Nestled in the lush mountains, Al Fundok is the “hotel of happiness.” We learn more about this magical place from Yola Noujaim, the founder.
What made you decide to open Al Fundok?
The story of the Al Fundok is a beautiful one. In the 1950s, Judge Boutros Noujaim, president of the supreme court of cassation and Maasser El Shouf native, had a vision of building a school to create a community center in the village near the church. At the beginning, he started asking for help from the villagers, and you can find all the donations still perfectly recorded in beautiful books. However, these sums were not enough for such an ambitious project, so the judge asked for support from his friends across Lebanon. They all responded to his call, won by his determination, honesty and vision.
Upon completion, the building was gifted to the Greek Catholic monastery Deir El Moukhalles (Monastery of the Holy Savior). It was run by Salvatorian nuns and became one of the largest and most famous schools in Shouf; there were 700 students.
Sadly, the school was forced to close during the civil war and the nuns fled. When the conflict ended, the intention was to fix the damage and reopen the school, but it wasn’t possible to find enough nuns to take care of it.
In 1993, we undertook the renovation to open the first maison d’hôte in the Shouf. The stewardship of the Saint Michael Auberge was entrusted to the Arc-en-Ciel Association. One more time in 2019, we made the financial and emotional commitment to create Al Fundok. In the continuation of the spirit of the judge’s vision, all the profits will fund Boutros Noujaim Foundation and continue the initial mission of the founder — education.
Tell us a bit about the hotel itself.
There are 23 colorfully furnished bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Facilities include a restaurant, bar, cafe, kids’ area, TV room, meditation corner with hammocks, gardens and terraces. The swimming pool should be ready by the end of summer 2020.
Ultimately, Al Fundok is a community project. We employ people from the village, most of whom had absolutely no experience in hospitality when they started. We have been training them for a year now, and they have learned so many valuable skills. For guests, knowing that the staff of the hotel are locals adds to the experience of being in Maaser El Shouf.
What makes Al Fundok special?
When you come to stay at Al Fundok, you are not just staying at a regular hotel; you’re staying at the gateway to the mighty cedars forest and entering the world of Karkour, our famously wise little mountain donkey, who will be here to guide you on the mysterious roads to happiness. However happiness can be easy to miss, so our wise Karkour has devised many happy challenges that you will find in every corner of the hotel.
Em Boutros is your on-site restaurant. What’s the idea behind it?
Al Fundok is all about happiness, and we are very serious about making people happy through our food. I grow fruits, vegetables and herbs in my orchard, something I’ve been doing for 20 years. Lena is our cook, who after having started her catering business, has now surrounded herself with a team of women from the village to offer guests an authentic culinary experience. We don’t have a menu; it all depends on what we collect in the morning.
All the dishes we create are full of surprise but close to their original form. We refer to it as “sunny food.” This year, we introduced more than forty dishes prepared with edible plants picked in the mountain in the spring sleeka season.
What activities can guests look forward to?
Al Fundok is ideal for solo travelers, small groups or families as there’s really something for everyone. We have a whole host of social games at the property, including ping pong, table football, cards, etc. We also provide bikes for our guests.
In addition, we always have weekly activities at Al Fundok, such as yoga, live music and wine tasting. Guests can even pick their own fruits and vegetables from our garden.
We are lucky to be one of the villages within the Al Shouf Biosphere Reserve, so you can imagine how wonderful it is for nature enthusiasts. There are plenty of hiking opportunities whatever your level, and there are guides available. Furthermore, workshops celebrating traditional crafts can be found in the village workshops in the village. History buffs can visit Roman ruins close and the Niha Fortress.