Palace of Dreams. I’ve probably been to Beiteddine almost as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. Trips with visiting friends, lazy summer Sunday excursions to escape the heat and of course, concerts. Over the years, I’ve been there to see the famously unmoving Fairouz (whose haunting, honeyed voice can melt ice), Elton John (who played an hour-long encore, so rapturously was he welcomed), Kazem al-Saher (apologies, not to my taste), the Kronos Quartet (surreal and sublime), Jessye Norman (still, my beating heart) and Ravi Shankar (my head is still reeling), amongst many others. But it wasn’t until my most recent visit, that I finally made it past the inner courtyard and into the palace itself. I know, right? But previous visits had coincided with presidential residencies (H.E. gets to spend summers in the Shouf) and so the way into the private quarters was always firmly barred. This time, though, I timed it right and was able to poke around assorted diwans, liwans, the harem and a few bedchambers. What a revelation it was. Already beautiful from without, from within, it’s a masterpiece, room after room of painted, carved wooden ceilings, delicate muqarnas, stained glass windows, intricate inlaid stonework, bubbling fountains and mirrored ceilings, with furnishing varying from the excessive to the minimal. A work of art, the palace was designed in collaboration with Tuscan architects, who worked alongside local artisans to create what is effectively an Orientalist’s wetdream. Prone to such flights of fantasy myself, I found myself envying Walid Jumblatt, who during the chaos of the war was able for a while to claim this place as his home. It’s probably lucky that he did, for it seems unlikely that Beiteddine would have survived quite as beautifully otherwise, as the ruins of many of Lebanon’s other palaces, pillaged and then frequently destroyed, so eloquently attest.