Sofitel Metropole: Hanoi's Iconic Hotel

Hanoi is the cradle of Vietnamese civilization, the capital of a nation that has overcome the tribulations of war and is looking optimistically toward the future. Vietnam's economic upsurge over the past decade has been accompanied by a steady rise in tourism to Hanoi and other cities and destinations across the nation. Much of this increase is due to vast improvements in infrastructure, from the construction and upgrading of hotels and restaurants to the expansion of international airline service. Exterior of the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi, built in 1901

There is no more historic hotel in Vietnam than the Sofitel Metropole, situated in the heart of Hanoi's French quarter. Built in 1901, this grande dame of Asian hotels has hosted an A-list of VIPs from heads of state (like presidents of the U.S. and France) to renowned writers (Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Graham Greene) and big name entertainers (Robert DeNiro, Catherine Deneuve, Mick Jagger).

Nowadays, Sofitel Metropole is often frequented by diplomats and journalists, and was a main gathering place during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) attended by President Bush and leaders of Western and Asian nations.

The hotel is divided into two sections, the original 109-room Metropole Wing and the more contemporary 126-room Opera Wing. Major renovations of the entire property were completed within the past two years; all rooms and suites in the Metropole Wing were redesigned and upgraded by the end of 2005 with the addition of elegant new furnishings, woodwork, ceiling fans, ceramic lamps and photos of Hanoi's bygone era adorning the walls. Meanwhile, 38 rooms were added to the fourth floor of the Opera Wing, and all rooms were redecorated with new textiles and artwork by the beginning of October 2006.

Bathrooms also were completely updated with a transparent bathtub, imported marble tile flooring and separate rain shower stall as well as decorative light fixtures. All rooms in both wings also feature the latest amenities such as Sofitel's "MyBed," broadband Internet access, 32-inch flat-screen TV and DVD player.

Bird's eye view of Vietnam's capital city

Suites in the Metropole Wing are named after famous people who have stayed here. The most requested are the Graham Greene Suite, Charlie Chaplin Suite and Somerset Maugham Suite, all of which have Jacuzzis and come with butler service. Suites are bookable via phone and e-mail but not through the GDS. Contact General Manager Gilles Cretallaz (84 4 826 6919, ext. 8000; [email protected]).

Dining is first rate at the Metropole's restaurants, which are also open to non-guests. The moderately priced SpicesGarden combines traditional and innovative Vietnamese cuisine with an attractive terrace view and also serves a daily luncheon buffet. The more upscale Le Beaulieu is one of Hanoi's favorite French dining venues. For both restaurants, it's recommended that couples reserve a table at least a day in advance, while groups should book three to four days ahead. Call 84 4 826 6919, ext. 8208 or contact [email protected])

There are also other special food-related events and activities at the hotel, including Hanoi's only chocolate buffet, which is available every afternoon in the Le Club Champagne Bar. Guests can choose from more than 20 kinds of fine chocolate from France and Belgium and also sample other goodies like chocolate fondue and chocolate jelly with passion fruit. Hanoi's Best Buys

There are also half-day cooking classes available during which guests go shopping for ingredients at local markets and later prepare and enjoy a meal together at the SpicesGarden.

Quality restaurants located nearby include Bobby Chinn (

1 Ba Trieu St.
; 84 4 934 8577), which serves an eclectic selection of European, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes and is the place in Hanoi to see and be seen. The Emperor Restaurant (18b
Le Thanh Tong St.
, 84 4 826 8801) excels in Vietnamese cuisine, while Wild Lotus (
6 Ngo Tri Nham Street
; 84 4 943 8896) is known for its take on Vietnamese fusion.

Chief concierge Pham Cong Thinh (84 4 826 6919 ext 8110; [email protected]) organizes city tours in the hotel's vintage 1953 Citroen. Among the highlights of a tour are visits to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature (Vietnam's first university, dating from the 11th century), One Pillar Pagoda, Stilt House, Vietnam History Museum and the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, which has samples of works from classical to contemporary.

The hotel offers tours to the shopping areas near Hoan Kiem Lake

There are also shopping tours that stop at Hanoi's old quarter near HoanKiemLake, where items for purchase include embroideries, silk, lacquer ware, jewelry and furniture. The Metropole also has stores that sell a selection of luxury brand goods including Cartier, Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton. Among the best streets for shopping are Hang Trong, Hang Gai and Nha Chung.

Clients thinking about tying the knot here should know that weddings can be arranged for up to 300 people and offsite catering is provided on request; contact Nguyen Xuan Dinh, events manager (84 4 826 6919, ext. 8221).