L’espace Al Bustan
Showing it’s not always size that matters, but rather quality, service and design, the L’espace Al Bustan is a commendable new sanctuary spa, set in the hills overlooking Beirut.
Lebanon’s Al Bustan, which occupies a hilltop location in Beit Mery with soaring views across Beirut and the Mediterranean, has earned a level of national reverence that goes well beyond the insufficient categorisation of a grand five-star hotel. Originally built by businessman Emile Bustani and completed in 1963 by his wife Laura, after he died in a tragic aeroplane accident before construction had been completed, the Al Bustan is today a symbol of defiance, not just because it faithfully stayed open throughout the country’s lengthy civil war, but also because it is the home of Lebanon’s only winter festival of classical music. Indeed, despite the odds nearly always being stacked against her, the property’s owner, Myrna Bustani, Emile’s now 79-year-old daughter, who was Lebanon’s first female MP in the 1960s, says: “Every year there’s some sort of crisis and we say: ‘My God, are we going to carry on with the festival?’ and we always do.” Yet, like anything or anyone of a certain age, the Al Bustan has struggled to find relevance in today’s market – beyond of course its winter festival and many a summer wedding. Remarkably though, it has seemingly found it in the form of a state-ofthe-art new spa, called L’espace Al Bustan. “Many years ago, when we bought the land adjacent to the hotel, there was a charming old Lebanese stone house on it,” explains Laura Lahoud, the third generation member of the Bustani family who was instrumental in the creation of the new annex. “We knew we wanted to protect it and keep it as it is because it was very charming, so the obvious thing to do was to turn it into a spa.” The deliberations on just how they would go about doing this took over six years, and involved the Lebanese architect Antoine Maamari and later Lazzarini Pickering Architetti, an Italian firm, who conceived the final project. Amazingly, the outside of the old house was kept perfectly intact – to the extent that each stone was dismantled, numbered, and put back in the exact same place from which it came – while the interior was completely revamped. The result is a stunning combination of old and new, of East and West, a modern Oriental gem that covers: 1,000 sqm of space; two floors; four treatment rooms; a relaxation area; a wellness studio for dance, yoga and pilates; a Technogym-outfitted gym; a hydro pool; a plunge pool; a sauna; a steam room; a real Turkish hammam, and an absolutely stunning indoor swimming pool. Best of all, thanks to this gorgeous new spa, the Al Bustan has effectively reinvented itself as a modern health farm with oldschool charm.