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The glory days of Sapa return

Inspired by memories of classical French architecture, and infused with the vibrant, striking colors of Vietnam’s northern hill tribes, a stunning new five-star accommodation has restored Sapa - a once-forgotten ‘summer retreat’

VietNamNet Bridge - Inspired by memories of classical Frencharchitecture, and infused with the vibrant, striking colors of Vietnam’snorthern hill tribes, a stunning new five-star accommodation has restored Sapa- a once-forgotten ‘summer retreat’ - back to the heights of its heyday.

The birth of Sapa

At the turn of the 20th century,the French first started travelling from Hanoi to Cha Pa (the original name forSapa) in the mountainous northwest of Vietnam. Despite the long distances, notto mention the precipitous slopes and harsh terrain they had to traverse, theywould have been instantly enchanted by what they discovered on arrival.

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Vying for dominance of Asianterritories with the British Empire, Sapa was situated in an ideal location asfar as the French military strategists were concerned - a garrison wasconstructed in 1903. But the intrepid colonials must also have been bowled overby the awe-inspiring views and rejoiced while breathing in the crisp and coolmountain climes. 

The ultimate antidote

In fact, for those used tosuffering in the soupy, stultifying heat of Hanoi, especially through summer, Sapamust have felt like heaven. They immediately set about building a railway linethat connected Hanoi to Lao Cai Province at the foothills of the Hoang Lienmountain range.

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As word of Sapa’s fairytalesetting spread, curious émigrés soon began to follow military personnel onsleeper trains that trundled through the night toward the mountainous north. By1909, there was already sufficient tourism to warrant the opening of the Cha PaHotel.

Over the course of the nextthree decades, the town’s reputation as the ultimate “summer retreat” grew andincreasing numbers of visitors - many who were ailing in the tropics - came todrink in the curative air of the “Tonkinese Alps”.

Dozens of villas were built bythe upper echelons of French high society - the Governor General of Indochinahad his own residence - while less frequent tourists to Sapa sojourned atsalubrious accommodations, such as the Metropole Hotel and Hotel du Centre.

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The end of Indochina

But what the French slowly builtup during the halcyon days of Indochina, they would later try to razethemselves. In 1952, two years before the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, when Frenchforces were defeated, signaling the end of Indochina, they bombed their ownhill station, destroying the governor’s summer residence, many of the othercolonial buildings and private villas.

All of the Vietnamese livingthere at the time would have fled and they only started returning in smallnumbers in the 1960s. With the country still embroiled in a war for many yearsto come (followed by many years of crippling poverty), Sapa’s glory days as ahigh-end tourism destination must have been scarcely imaginable through the1980s. Like all destinations throughout the country, the town was onlyrediscovered by international visitors in the 1990s, when western backpackersfirst started to explore the country on a ‘shoestring budget’.

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The return of tourists

In those days there were only asmall number of guesthouses and budget hotels in town. Overtime tourism beganto grow again, but slowly. A number of larger and more ambitious hotels werebuilt on the edge of the town as word of Sapa’s Alpine beauty started to spreadagain - this time, thanks to the internet, all around the world. But it wasn’tuntil December 2018 that the town’s first international 5-star accommodation,Hotel De la Coupole, MGallery by Sofitel, would open its doors, raising the barfor hospitality in Sapa in the 21st century to unprecedented heights.

The investor behind the project,Sun Group, Vietnam’s leading developer of high-end hotels/resorts andentertainment complexes in Vietnam, entrusted Bill Bensley — the self-styledKing of Resorts and the man behind the award-winning InterContinental Da NangSun Peninsula Resort — to conjure up a superlative design for Hotel de laCoupole and, once again, he didn’t disappoint.

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Like something out of a dream

Inspired by France’s architecturallegacy in ‘old Indochina’ and the vibrant colors of Vietnam’s northernmost hilltribes, Hotel de la Coupole is both an evocative throwback to the old hillstation’s glory days and a wonderful homage to the indigenous cultures of HoangLien mountain range and haute couture fashion.

Now, travelers arriving Sapatoday will be as stunned as those who discovered the mountain retreat over 100years ago at the sight of this architectural marvel, which boasts Parisiangrandeur and an art deco style façade. Set against the backdrop of the mistymountains, and with views of Fansipan — ‘the roof of Indochina’ in thedistance, this visionary hotel truly feels like something out of a dream.

Mesmerizing interiors

When guests step inside, theywill soon be besotted with the charming vintage interiors. The design of eachroom category integrates the striking patterns and textures of the region’shill tribes with the sophistication of haute couture and the ambience of FrenchIndochina. 

Wherever you wander within thisworld class accommodation, you can admire the vast collection of antiques andmemorabilia that tastefully adorn each room and corridor, lending a nostalgicambience to the whole hotel. Antique chests, vintage books, authentic militaryuniforms - even the bellboy, dressed in a retro uniform, wheeling his brassluggage trolley through the lobby, will charm visitors as they check-in at thegorgeous reception area.

“Best new arrival for 2019”

It’s no wonder that Hotel de laCoupole has made quite a splash since opening its doors in December, 2018. Infact, it has just been named “Luxury Hotel in Vietnam - Best New Arrival” atthe ‘Hurun Best of the Best Awards 2019’, recently held in Shanghai.

To land such a prestigious awardis high praise indeed. To select the winners, the Hurun Research Institutevisited 465 of the most influential high net worth individuals in China, whovoted based on their personal experiences. Undoubtedly those who have alreadyvisited were wowed by the hotel’s splendor and superlative services, not tomention the elegant setting.

To match the sumptuous design,guests will also experience delectable haute cuisine at Chic restaurant,scrumptious desserts at Cacao, and unforgettable rooftop cocktails at Absinthe.There’s also a stunning state-of-the-art indoor pool Le Grand Bassin,Athleticum fitness centre and Nuages spa where guests can revive mind, body andspirit.   

The pièce de résistance forguests staying at Hotel de la Coupole is the Memorable Moment — hotel staffescort them to the Sapa funicular station, where they can take a cable car rideto the very top of Fansipan at a height of over 3,100m while feasting theireyes on the breathtaking beauty of all the mountains, valleys and forests allaround them.

This is truly a heaven on earth,one that deserves to be known throughout the world. With the opening of Hotelde la Coupole, once again, discerning luxury travelers are sojourning in theHoang Lien mountains, drinking in the cool, crisp and curative air and admiringthe awe-inspiring views. Word is already spreading. The glory days of Sapa havebeen restored. Long may they last.

PV


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