Dagmar Symes, a native of Germany, is the first woman to serve as GM of Phoenicia Hotel Beirut and Le Vendôme Beirut. In a candid interview, she talks about her journey to Lebanon and what made her fall in love with Beirut.
With 20 years of experience in the luxury and hospitality sectors under her belt, having worked for brands including BVLGARI, Louis Vuitton and Kempinski, it is no wonder that Dagmar Symes was intrigued by a career opportunity in a Middle Eastern country she knew nothing about. “I was curious and decided to investigate: I liked everything I read about Lebanon so I decided to take the plunge and move here in 2013.”
While local hoteliers were simply selling hotel rooms, Symes was eager to sell experiences to a destination she was getting to know herself. “Lebanon is often misunderstood: it’s not what you see on the television as there is so much more to it.”
Symes explains that it took a year to get used to the Lebanese culture and the “flexibility” of the community. “Once I understood, I started to really enjoy it. As a foreigner, the country is a mix of vacation and professionalism. I walk around with a child’s enthusiasm, which is how individuals like myself can remind the Lebanese just how beautiful their country is!”
It is evident that Symes has embraced the chaotic nature of life in Lebanon despite being an extremely disciplined individual. Born and raised in Germany, she admits to finding the local quirks rather amusing, such as the power outages and nonsensical traffic jams. “To me, these things are a charming part of what makes this country special, as crazy as that might sound. This is especially true when you come from a country like Germany where everything is so organized. When I go back now I find it rather boring!”
Though Symes has always lived some distance away from her place of employment, she currently resides where she works, at Beirut’s iconic Phoenicia Hotel. Surrounded by luxury, she confesses that she values simplicity, particularly in Lebanon. “While luxury for some may mean owning extravagant and expensive items, for me it is time spent enjoying nature. I am a people person and there is nothing I love more than being with others. The Lebanese have an outstanding sense of hospitality and generosity, for which I have great respect.”
Lebanon has clearly had a long-lasting effect on the softly-spoken German. In the five years that Symes has been in the country, she says she has come to realize that she is a local. “This is home to such an extent that I cannot imagine myself going back to Germany. What I like about this place is that with a little elbow grease, virtually anything is possible. Irrespective of how messy things get, people always find a way and I simply love that.”
I eat almost everything Lebanese, which is why I cannot name a favorite dish. I love how fresh and natural ingredients are here and how Lebanese food is shared leisurely.
Due to my positon as GM of Phoenicia Hotel Beirut, I have literally tried all the restaurants in town. Some of my favorite Lebanese spots are Babel (04 546546/04 542842), Em Sherif (01 206206/70 919119) and Mayrig (01 572121).
I often grab a drink and listen to good music at Joe Peña’s (01 449906/03 053093) because it’s a symbolic place for me. Bar du Port (71 444006) is another spot I frequent and somewhere I took an immediate liking to. If I feel like taking things to another level, I go to Music Hall (03 807555), Iris (03 090936) or Pacifico (01 204446). It all depends on the crowd I am with.
I enjoy spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at Starbucks in Zaitunay Bay. It’s a great place to people watch and their coffee hits the spot.
HIDDEN URBAN GEM
Every time I walk around Beirut, I discover a new gem to add to the list! The streets around Sursock are full of old Lebanese houses that have been beautifully preserved.
PLACE TO UNWIND
One special summer spot is Colonel Beer Microbrewery (03 743543) in Batroun. The place is simple, authentic and offers a little bit of everything in an unpretentious way.