25 Jun 2018
Byblos, Lebanon
Sustainable Tourism

High on a hill, nestled within oak trees, with a view of the shimmering Mediterranean sea, is a place called Beit al Batroun. This stucco home with large windows and colorful doors is a respite from the bustle of big cities, where guests come to clear their minds and hearts. This countryside retreat on the Lebanese coast, just 40 minutes from Beirut, is the culmination of dreams for one woman who has an eye for decoration and a taste for good food. Her world is one of beauty and grace, and she welcomes people from around the world to her boutique guesthouse by the sea.

When Colette Kahil was growing up in Lebanon during wartime (around 1979), she had never heard of the concept of guesthouses. It was only years later, when Kahil moved to London for a few years when she first heard about bed and breakfasts. She became enchanted, visiting as many as she possibly could.

“I’d travel all over England and stay in guesthouses, sometimes I’d go to Paris,” says Kahil, who’s a mosaic artist. “That’s when I said to myself: I’m going to do this in Lebanon one day.”

When she moved back to Lebanon, Kahil knew a guesthouse was her dole. So, with barely a thought, she bought a parcel of land near Byblos by the coast of the Mediterranean. She wanted a house influenced by traditional Lebanese construction, with rooms and sitting areas branching off from a central liwan, which is a vaulted room found in the center of ancient Mediterranean homes.

“I had been collecting antiques for years, and I needed a place to put them,” says Kahil. “That’s basically how it happened.”

The birth of Beit al Batroun:

Kahil partnered with her architect friend Wadih Chehaybar to build the spacious home with five bedrooms, a swimming pool, and plenty of shaded seating areas beneath the trees. She sifted through her antique collection to find the perfect pieces of furniture and art for each part of the house.

“Before I built my house I would travel to Beirut where they were tearing down old homes to build skyscrapers, and I’d buy the old windows and doors from those homes,” says Kahil. “When people come to my house they always ask how old it is, thinking its 100 years old. But it’s just built with upcycled materials.”

Kahil is an artist by trade, creating beautiful mosaics, which she’s hung throughout her guesthouse as well. When the doors first opened in 2013, every room of the guesthouse was booked throughout that first summer.

Along with providing a peaceful enclave just a short distance from the sea, Kahil also makes meals for her guests.

“Everything here is homemade,” says Kahil. “It takes me two hours to prepare breakfast, and my foreign guests [discover] Lebanese food they are not familiar with.”

Homemade breakfasts are a delicious smorgasbord of homemade jams, a variety of cheeses, manouche (a thin crepe with olive oil and thyme), fresh juice, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, and olives from the garden. What the guests don’t eat is given to the chickens or gets composted.

Beit al Batroun is not only furnished and decorated with used and upcycled materials, but also has a commitment to the environment. The guesthouse practises self-sustainability and eco-mindfulness through composting, growing its own produce, and using solar power energy.

“I grow much of my own herbs – parsley, mint, basil, and radish,” says Kahil. “Also tree fruit like apricots, figs, lemons and olives. I like the feeling that I can contribute even if it’s just a little bit to the environment.”

The guests’ reaction to Beit al Batroun:

The grounds at Beit al Batroun are quiet; the only sounds are the chirping birds and wind rustling tree leaves. Kahil doesn’t allow children at the bed and breakfast in hopes of creating a quiet, restful atmosphere for adults.

Samira Zingaro is from Switzerland, and heard about Beit al Batroun through a friend. She says she had a wonderful time in this little slice of paradise.

“There are such beautiful trees everywhere and the breakfast is awesome,” says Zingaro. “Colette’s hospitality, the way she hosts her guests was also amazing, I really enjoyed talking with her. We had a trip to Tripoli, swam at the beach, and it’s close to Beirut if you want to go. Also, close to the mountains, so perfectly located. It was a little hideaway.”

Kahil enjoys taking in guests as much as the guests feel her radiant hospitality.

“My favorite part of it all is receiving people. The experience is very enriching. I find it amazing to meet people from all over the world and hear their stories,” says Kahil. “Many come with great stories and we keep in touch and become friends. I often don’t think of the guesthouse as a business, and I find it difficult to take money from my guests.”

She says people book just one night at Beit al Batroun, and then they don’t want to leave, which she takes as a compliment.

“My house is surrounded by oak trees and views of the sea. There are many places to sit under the trees and relax,” she says. “If guests want some action, they can drive a short distance and go out [to] dinner or hear music. Plus, there are six or seven wineries up the mountain, and a cedar grove for hiking.”

Kahil has been operating her guest house for seven years now, and can’t imagine doing anything else. Beit al Batroun is her happy place, her zen spot, her open arms for the travelers of the world.

 

 

 

 

You can learn more about Beit al Batroun through their website and Facebook page.

Photos: Courtesy of Beit al Batroun.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist who has a passion for the environment, sustainability, and science. She loves telling stories about people who are making a real difference in the world.Kristin Hanes
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Beit al Batroun Sustainable Tourism
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