Every city has its posh neighborhoods. New York’s include the Upper East Side, Soho and Gramercy Park. London’s are Kensington, Chelsea and Knightsbridge. And Paris’s most posh spots include districts 16, 7 and 8.
The Paris of the Middle East is no exception. Beirut’s fanciest neighborhoods include Saifi Village, Sursock and Ain Mreisseh.
Experts say the desirability level of particular neighborhoods in Lebanon’s capital depend on a variety of factors. “Globally, the closer you are to the center, the more posh the neighborhood,” said real-estate developer Marc Geara. “And for the Corniche, it’s obviously the views next to the sea.”
But waterfront views aren’t the only criteria for hot real estate. “Desirability depends on the presence of new shops and malls, on availability, and also on how open the social system is,” said Dr. Rachid Chamoun, head of the Department of Urban Planning at the Lebanese American University.
Social status and the educational level of families living in particular areas also affect desirability, whether it’s the children of aristocratic families or parliament members walking neighborhood streets.
The Solidere area of downtown Beirut boasts newly-constructed residential and commercial spaces amid a spread of high-end boutiques and restaurants. The result is that apartments in neighborhoods like Saifi Village, in the heart of downtown, are so upscale that they are unaffordable for almost everyone.
The area was recreated by construction company Solidere following its destruction during the 1975-1990 civil war. The French-colonial complex, with its winding cobblestone streets, makes for a picturesque pastel–colored enclave.
Other areas are posh because of their history. Tabaris, for example, is one of the few neighborhoods still fairly full, relatively speaking, of standing relics of Beirut’s past. According to Geara, Tabaris was a central neighborhood of old Beirut. Three- and four-storey homes built during the Ottoman and French mandate eras line quiet streets dotted with bakeries and boutiques. The neighborhood of Gemmayzeh, one of the hotspots for Beirut nightlife, is considered posh for the same reason.
The charm of these neighborhoods, unique among the towering skyscrapers in other parts of Beirut, comes at a high price. A 490-square-meter home in Tabaris sold for $4 million in June of this year at $8,250 per square meter, according to a real-estate index published in The Monthly.
More than any other area in Beirut, however, Sursock may be most notable for its charm and history. The Achrafieh neighborhood is named after the aristocratic family that made their money in manufacturing and agriculture. Having lived in Beirut since the early 1700s, the Sursocks built a handful of now-historic palatial homes surrounded by beautiful gardens. They give the area a romantic feel rare within the confines of concrete-crusted Beirut.
Many of the homes in this area have been owned by the Sursocks and other wealthy families for decades. There is limited to no availability for buyers, making the neighborhood essentially exclusive, Chamoun said.
But not all desirable neighborhoods have an aristocratic past. Some areas have achieved posh status in recent years with the help of politicians. “Desirability has to do with the people who have been living there, often prime ministers, presidents or parliament members,” Chamoun said. These neighborhoods include Qoreitem, home to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Clemenceau, stomping ground for Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
One 250-square-meter estate in Qoreitem sold for $1.35 million in June 2010 at $5,400 per square meter, according to The Monthly.
Views of the sea make neighborhoods like Raouche and Ain Mreisseh incredibly desirable, with the latter boasting the highest real-estate prices per square meter in the country, according to Chamoun. Following the vertical real-estate boom of the last two decades, the waterfront promenade running along the perimeter of Ras Beirut is now lined with towering skyscrapers that cut off views for residents in shorter, older homes that have existed since the early- to mid-1900s.
Whether a buyer wants to live in a historic area, or one populated with the aristocratic and powerful, living in one of Beirut’s fanciest neighborhoods comes at a high price.