The provision of Bed & Breakfast is a rising trend in Lebanon. It offers tourists, or even locals, a glimpse of the country’s exceptional culinary, historical and social heritage.
Photos by: Natheer Halawani, Diaa Arfan, Rene Schulthoff, Leia Gorra and Paul Gorra,
One of the most unique things about Lebanon is its distinct human face. Being a tourist here doesn’t simply mean snapping a selfie near the ancient columns of Baalbeck or the Pigeon Rocks on Beirut’s Raouche, or on the hiking trails of the Cedars. It means making an honest effort to discover the soul of the country, its identity and history, and the traditions which the inhabitants practice. People are welcoming, friendly, hospitable, and always eager to share their lives and their HOMEs with others. A rising trend in this aspect of Lebanon is Bed & Breakfasts. These humble guest houses are often hosted and run by friends and families whose primary concern is catering to this country’s exceptional culinary, historical and social heritage. Their business models are anchored purely by the goal of providing visitors with genuine first-hand accounts of Lebanese lifestyles and culture, something which more prestigious hotels lack.
On the surface, the Phoenician, Ottoman, and Roman style boutique hotels scattered across Lebanon appear to be architectural jewels amid less awe-inspiring edifices. They whisper a story, a centuries-old secret. Some have distinct stony exteriors and colorful pastel-painted shutters, with flora and fauna shocking visitors with pleasurable sensuality. Others juxtapose the sight of vibrant yellow hues with the calming sound of waves crashing into the bases of rocks, as they overlook the majestic Mediterranean Sea.
Beirut and L’Hote Libanais
L’Hote Libanais is an independent organization founded on the premise of sharing a love for Lebanon and offering guests a “profoundly human experience.” Under its structure, L’Hote Libanais has 15 listed guest houses across the country. HOME Magazine spoke with the founder of this project, Orphee Haddad, to gain more perspective about the organization’s mission and the history behind these Bed & Breakfasts.
Haddad explained that while on a long trip to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, some 15 years ago, he had realized how essential it was to travel in a way that allowed him to meet the natives of the country. He decided to apply his personal discovery to Lebanon.
“At that time, it wasn’t possible in Lebanon to explore the country while staying in houses with locals,” he said. “Usually, people would just stay in hotels, have daytime tours around the country, take pictures, and then come back to Beirut. I thought Lebanon could offer more. So, we started knocking on doors and trying to convince people to perhaps host foreigners for a night or several nights in their houses. We did that in some remote villages of Lebanon, as well as in the very heart of Beirut. The idea is to ensure that the tourists have a general first-hand experience of what Lebanese hospitality is.”
Haddad added that such guest houses have been on the rise over the last three or four years. He expressed his belief that the central point of the types of Bed & Breakfasts that L’Hote Libanais offers, which are priced from $80 to around $200–250 per night, rests on the principle of substance over form.
“I think the idea of guest houses is much more than a trend,” Haddad noted. “In fact, I think that it’s a natural shift in the pace of people and the way they travel. They want to see smaller places, have more customized experiences, interact with nature and people, and understand the area in which they’re staying. It became a family of fine guest houses across Lebanon. The idea is to offer a varied experience at each place. We don’t select our members based on the price, but rather on the foundation that every place and every host has something different to tell about Lebanon.”
“I think that it’s a natural shift in the pace of people and the way they travel. They want to see smaller places, have more customized experiences, interact with nature and people, and understand the area in which they’re staying.”
He stressed that they want to protect their hosts, particularly in Beirut, and ensure that their HOMEs aren’t dwarfed by the mushrooming towers all over the capital. He deemed this “a sort of resistance in Beirut.”
“If you want a very personalized experience of the city, then you need to feel like someone is taking care of you, showing you around, telling you stories of the city. Our hosts in all these guest houses are like living memories of their own neighborhoods. The only way to appreciate these stories is to meet these people, share hopes with them over breakfast, and just have someone who knows what they’re talking about. It’s as if you’re coming to an unknown place, but you’re hosted by someone who treats you as if you’re an old friend living abroad.”
L’Hote Libanais also has an online magazine, a platform which Haddad said furthers the message of promoting Lebanon’s beauty and enchanting nature, not just through Bed & Breakfasts, but also through the telling of stories and enhancing familiarity with less well-known areas.
L’Hote Libanais has four Bed & Breakfasts in Beirut: Baffa House, Dar al Achrafieh, Zanzoun, and Difla. Each is an old Lebanese house, the most recent of which, Baffa House, was built in the 1940s, while the oldest, Dar al Achrafieh, was built almost 100 years ago in the late 1920s. The residents of these houses still live there, amid the charming décor, characteristic designs, and colorful rays of light from the city’s vicinities.
Samer, a filmmaker – who named this guest house in Beirut’s art district Mar Mikhael after his Italian grandfather Antonio Baffa – and Jessica, a graphic designer, were married on the terrace of this lovely building. Baffa House, which has been described as a “sanctuary,” is surrounded by art galleries and bookshops galore. Inside, warm shades of auburn and tangerine balance the cooler pigments of azure and cerulean. These ethereal colors of the bedrooms are assuaged by the fresh, earthy-hued furniture of the common rooms. Private bathrooms are provided for each of the four rooms, three double and one twin, accommodating eight people in all. Samer has hours of movies and dozens of images of old Lebanese houses that no longer exist, which he filmed before they were destroyed. This Bed & Breakfast is one of the many gateways to Beirut’s history.
Dar al Achrafieh
Jamil was born in Dar al Achrafieh and still lives there. It is possibly one of the last old houses standing in his neighborhood, built in 1929. It is located in the Tabris, Achrafieh neighborhood, near Gemmayze Street, museums, cathedrals, and Saint Joseph University, and the view from the balcony reveals hints of nearly a century of the city’s archives. Jamil has preserved the building’s painted ceilings, the marble flooring covered with Persian rugs, and the walls adorned with Phoenician art: carved metal panels, exquisite pottery, and intricately designed wooden tables. Two double rooms, one with subtle orange painted walls, the other with calming blue, accommodate a total of four people. Guests are entranced in the morning by the aroma of zaatar, pungent coffee or flower tea, fresh mint, traditional pastries, fragrant local cheeses and jams. Jamil himself is a human encyclopedia for Lebanon’s coasts and landscapes, as well as a vessel for its diversity and warmth.
Zeina, the namesake of Zanzoun, which translates from Arabic as “ornaments” or “beauty,” revels in the Levant and the Orient by marrying each detail perfectly together in her guest house. It consists of three double rooms with private bathrooms and elaborately garnished wardrobes. Walking down a stunning staircase, one can see a shaded garden and a courtyard with flowers and eucalyptus trees resting gracefully below.Calligraphy-laden curtains and desktops in a small library welcome visitors with a thirst for knowledge and mystery. Zanzoun evokes nostalgia for a lost charm of the past, with its elegant white archways and baroque pillars. Zeina brings the Orient to life, weaving legendary tales of magic. She has immortalized a dream in this Mar Mikhael guest house.
Mirna is an interior designer and an architect with a vision and a zeal for antiques. Her traditionally built Lebanese HOME, in a secluded Beirut alley, offers a rare respite from the urban hullabaloo. One double room and one single room, each with a private terrace and bathroom, lodge three visitors. Mirna is in every nook and cranny of Difla, as she pours her heart and soul into the place, with African and Asian inspired arrangements, autumnal motifs, lovely brown and grey textiles, and a warm atmosphere. Her special culinary touch delivers “a feast for the eyes as much as for your taste.” Crisp, golden croissants, labneh drizzled with olive oil, tomato and zaatar salad, kaak, fresh fruit, and juicy green and black olives greet guests when they rise. Difla aims to please the senses as well as the soul by presenting the savory and appetizing diet of the Lebanese and the iridescent ambience of its culture. The L’Hote Libanais family also has Bed & Breakfasts nestled in Tripoli, North Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, the Chouf Mountains, near Sidon, and in South Lebanon.
Tyre, South Lebanon
Asamina Boutique Hotel
Asamina, which isn’t a member of the L’Hote Libanais family, is located in the depths of a quiet lane with cobblestones on Saydat el Bihar Street in South Lebanon’s Tyre. It is a family-owned business that opened its doors in September 2016. The exterior of the guest house is exquisite, with colorful wooden awnings and small ornamental fences holding flowers along every window. Its doors are always open to visitors, but the busiest time is in the spring and summer months, between April and October. Managing Director Joy Ghanimeh told HOME magazine that the venue for the Bed & Breakfast was originally bought as a house to live in, but evolved into a lovely restaurant and bar.
“The building had been destroyed before my uncles Pierre, (who is the main logistics manager and chooses suppliers), Elias and Nicolas bought it,” she said. “It took around two years to renovate it, and we kept the stones that were already here. We just added our own special touch. My uncles are all carpenters and sculptors, experts at woodwork – Phoenician and historical stuff. All the furniture, doors, windows and tables in Asamina were handmade by my uncles, while my aunt did all the sewing of the curtains, cushions and bed runners. It’s a sort of hobby for them to collect European antiques. The stones were restored and we added one floor to the original building, so we somehow kept the structural integrity.”
Although there is no access directly to the beach from Asamina, it compensates for it with the incredible sea view from the second-floor terrace. Folding chairs for tanning or reading a good book under the sun and patio tables for quiet chatter and Turkish coffee are provided. “Tyre and Sour have the cleanest beaches in Lebanon and we are right next to the Roman ruins and the archaeological sites,” Ghanimeh continued.
“Ramadan is high season for us, while in winter we usually host more corporate individuals of all nationalities. We get Spanish, Italian, French and Colombian, some of whom come for business, others for tourism or with the Red Cross and other NGOs.” The name “Asamina” derives from a Fairouz song, as the owners of the boutique hotel adore the famous Lebanese musical icon. Each room – of which there are eight: three double rooms, two triple rooms, and three suites for larger families – is named after a different Fairouz song from her movies and theater plays. All amenities are included in the rooms, along with stunning antique items. The rooms’ names include Adla, Zanoubia, Nijmeh, Zad El Khair, Atr el Leil, Kronfol, Wardeh, and Loulou. Even the restaurant, Jouriyyeh, and the lobby, Silina, were named after Fairouz’s theater play “Hala wal Malek.” The spiral staircase leads guests into an array of captivating antiquity and culture at every turn.
Al Fanar Auberge & Restaurants
Down the street from the seaport and a gem at its core, Al Fanar can be recognized by its distinct yellow margins and its proximity to the Tyre Lighthouse.
This ancient residence of the old Salha family was converted into a restaurant, an inn, a pub, and a beach named Squame. The small, yet glorious, resort is near the souk, the city’s archeological excavations, the Roman Aqueduct, and the hippodrome, as well as Tyre Stadium. Each of its 12 double rooms, which at first sight are in modest Phoenician styles, open on to the most incredible view of the sea and the lighthouse, with the soothing sound of the waves curling into themselves just outside the latched windows. You can watch them for hours, taking in the simplicity of nature and man commingling. The rooms are arranged for small gatherings in the lounges and include a balcony that allows guests to watch the sunset and sunrise.
There is no end to Lebanon’s famous hospitality and generosity, its audacious disposition to impress its remarkable history upon tourists and family members living abroad. Houses and long-standing buildings across the country have embraced their roots and want to share them with others of a curious demeanor, those who are eager to learn about new places.