Jane Stanbury follows in the footsteps of royalty, stars and historyThe Sofitel Legend Hotel brand is a limited edition There are less than a handful of these properties globally and I think their icon has to be The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Built in 1901, it nestles in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, a short walk from the city’s major historical and cultural landmarks.
It is the property that started the genre which places culture and art at the heart of any stay, offering a combination of refinement, pleasure and elegance, demonstrating the art of hospitality and service. The noble hotel professions of butler, housekeeping supervisor, golden key concierge, chauffeur, wine waiter, gourmet chef, pastry chef, barman are alive and well offering the excellence of a discreet, efficient and impeccable service.
The hotel accommodation comprises two conjoined wings, offering 364 rooms. The Metropole’s historic wing features 106 guestrooms and 3 Legendary suites named after famous residents, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham and Charlie Chaplin. The little comedian famously brought his wife’s mother on his honeymoon with them in 1936.
The Opera wing, added in 2006, has 236 guestrooms and 19 suites. The magnificent 200sqm Grand Prestige Imperial Suite includes a spacious sitting room, a bedroom with adjoining guestroom, a private mini spa, two bathrooms, a giant tv screen and a large dining table decorated with original artwork by contemporary Vietnamese artists. It has its own private butler to serve high tea and evening cocktails. This suite is the choice of the world’s royals, dignitaries, heads of government and Hollywood celebrities.
Other rooms in this wing have been individually furnished and decorated in a neo-classical style offering spacious bedrooms complemented by stylish bathrooms with claw-foot roll-top baths, walk-in shower, double sinks and discreet technology.
The Metropole wing was similarly refurbished taking great care to respect the historical features. The third and last phase was the creation of the Club Metropole, consisting of large Premium bedrooms and Prestige suites, a new conference centre, as well as a state-of-the-art So Fit health and fitness centre and an impressive Spa.
With its neoclassic architecture and up-to-the-minute technology, The Metropole’s Conference and Business Centre comprises a number of meeting rooms named after famous Vietnamese places. Located on the ground floor and easily accessible from both wings of the hotel, it is open from 7am to 11pm. Its spaces include La Veranda, a splendid room with a view of the swimming pool and the luxuriant garden. About 200sqm, La Veranda can host receptions for up to 150 people. The Thang Long Room is the largest, accommodating up to 200 people. The smaller Dong Do Room is a beautiful and multi-functional space of 48sqm, the perfect setting for board meetings, committees and private dinners for up to 66 guests.
Away from business, the receptionists at Le Spa du Metropole welcome you with a refreshing hibiscus tea whilst establishing your preferred treatment oils and, refreshingly, your preferred type of music. There are private spaces for treatment, meditation and an opportunity to simply recharge in peace. The product range includes leading French brand Clarins and treatments tailored to each client. Bespoke packages can be created for guests seeking a specific result. Le Spa also features two themed spa suites for couples, three individual spa suites, a foot-massage room, steam bath and a sauna - providing an oasis of calm away from the motorbike-filled city streets.
On any steamy Hanoi afternoon, guests may step from the spa straight to the garden pool where pith-helmeted attendants tend to your every need. Towels, cocktails, refreshing fruit splashes, and an international wine list accompany a selection of bar snacks. Mouth-watering home-made ice cream is served at 2pm and 4pm each day, whilst a swim in the elegant, fountain-edged pool leaves the body refreshed.
For those seeking some European respite from the noodle bowl, the Restaurant Le Beaulieu has some of the finest French dining in the Indochina region. Steaks, lamb and fresh fish all feature La Terrasse retains a café style atmosphere and is the perfect place to sip a Jasmine tea whilst watching the world of Hanoi pass by.
Angelina, named after guest Angelina Jolie, is the hotel's Italian Restaurant and Lounge. It’s a capital hot spot and for the nicotine addicts is a place where indoor smoking is allowed. The chameleon Le Club Bar housed in a garden conservatory is a lunch time brasserie that becomes Chocaholic heaven during the afternoon when a high tea serves savouries, cakes, macaroons and an extensive chocolate buffet. By evening it is the place for cocktails with an extensive menu of treats inspired by famous guests. My personal favourite was a martini inspired by Bond star Roger Moore. Live jazz performances accompany the classic cocktails, grand cru and whisky collection, an ideal location for a group gathering.
The hotel’s Metropole School of cookery is an experience that starts with a stroll in the local market, accompanied by the Spices Garden Chef, to discover Vietnamese ingredients’ flavours and secrets. This is followed by a cookery demonstration in the hotel kitchen where everyone plays an active role. After class, lunch is served in the Spices Garden Vietnamese restaurant to sample the different dishes prepared during the demonstration. There are several different themes on offer and programmes are very flexible in order to adapt to group schedules.
Inspiring a team is always a challenge but an afternoon spent with Duc Nguyen, the eloquent, inspiring Hotel History Ambassador, will demonstrate how everybody can pull together in the hardest of times. He leads guests on a journey through intricate details of the hotel’s past. The roll call of guests features celebrities from all corners of the world and Duc explains that the hotel became a base for many embassies during the war, including Germany, Italy and Australia. During the American war pacifists Jane Fonda and Joan Baez used The Metropole as their base from which to highlight the plight of the US military. The most poignant part of the visit is to the hotel air raid bunker. As the bombs fell on Hanoi, guests and hotel employees hunkered down in the concrete shelter never knowing what they would find on departure.
Joan Baez recorded a portion of her album, ‘Where are you now my son?’ in the bunker and the recording still exists. As Duc starts the recording, goose bumps rise as the sounds of the bombs hitting the city provide the back ground to Baez’s ballad to a mother who has lost her son. It is this potted history tour, combined with its legendary heritage and incredible attention to detail, that makes the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi much more than your average luxury hotel.
Finnair, marking 90 years of operations, has launched three flights a week from Helsinki to Hanoi. The predominantly Airbus fleet is extremely comfortable and attended by charming crew serving great food with a genuine smile.
Phoenix Voyages is an agency dedicated to tourism professionals handling groups small or large. The people to contact for details about group activities, and for detailed knowledge of Hanoi, Vietnam or further afield.