Dar Alma, boutique hotel in Tyre,Lebanon

Dar Alma: a little piece of heaven in Tyre 
Date: Friday, June 05, 2015
By: Susan Wilson 
Source: The Daily Star

YRE, Lebanon: Looking out off the balcony at Dar Alma the only thing standing in the way of an uninterrupted view of the sea is the remains of a crusader citadel parked directly on the left. It is, to put it simply, quite breathtaking.
Dar Alma, located directly on the beachfront in the Christian quarter of Tyre’s old city, is a recently opened boutique hotel, the brainchild of HAR Properties CEO and founder Philippe Tabet who grew up next door.
“[When] my mother told me the neighbors wanted to sell the house, I said ‘I’ll buy whatever the price’ because I [had] wanted it since I was a kid. I dreamt about this house ... [its] private beach. I wanted it,” Tabet tells The Daily Star.
At Dar Alma, the only thing standing in the way of an uninterrupted view of the sea is the remains of a crusader citade. l(Photos courtesy of Dar Alma)(Photos courtesy of Dar Alma)
Originally intending to keep the house for personal use, Tabet had a change of heart and instead decided to let “everyone profit” by turning the house into a hotel.
With his background in finance and real estate, this was a project out of Tabet’s comfort zones, but one he describes as a “passion.”
Several years of renovations later and Dar Alma opened this February. The name, he explains, came about from a search for something that was cool to pronounce in Arabic, but also easy for people who don’t speak it. Alma, which is the Spanish for soul, is also his mother’s name.
The hotel is tucked off the main streets, in a series of little alleys, with Al-Fanar restaurant at one end and the port at the other. It is great for getting away from the hustle and bustle; the sound of the sea crashing in is your only accompaniment.
Getting there via service however, can take a few frustrating turns, especially if your driver says he knows where it is before stopping every five minutes to ask locals on the street. If you drive along the port road, however, you can park your car with Dar Alma’s valet and be taken straight on to the hotel.
The hotel itself, a charming yellow painted house with a reception through one main door and access to the rooms and the terrace restaurant through the other, is made up of mix of double bedrooms and varying suites, some with sea views, some overlooking the colorful alleys that lead to it. The lower floor terrace, which opens out onto the beach and the crusader citadel, comes with its own history.
While renovating, they discovered a stone in the lower floor with an inscription that bore an insignia, believed by the archeologist who discovered it to be that of the soldiers who used to man the citadel.
“They used to sleep in this house [at night] and during the day they guarded the coast,” Tabet explains. “There were 11 citadels along the Lebanese coast ... their mission was to protect the coast and give signals [via fire] between each citadel to other cities.”
The inscribed stone still sits in the basement restaurant, safely behind the model sailboat in the central arch. The rest of the house was built in stages – the house above this lower level in the late 1800s, another floor in the 1950s and finally the attic, which Tabet himself added.
The design of the hotel was very much Tabet’s own vision as well. He wanted something “simple and fresh” that denoted high quality. Teaming up with Sarah Enan of STTCH, the interior design of the hotel makes features of its historic elements; the old tiles – brought by Tabet from a house in Mar Mikhael – and its stone walls.
The solid, custom-designed wooden furniture, earthy color scheme and arabesque patterns support this fresh, clean look. This is complemented by the quality of the materials used – the curtains are 100 percent linen, the bed sheets 100 percent cotton with a 300 thread count – and the local made touches, including fragrant rosemary soaps and shampoos.
While the view may be distracting, bringing your attention back into the room yields its own benefits. The bed, while admittedly being compared to two singles shoved together with a foam mattress back in Beirut, is wonderfully comfortable. The room comes with its own bathrobes, flat screen TV, fridge, tea and coffee-making facilities and a safe – which definitely has a good alarm, seeing as an accidental jolt set it off.
There is no denying that this hotel was built with a certain clientele in mind. “You position your hotel in the high-end [category], so you have people who can afford to pay $200-300 a night ... a level of tourism that doesn’t exist [in Tyre],” Tabet says, explaining that he wanted to build a place that he himself would like to stay in when visiting the city.
Talking about Tyre itself, which has been struggling from a lack of tourism in recent years, Tabet is every bit the proud native, saying the city has been misjudged.
“It is one of the five cities in Lebanon classified in the UNESCO heritage – you have Beirut, Byblos, Saida [Sidon], Baalbek and Sour [Tyre]. And it’s the fourth oldest city in the world,” he says. “[Tyre] has a treasure of history.”
Situated in the old city, the hotel is perfectly placed to explore that history. Just round the corner from Dar Alma are the Notre Dame of the Seas Cathedral and the house of the Maronite church.
A five minute walk takes you to the port and from there, the souk and Tyre’s two UNESCO ranked archeological sites – Al-Mina and Al-Bass – are easy to find.
As well as exploring the city’s history, Dar Alma offers its guests fishing equipment free of charge, and is working on offering a variety of water-related activities; including waterskiing and boat rentals.
(Photos courtesy of Dar Alma)
If you’d booked the room to relax however, soon you will have everything you need to closet yourself away with those magnificent views.
At present the hotel operates as a bed and breakfast, with a Lebanese and continental buffet offered from 8 a.m. in the terrace restaurant; labneh, mankousheh, cereals, toast, croissants, juice and coffee.
The plan however, is to operate a full seafood restaurant, a fine dining experience that Tabet hopes will be up and running within the next month and a half.
“The restaurant is in consultation with Tawlet’s Kamal Mouzawak ... it will be owned by us and managed by us ... but he will create the menu, he will teach the team, he has a mission to supervise the implementation.”
The plan is to house all the food preparations in the house directly across from the hotel, with food cooked and served in the terrace restaurant. Tabet envisions a capacity of around 50 guests, perhaps more if they move tables onto the beach in the summer months for guests to dine in the shadow of the citadel’s remains.
With a strong vision for the future, Dar Alma is already drawing in new faces to an old city.


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