Hanoi is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful colonial Indochinese cities. It was a bucket list item for my adult daughters and me — to stay at the crowning jewel of Asian colonial-style hotels, the Sofitel This Grand Dame, built in 1901 by the French, is in the same luxury league of “Legendary Hotels” as the Raffles in Singapore or the Peninsula in Hong Kong.
We traveled to Vietnam, one of my favorite Asian countries, to celebrate our birthdays in grand style. We ate our way through Hanoi, chopped our way through cooking classes, cruised and kayaked on Halong Bay, and for the finale – we booked a suite in the historic wing of the infamous Metropole. And we never wanted to leave.
This wing preserves the original colonial architecture and aesthetic; wood slat fans, a French delivery bicycle with wicker basket and leather handbags, wood-paneled walls and chandeliers, a Parisian street-side café, and two vintage 1952 Classic Citroen cars available for touring.
Presidents (Clinton), Prime Ministers, movie stars (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) and millionaires (Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Yahoo) preceded us as guests.
In 1936 Charlie Chaplin enjoyed his honeymoon – apparently one of four – in a suite with his wife and his new mother-in-law nearby. In his honor, The Bamboo Bar serves a “not-to-be missed” Charlie Chaplin Martini , made of gin, lime juice, apricot brandy and a scoop of homemade lemon sorbet on the side.
The renowned author, Graham Greene stayed at the Metropole to report for the famous French magazine Paris Match. English authors William Somerset Maugham, Sir Noel Coward French, and French writer Andre Malraux were also frequent guests.
One of the Metropole’s most beloved guests is legendary American folk singer Joan Baez. Forty years ago she stayed at the hotel and delivered Christmas letters to the American prisoners of war at the nearby “Hanoi Hilton” prison. She returned in 2013 when she heard that the air raid shelter she had occupied during the Christmas bombings of 1972 beneath the hotel had been rediscovered. During her recent rip Joan painted in her suite and tended to birds kept in a traditional wooden cage in the garden attached to her suite. One of these paintings is illuminated on a wall in the lobby.
As guests of the Metropole, we were able to join a history tour of the property and visit the infamous bomb shelter under the Bamboo Bar. We imagined what it was like during the American Vietnam War for a maximum of 40 guests to sit knee-to-knee in the claustrophobic shelter as bombs rained down over Hanoi.
It is easy to lose yourself in all the Metropole offers. Aside from the elegant architecture, the Metropole boasts a spa and multiple high-end restaurants- Le Beaulieu serves exquisite French fare; Angelina, the Italian Restaurant and Lounge, a low-lit and swanky new club, in honor of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s visit; La Terrace is an iconic outdoor cafe; Le Club Bar boasts a decadent chocolate dessert buffet every afternoon, and the classic Bamboo Bar serves gorgeous Charlie Chaplin and Graham Greene Martinis.
History seems to stand still at the Hanoi Metropole. The grace and elegance of French Indochina have survived multiple wars, and the Metropole remains a bastion of peace and tranquility in the chaotic streets of Hanoi.