Tucked away behind Hoàn Kiếm Lake, beyond the most frantic part of the Old Quarter, where the streets bustle with fruit sellers in conical hats, locals crowd the pavements eating noodles on little plastic stools, and scooters hoot their way through every twist and turn, you’ll find the Hotel Metropole Hanoi, splendid and white, on a tree-lined street.
It is no coincidence that the Metropole is located within the city’s historical quarter; the hotel, with its strong sense of tradition, has long been at the heart of Hanoi’s heritage. When it was first opened by French entrepreneurs in 1901, it was called the “largest and best appointed hotel in Indo-China”, and was the centre of the city’s social occasions, with playwrights and heads of state rubbing elbows in its bars and restaurants. The evocative colonial building has witnessed a lot since the French days, not least the turmoil of Vietnam’s recent history, and has its own stories to tell.
In the turbulent years after the country gained independence in 1945, the Metropole was taken over by North Vietnam’s government and renamed Thong Nhat Hotel, meaning “Reunification Hotel”, to express the hope that North and South Vietnam would be united once again. The preservation of French heritage was, unsurprisingly, not among the new Communist government’s priorities, and the hotel fell into disrepair.
During the war years, it became a base for foreign correspondents, diplomats and other foreign guests, some of whom – it was discovered earlier this year – sheltered in a bunker that was chanced upon in the hotel grounds, while digging the foundations for a new poolside bar. The eerie discovery of the 40 square metre underground space, used to shelter people during the 1972 Christmas Bombings – among them, the anti-war activist and actress, Jane Fonda – is testament to the hotel’s past, and how intertwined it is with Vietnam’s history.
After undergoing refurbishments, the hotel reopened in 1992 under new management – as the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi – and began to regain its status as the social hub of the capital. Today it has two separate wings dedicated to past and present: the classic Metropole Wing and the contemporary Opera Wing. Every one of the 236 rooms and 18 suites in the contemporary wing is individually furnished, and the Grand Prestige Suite is complemented by luxuries such as a personal butler and evening cocktails. The classic wing, with its 106 rooms, hints at a bygone European era, subtly blended with local Vietnamese style.
The Metropole’s three ‘Legendary Suites’ are the most evocative: the Charlie Chaplin suite, the Somerset Maugham suite and the Graham Greene suite, where the author reportedly wrote parts of his novel, The Quiet American in 1951. Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon here, following a secret marriage in Shanghai in 1936 to the actress Paulette Goddard, and Somerset Maugham wrote a book about his travels in the region, presumably while sipping martinis – shaken, not stirred.
Today, the hotel regularly counts the world-famous among its guests. The rather eclectic array of high-flying personalities to come through the Metropole’s doors has ranged from Fidel Castro, the presidents or prime ministers of the USA, France, Japan and Nigeria, royalty from Norway, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, to Stephen Hawking, Mick Jagger and Hollywood celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who stayed here in March 2007.
‘Legendary’ is a word that becomes the Metropole in more than one sense – the combination of its legendary guests, its unique history and its landmark building have awarded it the prestige of ‘Sofitel Legend’, a title which it shares with five other remarkable landmark hotels, among them the 17th century Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena in Columbia and an ancient Egyptian palace overlooking the Nile in Aswan, Egypt.
The Sofitel Metropole Legend is an award-winning five star hotel, and has all the services and amenities you can imagine – and more. Apart from swimming pools and spas, guests are also spoiled for dining and entertainment choices, among them dedicated French, Italian and Vietnamese restaurants, and several luxurious bars and lounges. For information about rooms, rates, restaurants and facilities, please visit Hotel Sofitel Metropole Legend Hanoi’s website.
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