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Marriage, Lebanese style
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Joined: 09 Mar 2007
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Location: Jbeil Byblos

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FORGET LUXURY HOTELS AND HISTORIC BEIRUT MANSIONS: LEBANON HAS PLENTY OF UNEXPECTED SETTINGS THAT CAN TURN YOUR WEDDING INTO A DIZZYING THEATRICAL AFFAIR

Where other countries have opera, Lebanon has weddings. Epics of stagecraft with their flurries of fireworks, lavish settings, epic buffets, the bride in a dizzying array of outfits, the groom on horseback preceded by columns of muscular men in elaborately embroidered sherwals lithely dancing dabke while juggling swords with an insouciance that excites in spectators a secret and rather shameful desire to see what might happen if one of those jugglers were to make a mistake, they purvey, pound for pound, every bit as much spectacle, emotion, drama (not to mention the occasional twist in the plotline) as any Tristan or Traviata.

That said, after attending a few ceremonies, it can become a little difficult to tell them apart. Too often, keeping up with the Abou Jaoudes, simply means copying the last wedding featured in Mondanité, then making it bigger and, well, bigger.

To be fair, it isn’t easy to come up with something truly unique. Lebanon is a small country, and there are only so many wedding planners worth commissioning, so many hotels and ballrooms for hire and a finite number of gypsy musicians available at any one time. This is probably why when it comes to making that special day special, emphasis is placed on spending more on a single gown than many smaller nations spend in a year, ordering more exotic blooms than can be found in an average Brazilian rainforest and buying more bottles of Cristal than P. Diddy on awards night at the AMA.

With this in mind, we at Aishti Magazine have racked our brains in an attempt to provide you, our faithful readers, with some suggestions you may not yet have considered. Some weird, some impractical, all wonderful, some of our suggestions are so glaringly obvious that you may wonder how you ever managed to overlook them at all.

Outdoor bliss

So tying the knot on some sandy shore, perhaps just before sunset, with the waves caressing your naked feet and the breeze whispering through your hair may not be a new idea, but here are two possibilities that may reenergize an old tradition.

Quiet, secluded and right in the heart of the city, the beach at the base of Raouche (Pigeon Rocks) is only accessible by motorboat and is also submerged at high tide, but because of these two factors, this is the only place in Beirut where you can be outdoors, by the sea and be completely alone at the same time. The possibilities for making a dramatic entrance are endless. Really adventurous brides might consider emerging like Ursula Andress in Dr. No, all glistening from the surf, although sailing Blue Grotto-style, through the natural stone arch, would be just as impressive and not nearly as taxing on your wedding gown.

Finding the right place for the reception afterward will require traveling a little further – unless your newlywed heart genuinely thrills to the idea of being serenaded by the slick-backed crooners who frequent the cafes above – but as you and your party will have arrived by motorboat anyway, Byblos is just 25 thrilling, full-throttle minutes up the coast.

In Lebanon, if not entirely of it, Palm Islands are a cluster of low-lying islands off the coast of Tripoli with spectacular views of the coast and the snow-covered peaks of Qornet al Sawda – the views alone make this one of the best outdoor locations in the country. Turtle Island is off-limits, but the sand at nearby Sanani and Palm Islands is just as sugary and the sea an incredible shade of blue. Added attractions include the remains of an ancient, possibly Crusader church, an old lighthouse and the knowledge that yours may well be the first wedding to have taken place here for at least 600 years.

Romantic ruins

Imagine exchanging vows on the steps of the Temple of Jupiter, with Bacchus on one side and those six huge pillars towering behind. It would almost be like a scene from some Rahbani Brothers number. It would also be rather empty. Baalbeck isn’t exactly overrun by hordes of camera-clicking visitors these days.

While having their wedding day recorded for posterity by some random tourist from Toulouse isn’t likely to feature at the top of anyone’s list of wedding expectations, Baalbeck is so large and so empty that even the biggest wedding party will feel a little overwhelmed. Luckily, Lebanon isn’t short on ruins.

Close enough to the main road to be accessible, but far enough up the valley to feel sequestered; the Mseilha castle (from the Ayyubid era) seems trapped in a time of its own. Built on a small rocky outcrop, Mseilha is like something straight out of a fairy tale, a classic castle. All that is missing is the drawbridge, a dragon and a damsel in distress. It is large enough to accommodate a healthy sized party but intimate enough to feel cozy, and for those who would rather be married outdoors, the small river nearby affords lovely views of both the castle and the surrounding hills.

Another heart-stopping site is Afqa. Admittedly, there isn’t much left of the historical ruins. Between them, the Emperor Constantine, several earthquakes and centuries of neglect have all but erased any trace of the massive Roman temple to Astarte that once dominated the site, but despite this, Afqa is possibly one of Lebanon’s most romantic sites.

It was in these hills that Astarte (later Aphrodite) and Tammuz (or Adonis) met and here, in front of the waterfall, that Adonis, injured while hunting died. If that sounds rather maudlin, especially when thinking about where to have a wedding consider that the temple was once infamous for its annual sacred orgies (the main reason the very pious Constantine had it torn down) dedicated to Adonis and his lover and that like any demi-god worth his wings, Adonis is less dead than absent, his return to earth marked every spring by the river flowing red and the swathes of scarlet anemones that carpet the site.

The classic hotel

So you really want to get married in a hotel but you just don’t know which one to pick. The St. Georges is still a ruin, Al Bustan is charming but too firmly on the wedding circuit already, the Bab al Saray hasn’t been finished and the InterContinental Phoenicia is just not what you are looking for. We humbly suggest the following.

From its terrace, the Palmyra hotel offers panoramic views over Baalbeck and the temples, all the way to the snow-streaked slopes of Mount Lebanon in the background. This, together with its wily Ottoman Greek owner, proximity to some of the most beautiful ruins in the world and, for many years, its excellent cuisine, made this one of the most glamorous hotels in the region.

Somewhat less popular than it was back in the days when the likes of Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Gertrude Bell, Jean Cocteau, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Empress of Abyssinia, Ella Fitzgerald and Jeanne Moreau stayed here, the Palmyra is in some ways a faded glory but for atmosphere, charm and a certain timeless quality, it is difficult to beat. The food has improved, the renovated rooms in the annex manage to be both comfortable and comforting and the hotel’s lonely, almost abandoned air lends it an intimacy that makes it the ideal place for quiet weddings and for raucous after-parties as well.

Of course, these are just a few of the many possibilities out there. Imagine, for example, marrying on top of Qornet al Sawda, the highest peak in the eastern Mediterranean, in the sea castle in Sidon or in the orange groves of Tyre. Think of the perspective you would enjoy from Beaufort or the sylvan beauty of a riverside wedding in the Nahr Ibrahim valley.

Alternatively, you could marry at a winery, Massaya, for barbecues and a more at-home atmosphere or the estate at Kefraya, for something a little more imposing. The advantage at either would be the extreme unlikelihood of your party running out of steam. Personal wine stocks depleted? Ask at the warehouse, they’re sure to have plenty in store.

Warren Singh Bartlett
Thu Aug 14, 2008 5:08 pm View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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