Dar Zefta, an architectural gem built on art and passion

Dar Zefta, an architectural gem built on art and passion

In southern Lebanon, Dar Zefta guesthouse realizes a legacy of culture, art and architecture. We sat with Bahjat El-Darwiche, Dar Zefta’s owner, to hear how it all began. 

What can you tell us about Dar Zefta?

Dar Zefta is our family house, and I am the fourth generation to take care of it. It was built during the Ottoman era, between 1906-1911, by Hussein Beik el Darwiche, who was my great grandfather. He was a visionary avant-gardist from the south of Lebanon. Passionate about architecture and art, my grandfather decided to enlist the help of Italian and Oriental architects to build the only house on the hill, thus anchoring the presence of the family there. Dar Zefta stood alone on the hill before the village started to form around it in the 1940s.
In 2014, a fire ravaged the house, jeopardizing over 100 years of heritage and culture. However, thanks to the efforts of Simone Kosremelli, an architect and urban planner, the house was restored using durable, natural materials, bringing the garden inside the house and prioritizing natural light. This effectively turned the guesthouse into a sustainable, relaxing and inspiring place.
Dar Zefta comprises six Ottoman House and nine Olive House rooms. The guesthouse can accommodate up to 30 people. It is surrounded by 6,000 square meters of gardens containing pine trees and a lower garden of olive trees with white Mediterranean soil that emits a Tuscan feel. While relaxing in the pool, guests can enjoy the scent of flowers, including jasmine and gardenia.
Ultimately, Dar Zefta is the story of my heritage. It is here that time stands still, gravity disappears and daydreaming begins. We believe in offering homegrown produce, which we serve our guests with love.

How has your professional experience helped you succeed in this project?
I am a Polytechnicien who studied in France and specialized in telecommunications. While consultancy is my career, my passion is architecture and interior design.
Every item in the house was carefully selected by me and influenced by my trips around the world.
When I travel abroad to interesting places and stay in exquisite hotels, I am greatly inspired. Anyone who visits Dar Zefta will notice that the house contains 100 years of design.

Why did you decide to launch this venture despite the pandemic and the crippling situation in Lebanon?
This is not a short-term project; the whole idea started before the pandemic, so we are thinking long term. Dar Zefta has existed for 100 years and will be here for many more. It is a symbol of resilience and perpetuity; it’s a place a whole region has called home since 1911; it’s the dar of arts, culture and heritage; and it’s the home of hospitality, generosity, and well-being. The idea of turning the house into a guesthouse during such times was our way to contribute positively to the social and economic development of the region by employing locals and boosting tourism.

In your opinion, how do you foresee the future of alternative lodging in Lebanon?
I think that a sharing economy might be the solution, especially for those wanting to own a mountain house without having to go through the hassle of maintaining it and taking care of it. This trend has been growing in Lebanon for the past 10 years, with many guesthouses opening and ecotourism booming. I believe the alternative trend will continue, particularly in light of the economic situation in Lebanon and the role of technology, which has helped such properties gain exposure.


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