Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. While staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.

 

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

A day or so in Saigon is like a week anywhere else, staying in District 1 at the delightful Caravelle Hotel (yes, still the best breakfast in Asia).

I’m a sucker for a good hotel breakfast, and as one who has the simplest morning meal at home I go crazy when I’m at a brekkie buffet. The Caravelle Hotel, for me. is my go-to in Indochina. Every nationality is catered for, which suits me as I can cover ten countries in one sitting.

 

The hotel is situated opposite the charming Opera House (built in 1900), near every high end shop in town and 15 minutes walk away from the real shopping in big and vibrant Ben Thanh Markets – oh joy, oh joy!

 


The streets are buzzing with millions of motorbikes and we were pedalled around in a rickshaw yesterday – always a bit embarrassing as the drivers are usually the size of my left leg!
Visited the Reunification Palace and for the first time I visited the War Remnants Museum (much more realistic than the word ‘War Memorial’); sombre and heartbreaking, the museum pulls no punches and the photographs on the walls tell the horrific story of Vietnam’s suffering.
A funny thing happened at the Palace, there was a group of war vets, men and women who were ecstatic about having their photographs taken with us . . .see, you don’t have to mention the war!

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Writer Bev Malzard has visited Vietnam many times and blames the introduction to pho for her obsessive search for the best bowl of pho in Sydney. (On the lowdown, Eat Fuh (their spelling) has the most fragrant and divine broth for pho in Marrickville.)

Travel: New Caledonia

France in the Pacific? Feel like a change of pace, a change of heart and a change of culture? How about Parisian panache and savoir fare – and it’s in our neighbourhood. Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia is calling.

Noumea, who knew, so Frenchy so chic! So close to Australia with a French sensibility and a Pacific casualness, the capital city is vibrant and ticks all the boxes for a fine holiday.

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I confess to a visit 20 years ago and the planets were not aligning; nothing impressed me and the Pacific destination was ticked off and forgotten about. BUT how things have changed, there’s a young vibrancy here and an independent confidence that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. So for a holiday with a difference, viva la difference . . .

Say ‘au revoir ‘to Sydney and you are in New Caledonia within three hours to say ‘bonjour’.

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  • A stay at Marriott’s Le Meridien Noumea Resort & Spa is top of the pops here. A beachfront suite overlooks the gardens and the ocean. Restaurants run the gourmet gamut and you can walk from French to Japanese cuisine within a few steps.
  • Head downtown to discover a wealth of hip bars and classy restaurants. Check out (newcaledonia.travel) for a list of rooftop bars, by-the-sea bars and cheese and wine tasting cellars (yes! French wine and French cheese, ooh la la).

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  • At Port Moselle there’s a small but colourful market with lots of local goods (authenticated signs) and it’s a brilliant place to buy fab fruit and stop for a coffee and a buttery croissant.
  • In a water taxi, you can be on an island in Le Lagoon in five minutes. Duck Island has a bar and restaurant and you can swim and snorkel here and if you’re lucky there’ll be a party on after sunset – wild times ahead.

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  • Visit the beautiful Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a splendid building by architect Renzo Piano. This is centre to discover the local Kanak culture.

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  • Take a sailing trip around Le Lagoon, so big you think it’s the ocean and stop off at Amedee Island, 40 mins from Noumea. Here a stunning lighthouse awaits you for a climb. The locals call the islet Amadee Lighthouse Island.

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  • Indulge in lobster thermidor (old school and delicious), baguettes, patisseries offerings of many delights, fresh coconuts – a Gallic blend of influences. Tres bon.

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AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME:  SYD-NEWCAL 3 hrs; MEL-NEWCAL 3hrs50mins

CURRENCY: The CFC (Change Franc Pacifique).

LANGUAGE: French and English.

 BEST TIME TO VISIT:

From September to December, when the days are warm and sunny with little or no rain. But overall – with sunny year-round subtropical weather – New Caledonia is good to visit at anytime of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to: have your cake and eat it too

How to: have your cake and eat it too

After ten days sailing on the Red River in North Vietnam we came back to earth (land) and entered the mighty maelstrom of a late afternoon Hanoi happening. It seemed so crowded, so noisy, we had to find some a peaceful place.

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I’m used to busy cities and love to throw myself into the middle of a crowd, but after gliding on the silky river waters and away from the hurley burly it came as a shock.

Then peace and quiet opened its doors – we entered the Metropole Hotel Hanoi and the world was set back on its axis.

To stay in the Sofitel Legend Hanoi Metropole Hotel is to be treated like royalty and be immersed in Hanoi’s long and complex history. The French carved a colony out in Vietnam from 1887 until its defeat in the First Indochina War in 1954 when independence was claimed for the country.

The French left many beautiful buildings especially in the north and the Queen is the Hanoi Metropole, gleaming white, brass polished as a shining ritual and all things here, tres bon. The staff still greet each guest throughout the hotel with a welcoming “bonjour”.

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The hotel includes 364 rooms. The historic Metropole wing has 106 guest rooms and three Legendary Suites. The suites are named after famous residents and visitors to the hotel (Graham Greene, Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham). Green and Maugham spent long periods here working on their novels. (For inspiration read The Quiet American by Graham Greene, or watch the movie starring Michael Caine.)

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From the Paris-inspired cafe La Terrasse, to the popular poolside Bamboo Bar or Vietnamese restaurant Spices Garden, the multi-award French restaurant Le Beaulieu or the stylish Italian-influenced restaurant and lounge Angelina – the hotel promises a gastronomic journey.

The architectural style is neoclassical and is set on a tree-lined street. This luxury hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Hanoi Opera House and 27km from Noi Bai International Airport.

And if you can only visit for one thing – make it afternoon tea. Served daily, High tea and the Chocolate Library – tres, tres, bon.

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Every day, between three and 5.30pm, the Chocolate Library opens in the Club Bar. Praline, ganache, éclairs, mille-feuille pastries, chocolate fountain, a selection of every kind of French pâtisseries and chocolate in every shape and form appears and appeals seductively to the afternoon tea fanatic.…

And the High Tea isn’t too shabby either . . .scones, pastries, tiny cakes, finger sandwiches, baby quiche . . . do I need to elaborate? My travelling companion and I worked the program . . .one of us did the High Tea, the other the Chocolate Library. Would have been a terrible shame not to share.

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And there’s always Le Spa du Metropole after an afternoon of high indulgence. Enter a calm sanctuary of refined style for rituals combining east and west – to massage way the High Tea guilt.

For a little bit of fancy Francais in Vietnam, this hotel offers every experience to please a world traveller. Bon chance!

Visit: www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com 

Writer Bev Malzard, recovered from an afternoon tea sugar coma, and proceeded to order a simple repast later in the evening. There’s a little shop within the hotel that sells baguettes, rolls, charcuterie and a selection of exquisite French cheeses. It was just a simple, light dinner . . . truly.

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Travel to Spain: Make mine a Michelin

Travel to Spain: Make mine a Michelin

Hola! I’m revisiting this post as Spain is the hot spot top visit in 2020. The restaurant is till flourishing and waitig for your attendance.

Travelling across the arid plains of the autonomous region handsomely called Extremadura, in Spain, there are sleepy, medieval towns that have not been pillaged by 21st century tourists. The classic three towns that not only have character, personality, history and more than enough charm to capture your imagination are: Trujillo, Cacares and Merida (settled in 258BC).

We meandered into Cacares at a Don Quixote on an old donkey pace. The old stones in the preserved building glowed like old gold in the midday sun and the welcome was warm.

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Caceres has been named Spain’s Gastronomic Capital and as a special treat we are to have lunch at a two-star Michelin restaurant, Atrio.

This complete, ancient city from the Middle Ages oozes solid confidence – and so it should as it has embraced, been attacked, colonised and endured with tenacity a blended mix of Roman, Islamic, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance civilisations throughout history. And here stand the buildings to prove it. About 30 towers still remain from the Muslim period in Caceres. And as we step over cobble stones and steps that have been polished by thousands of feet, we walk in to Atrio Restaurant Hotel in the Plaza de San Mateo.

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A tour of the hotel with its cutting edge flair; the building following a canonical design in harmony with its surroundings we visit rooms with a simple ambience of neutrals and natural light. The terrace offers views of distant mountains and the neighbourliness of historic Caceres.

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Before we were actually served our endless degustation we met with chef Tono (Juan Antonio Perez) a charming, modest man with an impish grin and a sparkling personality. He and his partner Jose Polo are behind this splendid, felicitous complex where we were about to encounter the essence of Cacares.
Our lunch followed a perfect pattern of delightful, imaginative dishes served with a light flourish. From a delicate bisque, to silvery slivers of tuna cappaccio and on and on and on until dessert, a dash of foam, fruit crème and a fine stick of chocolate.

What a privilege for my eyes and stomach to be so gastronomically rewarded – for what I know not, but I’ll happily accept the prize.
Writer Bev Malzard travelled to Spain, flying Emirates from Sydney to Dubai then in to Madrid. Visit: http://www.emirates.com

Visit: http://www.visitspain.com

Visit: http://www.turismoextremadura.com

Hola! (Extremadura means Hard and Strong.)