Beirut: Hotel With Oriental Opulence, French Accent

Hotel Albergo's Oriental Suite

hide captionChandeliers, lace curtains and rose petals greet guests at the Oriental Suite, one of Hotel Albergo's 33 rooms. The boutique hotel is located on a historic street in Beirut's Christian Achrafiyeh district.

Ivan Watson/NPR
A sphinx guards the entrance to the Albergo.

hide captionA sphinx guards the entrance to the Albergo. Nearby, a collection of old books and photographs in the ground floor reading room offer guests a fascinating glimpse at Lebanese prosperity during the Ottoman Empire.

Ivan Watson/NPR

At the Hotel Albergo, guests are treated to the opulence and luxury of the Orient, but with a French accent.

An ancient stone sphinx stands sentry by the front door a few yards from a smiling Lebanese receptionist, who invariably greets you with a charming "Bonjour."

This boutique hotel is located on Rue Abdel Wahab el Inglizi, a historic Beirut street in the Christian Achrafiyeh district. Here, several grand, turn-of-the-century mansions have been tastefully restored, after the ravages of the Lebanese civil war.

When they launched the Albergo, the owners built five new stories on top of a small house that was first constructed in the 1920s. They then filled the new building with engravings and portraits of Ottoman sultans, French cavalry officers and Druze tribesmen, as well as faded photos of old Beirut and the villages of Mount Lebanon.

The Albergo's 33 suites are all decorated in different styles, ranging from Mediterranean to Oriental, colonial and European. Each is accented with Persian carpets, glass-beaded chandeliers, and Jacuzzis equipped with urns full of bath salts from the Dead Sea, as well as a welcome pitcher of lemonade sweetened with rose water.

The floors and even the wooden elevator are covered with terra-cotta and ceramic tiles recovered from old Lebanese houses, while the ceilings are all impossibly high, true to Lebanese architectural tradition.

My favorite part of the hotel is the restaurant on the ninth floor. You can sit at intricately inlaid Damascene tables or recline on divans in front of engraved copper trays, in a room filled with antique books and Ottoman lamps. It also boasts a view of the Mediterranean.

I recommend the Lebanese breakfast — fried eggs served in a skillet, creamy lebnah cheese, a hunk of honeycomb, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and salty olives with a basket full of warm baguettes — washed down with a frothy mug of cafe au lait.

Afterward, you can retire to the cozy den at one end of the restaurant, where leather armchairs and overstuffed couches invite visitors to sit and read the paper, or take an afternoon snooze.

In the summer, the terrace upstairs opens up. Here, you'll find a small pool overlooking Beirut's bullet-riddled concrete jungles and surrounding mountains. There is also a dining area of divans and armchairs surrounded by potted plants and candles, where you can enjoy a glass of chilled Kefraya wine and a tasty, grilled shrimp and asparagus salad.

Some of my colleagues grump about the Albergo's lack of a gym, Olympic-size pool or commanding sea view. They have a point. I probably didn't do my posture any good, sitting at my room's uncomfortable antique wooden desk and struggling to write scripts to explain tortuous Levantine politics to American audiences. Then again, this is not just another bland international business hotel. This is the kind of place where every time I walked through the halls, I seemed to discover a new engraving or book or glass lamp that captured my imagination.

The Albergo is, in my opinion, the classiest, most relaxing and beautiful place to stay in Beirut.

A standard suite at the Albergo starts at $255 a night. If you're not going to stay there, I recommend getting a break from the diesel-generator fumes, Hezbollah protest camps, and crowded bars and discos of Beirut with a quiet brunch, dinner or whisky at the Albergo's rooftop restaurant or terrace.

Hotel Albergo — 137, Abdel Wahab El Inglizi Street, Beirut, Lebanon. Telephone: +961 1 33 97 97. Fax: +961 1 33 99 99. E-mail: albergo@relaischateaux.com. Web site: http://www.albergobeirut.com.

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