I’ve always wanted to visit Beirut, but somehow that trip got lost between 20 years of cracks: war, fear of being kidnapped and too many life events that got in the way of making it happen. Finally, I ran out of excuses.
My husband, Leonel Piraino, and I decided to stay at the Albergo, a charming boutique hotel located in the Old City. It has a cool, oriental vibe and an incredible rooftop terrace for dinner and drinks. Our close friend Nabil Nahas, one of Lebanon’s top painters, was our host and guide.
This story first appeared in the September 24, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
We had a great day driving to Byblos and walking among the ruins. There were no ropes and only a few guards; so tempting to take home a cornice.…Then we had a delicious lunch at Pepe’s at the port. Order the local grilled gambas and a small bottle of Raki — but be sure to water it down.
We also loved Balthus for lunch. Great European and Lebanese menu and, of course, valet parking — it is omnipresent in Beirut, even at McDonald’s!
We did a bit of shopping at the recently restored Beirut Central district. For the home, I love Liwan at 56 Madrid Street, which has the best bath towels and kurtas. Nada Debs has the coolest contemporary Middle Eastern furniture. On the same street, we visited Maqam, Nabil’s gallery, where I bought a drawing for Leo’s birthday. Last stop was antiquities dealer Naji Asfar’s gallery. He has impeccable offerings, but it’s hard to export priceless artworks.
Nabil also took us to two amazing dinner parties. One was in a large apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, filled with Alex Katz portraits and a Damien Hirst canvas. The hosts were as young, beautiful and glamorous as any of the famous art on their walls. I discussed politics with some of the guests and I learned a great deal from their perspective.
The second dinner was at Naji Asfar’s elegant home in the mountains above Beirut. His house is contemporary and the perfect foil for his amazing collection of Roman statuary, African stools, micro mosaic panels and countless antiquities.
The garden is particularly beautiful, with several 100-year-old olive trees. There were sofas covered with woven rugs and tapestries, and tall columns of wind machines on perfectly set timers. And the wonderful feast. We had the best time and didn’t want to leave.