A tour of the sprawling palace complex of Beiteddine, set in the rolling highlands 28 miles (45 km) southeast of Beirut, is a stroll through the sanctum of ancient Lebanese royalty. Easily the nation’s best example of 19th century Lebanese architecture, the manicured landscape and intricate buildings have been called the “Alhambra of Lebanon”, a nod to the calming and regal atmosphere permeating the palace grounds.
Commissioned in 1778 by Emir Bashir Chehab II, it was built over the span of 30 years by craftsmen and architects from Syria to Italy who sculpted the palace into a masterpiece of architectural and cultural fusion. Of particular interest are the ornate rooms of the emir’s private apartment quarters, the Dar El Harim, where private balconies provide views of the surrounding valleys and elaborate mosaic floors rest beneath carved marble walls. In the same section of the palace are the Hammam baths, which, in keeping with Roman tradition, feature three rooms of distinct temperature where guests and royalty could relax in the soothing waters.
Across from the Dar El Harim are the stable grounds where the 600 horses they once housed have been replaced by an extensive collection of Byzantine mosaics dating as far back as the 5th and 6th century AD. Other museums similarly occupy the modern day palace grounds, and stops such as the Rashid Karami Archeological and Ethnographic Museum offer a large collection of Bronze-Age pottery, gold jewelry and ancient Roman glass.
Though much of Beiteddine is open to viewing by the public, portions of the palace are still privately occupied, acting as the summer residence of Lebanon’s President. Visitors wanting to get a feel for an overnight stay in a Lebanese palace can book into one of the 24 rooms at nearby Mir Amin Palace, a stunningly restored five-star hotel which was once the private residence of Emir Amine, son of Bashir Chehab II.
Buses go from Beirut's Cola Transport Hub to Beit ed-Dine. They cost around 2,000LL (less than $2.00 USD) and take an hour or less. You can also use a service taxi or private taxi from Cola.