First Published: 2017-05-08

Guest houses offer a welcoming way of discovering Lebanon
The gist of the endeavour is to have the Lebanese people open their houses to foreigners.
Middle East Online

By Samar Kadi - BEIRUT

Guesthouse of L’Hôte Libanais tucked in the heart of Beirut’s Achrafieh district

“Feeling at home” is the idea behind L’Hôte Li­banais — the Lebanese Host — 15 guesthouses and boutique hotels carefully selected to give guests genuine insight into traditional Lebanese living.

Nestled in quiet village quarters, centuries-old buildings hidden in the mountains or artsy apartments tucked in the heart of Beirut, the guesthouses are scattered across Lebanon, with each having its own cachet and characteristics.

L’Hôte Libanais introduced guesthouses to Lebanon 15 years ago, guided by a belief that “the best way to experience a country is to share its food and to mingle with the local people,” said group founder Orphée Haddad.

“Although the Lebanese people are very hospitable, the tourism industry in Lebanon for years was mainly based on hotels in Beirut, from where tourists would go on day trips to visit historical sites,” Haddad said. “Those who did not know anyone in Lebanon were stuck in places mainly dedicated to tourists and did not have a chance to experience what real Lebanese life is.”

The gist of the endeavour is to have the Lebanese people open their houses to foreigners looking to better understand Lebanon and gain first-hand experience of Leba­nese hospitality.

“This is how L’Hôte Libanais started. I went from neighbour­hood to neighbourhood and from village to village knocking on doors and sharing my idea,” Haddad said.

The first guest houses of L’Hôte Libanais started operating in 2005- 06, receiving both foreign guests and the Lebanese who wanted to explore their country.

“This is how global travelling is moving now,” Haddad said. “Today people are looking for something more genuine. The old tourism with impersonal large hotels has probably changed into something that is more focused on the expe­rience. It is an experience with the food and the area itself.”

L’Hôte Libanais members are carefully selected through strict criteria that combine the physi­cal with the flavour and feel of the place.

“Architecture is one of them but the building should not necessar­ily be old,” Haddad said. “The place should have something to tell about Lebanese history, about the coun­try and its traditions but the most important criterion is to show a dif­ferent Lebanon than the Lebanon that was shown for years to tour­ists.”

Just walking distance from the Beirut nightlife hub of Gemayze, the Sursock Museum and downtown is Jamil Azar’s guesthouse, Dar Al Achrafieh, in one of the Lebanese capital’s mythical neighbourhoods.

“It is my family house where I was born. It has two rooms for guests and has been part of the L’Hôte Li­banais family since 2005,” Azar said of his 90-year-old house with its art deco furnishings and painted ceil­ings.

“It is special because, first of all, guests are staying in a traditional Lebanese house and with a Leba­nese host. They feel that they are really in Lebanon. I welcome them personally, give them directions to places to visit, to museums and restaurants. These are small things that they appreciate and make them feel at home.”

For those who want to experience Lebanon’s traditional village life, L’Hôte Libanais offers a selection of guesthouses nestled in high moun­tains or in the heart of olive groves, such as Rola Bazerji’s Bouyouti in the Chouf Mountains.

When Bazerji and her husband decided to build a summer home under the olive trees, they had no intention of turning the place into a boutique hostel.

“There was a small stone house on the land, so we decided to build a bigger one for us. Then we built another small house for our friends and guests, then another and an­other. Now we have 12 houses scat­tered in the olive orchard, which we later turned into guesthouses,” Bazerji said.

The houses differ in size but they all have a small terrace and a kitch­enette. Some have two bedrooms and a living area and the place is equipped with a swimming pool, a bar and a restaurant under the olive trees.

“The place has become our baby. In every house there is everything the guests need to make them feel at home,” Bazerji said. “The area is very popular with foreigners and Lebanese alike, with its touristic sites, like Deir el Qamar, Beiteddine Palace and the Cedars’ Reserve of Barouk. We are located in the mid­dle of an open museum.”

All guesthouses of L’Hôte Liba­nais operate on a bed-and-break­fast concept. Jacqueline Helwanji’s breakfast at Dar Qadisha is an exam­ple of genuine traditional food.

Breakfast includes homemade jams from fruit that Helwanji grows in the garden of her 100-year-old house in the village of Hasroun overlooking the famous Qadisha Valley, mankoushe, known as the Lebanese pizza, with fresh zaatar (thyme), local goat cheeses, organic eggs and labneh (strained yoghurt).

With prices ranging $80-$250 for a double bedroom per night, L’Hôte Libanais offers individuals of all budgets the opportunity to dis­cover and fall in love with Lebanon, Haddad said.

“L’Hôte Libanais’s experience is about a coming together of people, place, aesthetics, and tastes,” he said.

http://www.hotelibanais.com/ bed-and-breakfast/hotels/

Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.

 

Erdogan seeks to defuse standoff around Turkey’s Qatar

Arab League accuses Israel of 'playing with fire' at holy site

Syria warplanes strike near Damascus despite ceasefire

600,000 Yemenis expected to contract cholera in 2017

Foreign food chains hoping for taste of Iran market

US warns Iran over imprisoned Americans

Kuwait protests to Lebanon over Hezbollah training

30 extremists in Sinai operations

Three Palestinians shot dead in Jerusalem

Nearly 360 injured in Turkey by magnitude 6.7 quake

UN says Saudi to blame for deadly Yemen strike on civilians

Police fire tear gas to disperse Morocco protest

Germany reviews arms sales to Turkey

Hezbollah launches Syria border operation

China calls for Gulf crisis talks

Israel bars men under 50 from Jerusalem Old City prayers

Intensifying Jihadist-rebel clashes in Syria's Idlib

Saudi King sets up new state security agency

Rebel ambush kills 28 regime fighters near Damascus

Turkey slams 'dangerous' Cyprus energy plans

Saudi prince 'arrested over leaked abuse videos'

Israel boosts 'security measures' as Al-Aqsa tensions simmer

Kuwait expels Iranian diplomats over 'terror' cell

Germany vows to overhaul Turkey ties as row escalates

Home cooked meals a relief for fighters in Syria's Raqa

US maintains designation of Iran as top 'state sponsor'

US halting support for Syria rebels

30 civilians dead in anti-IS strikes in Syria

Palestinian civilians urge ICC to speed up probe

Turkey PM opts for stability in light cabinet reshuffle

UN aid flight carrying journalists barred from Yemen

Former IS slaves fight for revenge in Raqa

US, Iran trade tit-for-tat sanctions

20 Yemeni civilians killed in air strike

14 killed in opposition infighting in Syria's Idlib

Morocco sentences 25 to prison over W. Sahara killings

Egypt police kill top militants

Heavy rainfall hits Istanbul causing transport chaos

Palestinians protest Israeli security measures at Al-Aqsa compound

Saudi police question woman who wore miniskirt

Rebels, US-backed Kurds clash in northern Syria

Netanyahu says Hungary is 'standing up for' Israel

Lebanon army to launch operation near Syria border

Morocco delays currency reform amid speculation

Iran parliament vows to fight US 'adventurism'