Every time I travel to a new destination, I feel a certain level of excitement combined with a little adrenaline-based fear as I step off the plane. After a 24 hour flight, with a layover in Guangzhou, China, my friend (Amanda) and I deplaned; we finally made it to Hanoi, Vietnam!
This time, my predictable emotions of excitement and fear were replaced with a feeling of accomplishment, but, also of mournfulness. Accomplishment: Following my first college class (30 years ago!) on Vietnam, I had wanted to visit this special place. Mournfulness: I recall horrific scenes from so many movies I had watched about the Vietnam war. I was really here…in person…where it all began!
Amanda and I chose Vietnam as our adventure trip due to many factors. We had already visited Thailand and Cambodia and felt a strong pull to go back and see more of Southeast Asia. We knew only the basics of Vietnamese cuisine and were looking forward to learning more. Our desire to visit local sites that represent the region, indulge in unique spa treatments, meet locals…all combine into discovering true beauty that only a destination like Vietnam could offer. For all these reasons we chose Vietnam. The final deciding factor: its fantastic history.
Leading up to our journey, we watched a Netflix 20-hour documentary on The History of the Vietnam War…as a refresher. Although we learned so much in class and in front of a t.v., being on the soil of where soldiers stood, hid, fought and died and hearing from the those that lived it, in person, was something that we had to experience. After a 45 minute drive, we pulled up to our Hotel in Hanoi, The Sofitel Legend Metropole, and my first thought was that it was striking, simply beautiful. Even at 2:00AM, staff was fully present and waiting to greet us!
The hotel first opened at the turn of the 20th century by two private French investors. It has stood the test of time, and is now recognized as Hanoi’s legendary landmark for its contribution to the history and heritage of the city. The property is traditionally known for its luxurious ambience and service, equally visited by both business and leisure travelers. In July 2009, the Hotel Metropole Hanoi became the world’s first Sofitel Legend hotel, opening up a unique collection of stately heritage hotels and palaces found in iconic cities around the world. Each landmark property in the collection is historic, some dating back centuries.
The overall décor is French art de vivre blended with elegant Vietnamese touches. There are two wings in the hotel: the historic wing and a newer, more contemporary wing. The original grandeur is preserved in the historical Metropole wing. It has 106 guestrooms and three legendary suites, and would be described as “charm meets old world elegance” as French-Colonial Vietnam is reflected in all of its décor (dark-wood finishes, nostalgic artifacts).
The new wing, where I stayed, was in contrast to the historical rooms. Rooms are much brighter and decorated in neoclassical style; elegant and timeless. After a great night’s sleep, I awoke and peeked out the huge windows in my room. My room looked down upon a charming courtyard. Across the way was an infinity pool leading up to what appeared to be a greenhouse (afternoon high tea is served here). In front of the pool is the Bamboo bar (make sure to order the dim sum lunch!!).
Dining at The Metropole was just as fabulous as the decor. The new restaurant, angelina, is a mix of Hanoi’s French roots with a smidge of Italian, and boasts one of the city’s best collections of whiskey in a beautiful, bookshelf-esque bar. angelina is where the very best from Europe and the New World comes in perfect measure, where cocktails are mixed both classically and with a modern twist, and expertly chosen wines are poured. The world-class whisky collection is unparalleled. An experience brought together in a sophisticated yet soothing decor with a touch of Scottish highlands and hints of gold, green and blue.
The angelina kitchen uses the finest ingredients to serve rustic food with a handmade touch. Our menu reflects the seasons and the chef’s creativity offering locals and travelers imaginative comfort food with a fresh attitude. European and New World recipes inspire the dishes that you will want to share. At just 30, Chef Aurelien has already clocked up 11 years of industry experience, previously working in the Ashford Castle in Ireland and has stints in some of the most renowned Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe.
Take some time to roam around the hotel. In every nook and cranny a piece of history lies. Around the corner from the main lobby is a plaque that honors notable guests that have stayed at the hotel, from politicians to celebrities. It is quite impressive. Two celebrities that have made quite an impression on the hotel are Joan Baez and Jane Fonda. Both of their presence at the hotel became infamous for the experiences they had actually DURING the Vietnam War. They each sought safety in the Metropole’s bomb shelter. This bomb shelter was re-discovered in 2011 during a renovation to the hotel. Now, donned with helmets, guests can head underground and hear stories of the hotel’s role during wartime, recounting the hardships endured in the city, as well as more intimate moments such as Joan Baez’s writing of “Where, Are You Now, My Son”, which she wrote while waiting out a bomb attack.
NOTE: This tour is only for guests of the hotel and is a truly intimate way to gain a rare perspective on life in Hanoi during the war.
Inside the walls of the Metropole Hotel you will find a quiet, calm energy, with candles lit, beautiful greenery, soothing music. Yet, when the doors leading outside the hotel open, you will find yourself amidst the hustle and bustle of the Old French Quarter, with hundreds of scooters zooming by in every direction. Everything you want to see in Hanoi is in walking distance to the hotel or a very short drive. Such sites include colorful markets, street food, shops and museums.
When you are done running around the city and seeing all the craziness and history of Hanoi, make your way back to the Metropole. And if it‘s Sunday, get ready for the BEST brunch at The Beaulieu! Just like the hotel, this restaurant is more than 100 years old. Be ready to learn about Vietnamese spices and cooking techniques led by one of the hotel’s chefs, Chef Raphael Kinimo. The French national has worked in some of the world’s top kitchens and hotels and brings more than two decades of culinary experience to Vietnam’s most storied hotel. After a wonderful brunch, sit outside on the patio of the Bamboo Bar or book a SPA treatment; you will not run out of what to do, or what to eat!
What made my stay at The Metropole so wonderful was the combination of the warmth of the staff, the striking beauty of the property and understanding that even with all this historical city had been thru for so many years of the war, the city and its people still welcomes tourists to enjoy all it offers.