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Wine and sweets are the usual suspects, when it comes to souvenirs from the Land of the Cedars.
Beyond the souvenir shops on Al Hamra and the last-minute (marked up) duty free options at the airport, however, there are a number of shops that offer more unusual, fun, and distinct things Made in Lebanon. The shops, boutiques, workshops and creative spaces featured here below are often run by rather interesting people, which turns the hunt for into an experience.
Among the top wine estates are Iris Domain, Ixsir, Château Ka and Château Ksara, Karam Winery, and Le Domaine des Tourelles’ Marquis des Beys Red 2011, which was awarded the Chairman's Trophy by the Ultimate Wine Challenge in New York in August 2015.
Two of the newer wines to look out for are made by the award-winning Château St Thomas winery (formerly known as Clos St Thomas) and French-Lebanese run Massaya, both in the Beka’a, the home of winemaking for over 6000 years. Situated near Tanaïl, Massaya bottles 5 wines per vintage: 1 rosé, 1 whites and 3 reds. The popular, all-year-round brunch, lunch and dinner destination also makes a great Arak that comes in a blue bottle and runs Arak workshops on site.
The maverick among Lebanon’s wines is hands-down Château Musar. The legendary Serge Hochar, son of Musar founder Gaston Hochar, has a lot to do with this, travelling during the civil war, telling tales of wine-making under the bombs and perfecting the formula of the Château Musar Red. As a result of both his winemaking and publicity efforts, his wine became very popular and was better known in the 80s and 90s in London and Paris than it was in Beirut.
If you can’t head out to the estates, Enoteca in Beirut offers a great selection and regularly host wine tastings.
For those who want a comprehensive overview on the wine industry, Muriel Rozelier’s Zawaq is the most comprehensive guide to get. The author visited 37 estates and had a hundred wines tasted by a selected jury – it is the ultimate guidebook to Lebanese wine.
Abdul Rahman Hallab & Sons’ Qasr el Helou is a popular address to indulge in and stock up on sweets. The family business dates back to 1881. Equally mouth-watering is Rafaat Hallab, represented by a few branches near Saht al Nour and Tal. Both sweets makers have branches around Lebanon – including at the airport.
There are, however, many more smaller and excellent sweets shops all over Tripoli’s old town. Abdul Satar Altom & Sons Sweets in the neighbourhood of Zahriyeh is a top contender with locals. Spoilt for choice as they are, they should know…
Sidon’s Al Baba Sweets is not only popular in its hometown but in Beirut where this family-business has established a few shops. Their oldest branch is situated in Quoreitem.
The sweets manufacturing industry typically is based on family businesses that pride themselves on a long-standing history that usually includes some tightly kept secret recipes. Salim Bohsali, for example, opened his first outlet in Union Square, later known as Martyrs’ Square in 1878. Amal, the wife of his son Ghazi, opened a pastry shop in Hamra, making Amal Bohsali the only established female sweets maker.
The Douaihy family set up their flagship store on Sassine Square in Achrafieh and besides a string of other branches have a huge branch in Jal el Dib. In addition to a fine range of sweets, Douaihy has the most enticing packaging and ad campaigns.
A list of “highly recommended by locals” sweats shops must include Taj al Moulouk. The shop near Bliss in Hamra has been making knefeh, baklava and other traditional delights for over three decades. Like all sweets shops, they also have gift pack options.
After experimenting with soaps and beauty products, Eshmoon Holistics’ Samer Tutunji came up with a range of 14 delicious organic chocolates, made from organic non-processed cacao, coconut butter and sweetened molasses or honey. Eshmoon chocolate balls are available in grape, cinnamon, carob, cardamom, date, ginger, honeybees, aniseed, coffee, Himalayan salt, almond, apple, orange and peppermint flavours. The chocolate spreads launched in 2015 give Nutella a run for its money. They come in jars and are available in five different flavoures: honey, apple, date, carob, and grapes. A delicious, highly addictive but healthy souvenir from Lebanon!
One of the few old, traditional sweets shops that remain in Achrafieh is Al Salam, a family business now in the hands of the hospitable Hanna Mitri Mousa. His “booza” (ice cream) is indeed something to write home about!
This Article is a 3 part report on Lebanese Souvenirs - Subscribe to Secrets of Beirut to receive updates on the coming updates to this 3 part Feature.