: You’ll find all the big designer names in Beirut Central District, close to Le Gray, including Valentino, Tiffany and Co. Paul Smith, Hermes and Chanel. There’s also a thriving local-designer scene, with quaint boutiques selling clothes by the best of the country’s homegrown names, such as Fadi Hamze and Tamara Bijjani. The ABC mall makes shopping easy, with its high street names including Zara, Converse and Nine West. There’s even a thriving vintage scene – Depot-Vente, Beirut Vintage Bazaar (www.beirutvintagebazaar.com) and Vintage Love (www.vintagelovebeirut.com) are the places to check out.
SEE: With 300 sunny days a year, Lebanon is an all-year-round destination where you can ski in the morning and be swimming in the Med by the afternoon. The ancient ruins of Baalbek, one of the world’s oldest cities, in east Lebanon, are truly amazing and it is one of the most important Roman sites in the Middle East – a day tour booked from your hotel will get you there.
The Jeita Grotto, north of Beirut, boasts some of the world’s most impressive stalactites and stalagmites in enormous caves, and you can end your visit on an atmospheric boat tour of the lower grotto.
In Byblos, visit the Ottoman souk located in the old city or walk down the renovated Medieval souk with its souvenir shopping opportunities. A day tour of Beirut will take in sites with history spanning 5000 years, from ancient Byzantine ruins to landmarks from the civil war which ended in 1990. All hostilities are long over and you’ll see mosques next door to churches in this democratic state where strict Muslim dress, including veils on women, are the rare exception rather than the rule.
EAT: You’ll start each traditional Lebanese meal with the mouth-watering Mezza, a selection of appetisers including hummus, moutabal, cheeses, tabbouleh, salad and olives. Just be careful you leave some space for the main course too – usually grilled meats or fish – as it’s easy to over-indulge on the starters. The rooftop restaurant in Le Gray, Indigo on the Roof, offers fantastic views of the city. End each meal with a Kahwa, a strong black coffee.
DRINK: There are no restrictions on alcohol in Lebanon, unlike in other Middle East countries, and mini skirts teamed with Louboutins are the order of the day when it comes to dress codes in Beirut’s bars and clubs. Square, on the rooftop terrace of the Movenpick (pictured top) only opened in May but it’s already the trendiest chill-out lounge in Beirut thanks to its sea-views. In fact, rooftop bars are a speciality of Beirut, with others including Fly, on top of the Virgin Megastore building in the central district. The Buddha Bar has been a staple of Beirut nightlife since 2004, but it gets a run for its money from the R&B-friendly White House and the rooftop SkyBar, voted best bar in the world in 2008.
DO: Visit a winery. Lebanon is becoming famous for its wide variety of high-quality wines. Its internationally-known wineries (that also export to the UK and Ireland) include Chateau Ksara, in the Bakaa region, and the Chateau Musar winery in Ghazir on a hill overlooking the Meditteranean Sea, just 15 miles north of Beirut.
Read Sugahfix Trends Editor Andrea’s new travel, drink and food blog at theworldinaglass.com.