I was very fortunate to be invited last Spring to a treasure hunt which included brunch and a tour of the estate of a well-known socialite and businesswoman in Lebanon, Alice Eddé. I was eager to attend, curious to learn more about her, an American, and get a sense of how she had adapted to Lebanon and left her mark. I merely knew that she and her husband, Roger Eddé, owned a luxury Mediterranean beach resort in Byblos (Jbeil), Eddé Sands, which rivaled the best five-star Caribbean resorts in terms of amenities; plus, it was located in Byblos, a charming medieval port city with an 8,000 year history, “the longest inhabited city in the world”.
We were expected at their private mansion and brunch was served outdoors in the courtyard overlooking their vast expanse of gardens. It felt like being back in California visiting Hearst Castle. Bronze statues decked the rolling hills, and the landscape was a mixture of palm trees, ancient oaks, junipers, interspersed between acres of green grass, dotted with birds of paradise here and there and other tropical plants, and, in a large cage, a splendid peacock. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming and the setting felt as if one had stepped into Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.
The brunch was superlative. The tables were laid out with fresh flowers and beautiful chintz table covers. There was a fresh juice table, an omelet station, freshly picked veggies and flowers artfully displayed in wicker baskets, and a bread station with fresh puffy sesame bread in pretty wooden bowls. Nearby, a saj manned by a sweet lady who rolled fresh dough for manaeesh to order. Absolutely nothing was missing! The crowd was delighted, including the Italian ambassador and his wife (turned out she was a childhood chum from Iraq) who were also included in the guest list.
Alice Eddé minutes prior to her short speech welcoming the crowd.
Fresh peas, wild asparagus, and other fresh veggies from her garden.
From the brunch we were to partake in a rally paper which took us in turn to a medieval chapel nearby which was having its icons painstakingly restored, Alice’s enormous nursery housing every plant under the sun (supplying her resort and shops), to finally end the tour at the ancient Byblos souk where the couple had created a cluster of shops, EddéYard.
Byblos boasts an 8,000 year history and one can visit crusaders era churches there and many other historical buildings; but it is its souk, a succession of cobblestone pedestrian alleys lined on both sides by sundry shops with the preserved vaulted ceilings and stone architecture, which is the most alluring. Thanks to the Eddés and their passion for Byblos, the souk experienced a revival over the last twenty years and has become a model of successful restoration for all of Lebanon. The Eddés, Alice in particular, have focused on promoting local talents, be it artists, craftsmen or women artisans, to supply their array of shops. We toured the tiny bookstore, Gibran (named after Khalil Gibran), which specializes in books, etchings, posters, stamps and postcards celebrating Lebanon. A jewel of a bookshop.
Next, we visited the spice shop, Eddéherbs
In the spice shop, we discussed how the shop manager sources local herbs and spices (he appeared very picky), and could not resist smelling and gawking at the enormous jute bags filled with dried herbs. I promised myself I’d be back and spend time there uninterrupted.
At the spice shop, amongst hundreds of spices and dried herbs.
The day was winding down, and we were casually led to the é-café, an open air café right in the souk, with tables and even a bar with awning. We were offered some fresh fav beans and peas to munch on with our drinks and finally a robust meal of the best steak and frites with excellent wine and dessert. It was some of the best bistrot fare I have had outside of Paris.
What a dream of a day!
NOTE: If you are visiting Lebanon for the first time, or if you are living in the country but looking for a day of leisure and pampering, I’d highly recommend to head on over there into Alice’s world…
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