BATROUN, Lebanon: Kloe is an excitable, if undeniably overeager host. She rushes to greet guests, running wildly in laps around the car, tongue askew, until they get out. Upon arrival, visitors find themselves amid great arching lime trees and bushes holding ripe plums and swelling pomegranates. Behind the scene stands a formidable stone house.
This is Beit al Batroun, a stunning boutique bed-and-breakfast just three minutes from the Mediterranean coast where the loudest sound to puncture the calm is the irregular, grunting breathing of my French bulldog host.
Arrivals are quickly ushered inside the home of Colette Kahil – a woman who has spent 15 years hunting down items to recreate a traditional Lebanese house, squirreling pieces away in friends’ cupboards until she found precisely the right space to bring everything together.
“This is my private world,” she explains as she walks through a living room framed by wide Mandaloun windows looking out over the sea.
For although Beit al-Batroun has three guest bedrooms and is booked every weekend throughout the summer, this house is primarily Kahil and Kloe’s home.
“Initially I was anxious about opening my home to the public, and what strangers would think of my space. But my daughter bought me a book on how to start a B&B and on the first page it said: ‘If you don’t love people don’t bother turning the page,’” Kahil recalls. “I thought about it for a while, then I turned over.”
Despite hoarding items for 15 years for her imagined home, construction began in earnest just five years ago. “I felt like Santa Claus, opening up all these boxes I had buried for so long and somehow, without much planning, everything fitted.”
The design of the house – centered around an open plan living-dining room that extends through a magnificent domed arch onto a terrace – is entirely Kahil’s.
The building, meanwhile, is apparently the fruit of just one man: the tireless and “brilliant” Muaellem Alfred, a tiler by trade, who still pops round most days for a cup of coffee and to vaguely plan extensions to the house.
Although some of the furniture and smaller ornaments in Kahil’s home hail from London and Paris, the aesthetic of the property is wholly Lebanese.
“I wanted everything to be as authentic as possible so I got to know the men working in demolition in Beirut. I would call them up and see what is being knocked down that day and rush to have a look,” she explains.
“So these windows are from an old house in Ashrafieh, these tiles are from another,” she says, gesturing to intricate caramel swirls that cover the house’s ground floor.
Perhaps stemming from her time working at London’s famous antiques market on Portobello Road, Kahil has an eye for a bargain as well as how much a lick of paint can do to items the rest of us would happily chuck.
“I’m always on a mission to find things in unusual places, plenty of the furniture I found simply lying abandoned on the street,” she says. “Sometimes, I will drive around just to see what I can find.”
A huge traditional wooden sofa was found, extraordinarily, in a dumpster.
“I like to buy cheap,” she admits, and yet Beit al- Batroun looks anything but, with its glass chandeliers, mosaic-adorned coffee tables, and a swimming pool overlooking the sea.
Its aesthetic appeal goes someway to explaining the bed-and-breakfast’s cost, which may put off some Beirut dwellers looking for a more modestly priced weekend retreat: A double room with an en suite bathroom is $160, including breakfast.
Kahil says she used to get up at 6 a.m. to frantically whip up a spread for her guests, but in the month since Beit al- Batroun opened she has decided to take it down a pace.
Breakfast is now served more languidly up until 11 a.m. It consists of traditional Lebanese mountain fare, including labneh baladi, baked eggs with sumac, and homemade white fig and watermelon jams.
Other meals are not regularly served during the day – “because I want to relax too,” says Kahil. Guests are instead encouraged to take a trip down to Batroun’s beautiful coastline or visit one of Lebanon’s lesser known wineries, Coteaux de Botrys, which is a 15-minute drive away and run by Kahil’s friend Neila al-Bitar.
Kahil’s first venture into the hospitality sector comes at a time when many experts are all but writing off Lebanon’s tourism sector on account of the country’s political instability – but business is booming.
The B&B was packed out every weekend in August and Kahil says September looks promising.
Although she admits she would like to attract more foreign clientele, when it comes to Lebanon’s fragile security she says she has always been an optimist. “And besides, this house is made of stone; it’s not going anywhere.”
For reservations email email@example.com or call 03-270-049.