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The Metropole looks forward to another century as Hanoi's 'grande dame'

Historic charm and modern upgrades ensure the storied Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel retains its glamorous legacy as the city's 'grande dame' for another century. Carolynne Dear flew to Hanoi for a stay

Hanoi's heritage Metropole hotel emerges from two-year refurbishment

Hotel Metropole Hanoi is one of the city's most historic buildings

Crouched low and attempting to hold my wobbly hard hat in place, I duck under the low-slung door frame and enter the bunker, narrowly avoiding a concrete beam.

I’m on a ‘Bunker Tour’, exploring the underground bomb shelter of Hanoi’s historic Metropole hotel. Myself and several other hotel guests huddle together in the tiny, somewhat claustrophobic space as our softly spoken guide takes us through Hanoi’s war years.

In 1964, with American air raids imminent, hotel managers built the bomb shelter in the courtyard of the hotel to protect guests, most of whom at that time were journalists or diplomatic staff from various countries. The hotel served as a base for several embassies and United Nations agencies. Hanoi suffered massive bombing during the conflict, particularly during the final major military operation of the war in December 1972, but fortunately the Metropole survived to tell the tale. 

These days, the shelter is to be found down a hidden flight of steps between the terrace bar and the outdoor swimming pool. It’s a sobering reminder both of the hotel’s bumpy history as well as that of Hanoi and indeed Vietnam.

Today the 123-year-old Metropole, located in the heart of Hanoi’s old city, is a recognised heritage landmark.

Hanoi's heritage Metropole hotel emerges from two-year refurbishment

Suites have been named after noteworthy guests, such as the Charlie Chaplin Suite

It first opened its doors in 1901 as the Grand Metropole Hotel when Hanoi was the most important city in French Indochina, a colony that covered Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Historic moments include it becoming the first hotel in Hanoi to boast street lighting and the property was generally regarded as a luxurious, if expensive, place to stay. Notable guests include film stars, celebrities, ambassadors and royalty; Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon here and Francois Mitterand, Jacques Chirac, Catherine Deneuve and Angelina Jolie have all stayed. In 2019 it served as the venue for a second meeting between US president Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Ensuring its glamorous legacy continues, the Metropole has recently emerged from an extensive refurbishment. The meticulous renovation of the Heritage Wing was part of a 21-month construction project.

Original fixtures and fittings have been carefully retained whilst 21st technology has been incorporated into the dynamic. 

Hanoi's heritage Metropole hotel emerges from two-year refurbishment

Original fixtures have been retained as far as possible in the Heritage Wing

According to the project’s interior design team, Singapore-based David Grace Designs International, the goal was to create a “memorable experience” that captured the charm of bygone days.

The design ethic elegantly melds romantic French Indochina with Asian elegance; guests are welcomed by staff in chic, velvet ao dai beneath whirring wooden fans, while Vietnamese coffees and French pastries are served in the hotel’s Parisian-style street cafe (also the location of that historic street lamp). 

“Our aim was to offer an experience that captures the essence of refined living and evokes the charm of days gone by,” says Grace Soh, managing director of David Grace.

Around 60% of the Indochine-style hardwood floors in guest rooms have been refurbished or replaced. Hand-tufted, exclusively designed carpets have been laid in rooms and corridors. The wooden bannisters and handrails of the hotel’s original 1901 staircase that winds its way from the ground floor to the top (third) floor has been carefully preserved. 

Taking the hotel into the 21st century, bathrooms have been updated with Italian marble surfaces, new tubs and showers and contemporary artwork has been added to guest rooms along with new beds, upholstery and curtains. Sound bars, mood lighting and WiFi routers in each room also bring the historical accommodation bang up to date. 

Six new suites have been created from pairs of connecting rooms. They feature a master bedroom and sofa bed in the parlour area which is a useful addition for family groups. Suite guests can also call on the services of a 24-hour butler service.

Hanoi's heritage Metropole hotel emerges from two-year refurbishment

Don't miss breakfast in the glamorous Le Beaulieu dining space

Facilities at the hotel are as opulent as the guest rooms. Le Club overlooks the outdoor pool and pool terrace and offers an a la carte menu and a sweet afternoon tea. 

But the dining piece de resistance is French restaurant Le Beaulieu. The a la carte breakfast served with champagne is superb - if you have just one night at the Metropole, this is the restaurant in which to break your fast.  

The nightly bunker tour is also highly recommended. Knowledgeable guides walk you though the history of the hotel before heading down to the bomb shelter. Interestingly it lay forgotten until 2011 when it was rediscovered, hidden beneath the Bamboo Bar. 

My visit concluded with a chauffeur-driven Mercedes ride back to Hanoi airport at dawn, a breakfast box and coffee packed by the kindly hotel staff nestled next to me on the soft leather seats. Nothing, it seems, is too much trouble when it comes to guest comfort at this incredible hotel. If you’re visiting Hanoi, this really is the place to stay.

Asia Family Traveller was a guest of Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel Hanoi.

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