Indagare contributor Elena Bowes spoke to her friend, London-based Dania Sakka, who originally hails form Beirut and returns to Lebanon frequently. Read about Dania’s tips on where to stay and eat in Beirut. Here, the stylish insider shares tips on what to see and do and where to shop.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Beirut has several lovely beaches with lots of people-watching (plastic surgery is very big here; Siblings don’t look alike because they use different plastic surgeons. It’s warm enough to sunbathe between May and October, and the best beaches just outside of Beirut are Orchid, Eddie Sands and Lazy B.
MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
Located in a beautifully restored building designed by Jean Nouvel, the Beirut National Museum (Damascus, Ain El Remeneh), houses approximately 100,000 archaeological artifacts, including ancient Phoenician objects. The American University of Beirut (961-1340-549) has a museum on its grounds which is the third-oldest in the Near East. The Silk Museum (961-594-0767) is also interesting as Lebanon’s involvement in the ancient silk route dates back over 2,000 years ago.
There’s also an interesting contemporary scene in Beirut; and many Middle Eastern artists have been collected by the Tate, New York’s MOMA and Charles Saatchi. Don’t miss the Beirut Art Center (Jisr El Wati, Bldg. 13, Street 97, Zone 66 Adlieh), which is showing contemporary artist Walid Sadek until April. Sfeir-Semler Gallery (961-156-6550) is run by a Lebanese woman who is married to a German. Andree Sfeir-Semler also has a gallery in Hamburg and she HAS transformed this Beirut arm into the Gagosian of the Middle East.
WHERE TO SHOP
TIP: Don’t haggle in Beirut. People generally just ask for the best possible price and shop owners might knock off up to 10 percent.
Beirut’s downtown area is completely restored with architecture both French and Oriental in style. All the top international brands from Dior to Cartier are there. If you go to Aishti (www.aishti.com), a smaller version of Barney’s, have lunch at People, the store’s rooftop restaurant. (Note: There’s a giant mosque in the downtown area. Mohamed Al Amin financed by former prime minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated and is buried next door. The mosque is surrounded by churches of all sects and other restored mosques).
For shopping that’s original and Lebanese, I like the funky artisanal shop Orient 499 (www.orient499.com), set in the Hammoud Building located behind the Holiday Inn. (The Holiday Inn is vacant, riddled with bullet holes and completely destroyed by the war, but it serves as a good identifying point for drivers.) The owners of Orient 499 aim to show the best textiles, ceramics, glassware and metalwork from the region.
I also like Saifi Village, another restored area with Mediterranean pitched roofs, arcaded windows and pastel-colored houses. Here, residential buildings mix with shops and restaurants, lifestyle and furniture shops. Balima Café is a nice lunch spot in Saifi Village, where a trendy young crowd spends hours chatting away.
For scenic day trips, there’s Beiteddine Palace, Byblos (which is on the way to Eddie Sands beach) and the temples at Baalbek. Skiers should check out the two hip resorts: Faraya Mzaar and Faqra, both about an hours’ drive from the city, with snow until about Easter.
Read Dania’s tips on where to stay and eat in Beirut.