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French Version

Laguava - an oasis of peace and calm in Lebanon

Luxury resort attracts visitors from around the world

Finding myself with an urge to get away from the tension in Beirut recently but without the deep pockets or time to relocate to a remote guesthouse on some Thai island, I responded to billboard ads on the southern highway offering me a taste of escape and checked myself into the Lebanese beach resort of Laguava.

To my surprise, dreams of that fabled Thai island paradise disappeared along with my cynicism toward the idea of a luxury island-style resort in Lebanon, from the moment I woke up Sunday morning on the top deck of one of 10 beautiful bungalows.

It wasn't the sunlight dappled by the leaves of the lush palms outside that roused me but the strong, sweet and musky smell of ripe guavas. As its name suggests the resort is built right in the middle of an old guava plantation, and combined with the feel of rich wood, thatch and stone that marks the high standard of the bungalows, the certainty that I was in Lebanon became increasingly uncertain.

Which is of course exactly the aim according to Laguava's general manager Walid Maalouf.

"What we wanted to create was an escape from the pressures of the city life but a place not miles away across oceans by air," Maalouf explained.

"Our biggest compliment came from a traveler who usually spends time in Indonesia at high end resorts who said that now he merely has to drive 20 minutes from Beirut to get the same thing in Lebanon."

Located on the small stretch of coast between Beirut and Sidon known as Rmeileh, the hotel section of Laguava consists of 10 bungalows so far, with 20 luxury double rooms, one on each floor. The bungalows are all 90 square meters in size spread over the independent floors, the interiors modern in design but far eastern in flavor, all soft whites and reds and dark wood. Best yet, each room has its own Jacuzzi inside and those directly on the sea front feature open air Jacuzzis in the garden.

It is a beautiful spot. Though slightly smaller the top deck rooms with the high wood-beamed ceilings and large balconies are probably a better run for your money. I stayed in one called Lila on the second tier of huts directly behind the premium ones with direct sea views. With lush garden all around and just a short stroll down to the one-kilometer long stretch of sandy beach, getting away from it all is Laguava's aim. And it succeeds as long as you stay in the bungalow section.

Once out in the main part of the resort, which is open to the public daily during the summer months, the families and the sun worshippers come out in full force, filling the restaurants and chaises longues, and waving at each other across the landscaped pool. With two restaurants and a beach bar section featuring loud music on weekend afternoons the feel is more of sanitized, packaged fun especially with the burly, uniformed security guards dotted around the place - for my protection I was told, but from what I had no idea.

Still such noisy reservations and minor nuisances aside, Laguava works and works well. And September and October up to mid-November are the perfect months to book an escape to the resort. The weather is cooler and the public section closes to day visitors as the official summer season is over. And if you truly want peace and quiet you can have it, the bungalows spaced far enough apart to feel secluded from other guests.

With phones and TVs in all the rooms you can choose to stay connected with the world if you so wish, and full room service and dining is available 24 hours.

Dining outside on the grass on fresh grilled fish and local wine, the feel of being in a pristine natural setting is all encompassing. And talking to the staff it seems I wasn't the only one to think so. This summer the bungalows have been filled with a few Saudi princes, a Kuwaiti sheikha, some Lebanese banking chiefs as well as, dare it be said, local pop starlet Haifa Wehbe herself - all keeping a low profile. But don't let that put you off. Even a number of European tourists checked in to Laguava, a mark of the resort's success in just it's first year.

Later this year, according to Maalouf, new cascading swimming pools will be constructed, as well as a luxury spa and new larger bungalows to accommodate families with a look to the future (currently the bungalows are suitable mainly for couples). Entertainment programs for nights on the sands are also planned.

Still if indeed it's escape you're looking for Laguava provides it. Sunday evening as the sun sets is blissful and calm. As all thoughts of Beirut bombs in Achrafieh vanished from mind, only the sound of the Mediterranean surf whipping up a thick spray was left, blurring the edge of the coast up and down the beach until it disappeared into mist.

For more info on Laguava Resort and its Indian Summer rates for October and November, ranging from $165 - $300 (including breakfast and VAT) call +961 7 990101

Beirut 26-09-2005
Ramsay Short
The Daily Star

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