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July 20, 2009

Beirut 2.0

Guess who’s bringing luxury back to the Paris of the Middle East?

If you took in the Mediterranean and Mount Lebanon from the panoramic rooftop bar of Beirut’s Le Gray hotel, you could be forgiven for forgetting the capital’s recent unrest. And if you ignored the occasional mortar hole — and warnings from the U.S. State Department following fierce battles between various militants — you could also be forgiven for declaring Beirut as this year’s hottest destination.

Both the New York Times and Lonely Planet have put the Lebanese hotspot on its go-to places for 2009, and for good reason: with two billion dollars invested in a dozen new hotel properties, an all-time projected record of visitors this summer, an influx of stylish retailers and restaurateurs, and a sleek new art center, the erstwhile “Paris of the East” is making a mighty comeback.

Four Seasons Beirut is set to open later this year as a modern high-rise on the Corniche, the city’s fabled waterfront boulevard. (The hotel claims the city’s highest skybar and has already garnered an award for its earthquake-ready design.) And three years down the line, Kempinski will also enter the fray when it opens the Al Abadiyah Hills hotel and residences with 12 private villas, most with their own private gardens and swimming pools.

But perhaps no addition is as hotly anticipated as Gordon Campbell Gray’s latest venture. The British hotelier behind London’s One Aldwych and Antigua’s Carlisle Bay is set to soft-open Le Gray late August (after which he plans to unveil properties in Morocco and Scotland). The five-story, Kevin Dash-designed building has already garnered acclaim, not to mention Leading Hotels’ preemptive badge of honor.

Set in a destroyed-and-rebuilt section of Beirut’s Solidere neighborhood, the 87-room property neighbors the Garden of Forgiveness, a soon-to-be-finished urban sanctuary that’s been the site of 15 different civilizations, and features the archaeological ruins of multiple faiths. In case you needed a reminder of Lebanon’s rich and troubled past.

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