Words and Photography Elsa Sattout
Do we always need to go back to where our roots as humans lie and search for the heritage value of places that we visit to find a sense of belonging that replenishes our souls? When traveling to destinations, are we not looking for genuine experiences and searching for iconic places, flagship monuments, landmarks, or even stories?
More than a decade ago, travel was slower, and the journey enabled us to experience the exceptional and collect things that were picked up along the way. Little souvenirs brought back from trips, perhaps hand-made objects or mouth-watering delicacies, are treasures that remind us of our journey. They reflect the soul of the local artisans, and their value comes from the time that was invested to produce them. Lately, globalization and an open market have eliminated the pleasure of carrying these treasures of traveling. So, we are in search of experiences: things that cannot be bought, traded, or shipped. We are also seeking historical places where we feel at home, places where we can create social bonds and that take us away from the artificial world with which we interact so often today.
Guesthouses take us back in time
Overwhelmed by today’s busy lives, we dream about what will be our weekend destination – searching for peace of mind away from the same squares around which we ramble all our lives and the constructed world in which we live today. Guesthouses are touristic attractions in themselves that take us back to a time when simplicity was a luxury and traditions were a source of joy and originality. In Lebanon, there are many guesthouses that offer diverse landscapes, delicious breakfasts made of local ingredients, and a bunch of stories hidden in their arches, walls, and ceilings.
For those who prefer to stay near the capital, Beit Marsala (http://www.hotelibanais.com/bed-and-breakfast/beit-marsala-jeita/) is only a short 40-minute drive from Beirut, in Zouk Mosbeh. It is a space filled with artistic expression of all sorts and it reveals the life story of a passionate caver. The house was originally owned by one of the founders of the oldest caving club in the Middle East. The exterior of the house, painted in pink hue, is a beacon within 3,000 square meters of green garden. Enjoy the isolation from the outside world and identify with the surrounding nature.
If Lebanon’s coastal landscape is tempting you to relax by the sea or to walk in the old cities of Al Mina in the North and Tyre in the South, find your comfort in Beit El Nessim (http://www.beitelnessim.com/aboutus.html) or in Dar Alma (http://www.hotelibanais.com/bed-and-breakfast/dar-alma-hotel/). Beit El Nassim will bring back stories of one of Lebanon’s oldest cities, Al Mina, which dates back to the Phoenician Era. This guesthouse preserves the unique style of the old houses in the city. Here you can enjoy healthy gourmet breakfasts while sitting either in its walled garden, on a rooftop terrace, or in the interior courtyard. Charming designed spaces and furnished rooms inspire comfort and the stillness of the mind and soul that you can acquire from the yoga and meditation classes that are offered. Dar Alma, a 19th century traditional Lebanese house, is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Tyre. The house was literally built on the edge of the shore, and most rooms offer a sea view with private access to the beach. While wandering around the narrow streets, the whispers of old fishermen fill your ears.
For an adventure coupled with going back in time to 16th century traditions, head into the hills to Deir Al Qamar, the “City of Emirs” in the Shouf region. The area is home to some of the country’s iconic touristic attractions such as the Palace of Beiteddine, which feature the history and culture of Mount Lebanon. Staying in one of the area’s charming guesthouses, La Maison du Bonheur (www.lamaisondubonheurbnb.com) and Bouyouti (http://www.hotelibanais.com/bed-and-breakfast/bouyouti-beiteddine/), gives the guests the opportunity to experience various things, from wellness to getting to know the culture and traditions of residents and city dwellers originating from Deir Al Qamar. Upon stepping inside La Maison du Bonheur, the colors of the flowers and their scents transform our senses. The indoor space reflects the joyful spirit of the owner, Ama Samir Tabet. The breakfast served in the guesthouse’s gardens offers traditional meals including dried goat yogurt, which is called “Ambriss.” Its garden extends over 2,700 square meters and is surrounded by colorful bouquets of plants and fruit trees. In Bouyouti, the refined taste of its designer, Roula Bazergi, and the beauty of her mind and spirit are reflected in the 10 individual guesthouses distributed within an area of more than 20,000 square meters. Each house feels like home, and all of them are connected to each other with paved trails or stairs that can take you to an area where you can enjoy swimming and sun-bathing at 800 meters. If you awake before dawn, hundreds of songbirds will inspire you to get out of bed for a silent walk around the colorful terraces.
For clement temperatures and sea breezes during the four seasons, head to Batroun District to be hosted in Abdelli Terraces (http://www.hotelibanais.com/bed-and-breakfast/abdelli-terraces/), only a 20-minute drive from the highway in Madfoun. The guesthouse is part of a typical Lebanese village that was abandoned during World War I and it is located at an altitude of 600 meters. The guesthouse offers a panoramic view of rolling, forested hills, woodlands, vineyards, and agricultural terraces that makes it an ideal place for relaxation and culture. Enjoy a modernized authenticity and hundreds of flowering patches.
At the end of the weekend, you might feel that you don’t want to wake up from the dream. Nevertheless, the experience that we live in these places replenishes our soul and body. You may leave sometimes with another dream, that of being an eternal traveler moving all around the world and staying in guesthouses. Would that state of mind be similar to that of the shepherds and fishermen, whose state of mind is also one of the eternal traveler with a free spirit, a defined purpose, but no luggage to carry, which enables them to move about as light as feathers?