Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sofitel Metropole Hanoi

Sofitel Metropole Hanoi

A bed for the night in Vietnam

By Jeremy Atiyah

Published: 25 September 2005

The location
In the old town of Hanoi, on a quiet street, just a couple of minutes' walk from the central Hoan Kiem Lake. It is to Hanoi what the Raffles is to Singapore: quite simply the classiest hotel in town. More than 100 years old, it was already regarded as the best hotel in Indo-China during the time of French rule. In the 1920s, guests included Somerset Maugham (who finished The Gentlemen in the Parlour here) and Noël Coward, who was "not allowed out of the hotel, as there was a revolution in progress". Later, Graham Greene, in The Quiet American, said the hotel was populated by French officers and their wives. (Today a Graham Greene cocktail at the Bamboo Bar, contains gin, dry vermouth and cassis). Outside, the Metropole still resembles a rambling villa, with a sleepy line of waiting bicycle rickshaws. Inside are dark wood, creaking stairwells and photos of ancient Mandarins, and beautiful staff.

All the top people stay here - but you can often get a bargain room rate.

The comfort factor
Very high, although the emphasis is on understated colonial elegance, rather than on vulgar New World glitz. The 232 whitewashed rooms have vintage furniture, shuttered windows and floor-to-ceiling curtains. Finding chocolate truffles and meringues on your pillow, you will probably dream that you are in France.

The bathroom
A fine array of brightly coloured and subtle-smelling unguents await, possibly to distract your attention from the bathroom itself, which is in need of modernisation - the flapping shower curtain is not quite in keeping with the five-star facilities.

The food and drink
The hotel contains two of the best restaurants in Vietnam. Prices are high by Vietnamese standards, but low for an international, five-star hotel. The Beaulieu is a traditional French restaurant, which is as old as the hotel itself and has an astounding wine list. From $28 (£16) a head for a set three-course meal. The Spice Garden is an excellent Vietnamese restaurant, where you can sample the dishes of old Hanoi, including items as humble as noodles and spring rolls. Set menus from $26 (£14) per head.

The people
Rich tourists, jet-setters and conference delegates; I saw one group of Russian oil-magnates and their bodyguards trying to stay sober in the Spice Garden. Also expect a steady stream of prime ministers, presidents, royalty and movie stars.

Things to do
Join a one-day cookery course conducted by the chef of the Spice Garden Restaurant. She starts at the market (travelling by bicycle rickshaw) and then shows you how to put together some basic dishes such as sautéed pumpkin branches with garlic, Hanoi deep-fried spring rolls and Vietnamese banana flower salad and marinated pork grilled in bamboo. Otherwise, lounge in the Bamboo Bar by the pool while a glamorous female pianist plays nearby. And, of course, beyond the front door there's the whole of Hanoi to explore.

The access
Children welcome. No wheelchair access.

The damage
Doubles usually available for $130 (£72) per night.

The address
The Metropole, 15 Ngo Quyen, Hanoi, Vietnam (0870-609 0961;

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