SWEET & SUITE
MELIÁ BA VI MOUNTAIN RETREAT / SOL BEACH HOUSE PHU QUOC
We show you two hidden hotels designed for the restless explorer.
The long and narrow countr y of Vietnam stretches over the South China Sea. It’s a land cloaked in rice fields and beaches, mountains inhabited by small ethnic groups and cities ridden with floods of motorbikes that have usurped the terrain of rickshaws and bicycles. After witnessing the urban madness of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you can delight in just the opposite: soothing massages, yoga sessions and holistic treatments provided at the Meliá group’s countr yside hideaways.
Just like ‘British humour ’ or ‘Swiss punctuality’, the expression ‘Asian luxury’ wasn’t coined by chance. Yet the continent is rather huge, so perhaps the cliché should’ve been more specific. It wouldn’t have such a nice ring to it, but Southeast Asia in particular is where luxury hotels offer the highest-quality services and attention to detail, setting them far apart from other latitudes. In Vietnam, at least, this phrase fits like a glove.
The country is incredibly versatile, allowing you to enjoy top destinations like Ha Long Bay, the effervescence of Hanoi, the imperial footprint of Hue, the oriental charm of Hoi An or walks among the rice fields of the Mekong Delta and the mountains of Sa Pa. There’s an endless number of excuses to travel here—for foodies, shopaholics and hedonists alike. After an exhausting day of haggling your way through the capital’s old quarter in search of crafts or spot-on imitations at bargain prices, you can always find a place to get a rejuvenating massage and gain your strength back, even late at night. And if you start to notice the collateral damage of Vietnamese cuisine around your waistline—by becoming an expert on either the best restaurants or the thousands of street stalls cooking up authentic delicacies—every morning at dawn you can join hordes of retirees, housewives and neighbours who meet at parks and lakes to practice the hypnotic movements of tai chi before going to work.
The balance between body, mind and spirit is extremely ingrained in the local culture. It’s no coincidence that Vietnam, with its abundance of stunning natural settings, has become a mecca for wellness. More and more Europeans are escaping here to unwind and disconnect. If you’re tempted to join them, read on.
MELIÁ BA VI MOUNTAIN RETREAT
Pedestrians beware: only a fool would take a stroll through Hanoi without having previously learned how to walk here—literally! Traffic in the capital is so wild that the colour of stoplights, the direction of the road and even the humble signs saying ‘prohibited’ seem to be deemed as mere administrative opinions, to which nobody pays any attention. As a result, swarms of motorbikes zip through the streets with no apparent rhyme or reason—and half the family aboard—in a crazy urban choreography in which there are rarely accidents (must be a thing of the gods!). To come out alive, simply cross the street at a normal pace, without running or ever turning back. Rest assured that drivers calculate pedestrians’ pace to the nearest millimetre, brushing right up against them and passing by just when a crash seems inevitable.
If you’re still not convinced by this tip, you can always cross the street while taking shelter behind a local passer-by, or get some practice in the pedestrian parts of Hanoi’s beautiful old quarter. Shopping in this area can be as addictive as the ambience in the afternoon, when tiny bars are set up along the pavements. After a few days of battling the blessed chaos in the capital, the body cries out for a bit of peace and quiet. You’ll find all the tranquillity you’re looking for—and then some—about an hour and a half away, at the five-star Meliá that opened last March.
During the colonial era, the French would get away from Hanoi’s sticky heat by visiting the national park that this hotel is named after. Residences and clubs were built for officers and their families amidst the green hills. After independence in 1945, they were ordered to be demolished.
Ba Vi Mountain Retreat was conceived 600 metres above sea level, with breathtaking views over the northern delta and inspiration from the forgotten ruins. According to the manager of this exclusive and exotic refuge, Mr Hai Do, ‘one of our highlights is the design that fuses colonial taste with traditional Vietnamese architecture’.
It features tropical wood in all the rooms, earth-toned upholstery and large verandas overlooking the forests, where you can go fishing, kayaking or exploring by foot or bicycle, catching a glimpse of the beautifully coloured birds and butterflies. Ethnic groups like the Kinh, Muong and Dao also live in these mountains. Without leaving the hotel, you can take part in cooking workshops that use products from the organic garden, as well as meditation and yoga classes. Then, of course, there’s the YHI Spa, where you can balance your body and mind through a philosophy based on the five elements, as well as essential oils, herbs and spices that have been used as secret recipes for health and beauty in Asia since ancient times.
The swimming pool is a veritable oasis in the middle of the wilderness. The flavours of old Indochina overwhelm
the senses, especially at the Tonkin restaurant, and even more so at the 1902 bar, where you can enjoy the night’s last cocktail surrounded by a colonial atmosphere. The terrace offers immense panoramic views overlooking Ba Vi National Park, its hills and its jungle.
SOL BEACH HOUSE PHU QUOC
At the opposite end of Vietnam, you can hop aboard cruise ships that cross the Mekong Delta, departing from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City towards the small island
of Phu Quoc. The southern capital, which many still call by its old name Saigon, embodies the unstoppable growth that began in Vietnam in the eighties, even more so than Hanoi. Its pace is so frantic that, after exploring the Chinese neighbourhood of Cholon and the few colonial traces that have survived among the city ’s skyscrapers, the rural landscapes of the delta stretching off to the sea will be a source of comfort.
It’s fascinating to peer through the branches and spy on the locals who come by canoe to sell their produce to wholesaler barges. Within these floating markets, you can easily spot the merchandise on offer by looking at the long stick on each boat’s bow, hung with fish, seafood and vegetables that most westerners have likely never seen before. But the real king here is rice. In fact, the area along the delta alone produces enough rice to feed all of Vietnam, and there are still plenty of extra tons to be exported.
Among the maze of the Mekong, you can also catch a glimpse of Khmer temples; women doing laundry in
the chocolate-coloured waters; and tiny unpaved roads that are happily shared by pedestrians, oxen, lorries and motorbikes carrying three or four passengers, or even entire families, perfectly balanced on one seat. Meanwhile, a unique and endless row of roadside houses, with direct access to the rice fields from their back doors, fade into the distance. Like a scene straight out of a documentary film, all of this is slowly revealed from the decks of the cruise ships that, after a few days’ journey, reach the point where the ferry continues to Phu Quoc: an off-the-beatenpath destination that’s also accessible by plane.
Incredibly close to the coast of Cambodia, much of this little island in the Gulf of Thailand is occupied by the national park of the same name, which is also situated in a biosphere reserve recognised by UNESCO. Along
Truong Beach—one of the island’s best—you’ll find the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc. Each and every one of its employees, and most likely all of its guests, agree that it offers one of the most stunning sunsets they ’ve ever seen. The sunrise is also worth catching, especially if you want to start your day with a yoga or tai chi class on the white sand, surrounded by tropical gardens and throngs of palm trees.
After that, have a Western-style breakfast or an obligatory bowl of pho; drink a freshly squeezed juice from the natural juice bar; or even enjoy brunch in your bikini while gazing out to sea. Let time pass you by as you loll on the Bali beds or wade in the huge infinity pool. Alternatively, you can traverse the crystal clear waters with one of the kayaks and paddleboards available to guests. Or, if you prefer, join one of the snorkelling expeditions that take place around mid morningning and are organised by the resort, which opened less than two years ago. There are many more tempting activities to try, from sports like volleyball and aqua-fitness to cooking classes taught by chefs. Take a ride on a cute vintage bike and explore the island’s trails amidst nature, secret pictureperfect beaches and pearl farms where you can witness the cultivation process—and get a treasure to take home.
But, without a doubt, at some point you’ll have to find the time to enjoy the Body & Sol spa. One of the most popular programmes offers three hours of total relaxation, with a combination of various massage techniques from the East and the West to help you release energy, loosen every muscle in your body and feel completely stressfree... until it’s time to pack your bags and return to the real world. Every evening during your stay, you can savour Mediterranean-style seafood and international flavours at the resort’s restaurants. As noted by Raúl Mateo, General Manager at Sol Beach House Phu Quoc, you’ll also enjoy ‘the casual atmosphere of our secret paradise, especially when the sun starts to go down at the Ola Beach Club, letting you see off the day with a perfect sunset accompanied by cocktails and DJ sessions’.
On the left, the bathroom of one of the family suites; views from the resor t and the king size bed of a family suite at the Meliá Ba Vi Mountain Retreat. On the previous page, a view of the hotel, and to its right, the beach at the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc.
On the left, a room with an extra large bed at the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc; details of the room and an aerial view of the pool area at sunset.
On the right, the bar and main lobbyof the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc. Below it, a welcominggreeting, and the stone sculptures that represent agriculturalwork on the island.
The Sol Beach House and its formsof relaxation: the hotel's main pool; a Vietnamese meal; a sun lounger to enjoy the fresh air ; and the spa.
Above, sunset on the beach at the Sol BeachHouse Phu Quoc.