A Tour of Stately Opulence
Personally I have no need for a hotel in Hue. I am married to a Hue woman and whilst we live in Saigon we have a house here. However ever since I worked in a hotel in the early eighties I have had a fascination for hotels that maintain the heritage of a country and even in the last few years I have contributed to Vietnamese magazines on this subject. Since first seeing advertisements for La Residence my curiosity was aroused and I put this one on my must visit list. This June (2012) I was lucky enough to be given a tour and given an overview which enables me to supply you with details new even to those who may have actually stayed at this first class hostelry.
I had never before ventured so far down Le Loi street, that long thoroughfare that runs alongside the river. I stood at the gate. Whilst not having the grandeur of an English stately home, the art deco palace was nonetheless imposing and whilst not in quite the same way as the citadel on the other bank of the river its historical nature intrigued me. The building in front of me looked something like a battle ship but panted white rather than navy grey. I had to have it pointed out to me later that the two wings were not original and had been added in the conversion to a hotel. It was raining which further added to the atmosphere.
I walked across the courtyard. The bellboy graciously took my rain poncho and led me to reception. Only an hour ago had an introduction been hastily arranged through a magazine contact. Not coming to stay at the hotel I felt like an intruder. "Mr Drury," the receptionist said, 'We have been expecting you." He led me to the lobby, sat me in a comfy chair and soon a piping hot cup of tea was set before me. Hospitality indeed and a warm welcome for a cold caller!.
Mr Phuoc the Director of Sales who had been in a meeting met me twenty minutes later and first showed me the main building. A series of period photographs of the Governor of Annam's residence and associated places in France adorned the walls. The library was a period piece delight with brightly polished woodwork and large portraits of Hue Emperors clad in glorious apparel. There was an old fashioned record player alongside the books. The disc on it was by 'The Hamilton Bluegrass Players'. By chance a New Zealander guest was in the room and he explained they were popular in his country in the 1970s. One thing I noticed on this visit was the guests I met all seemed contented and sociable.
After a quick inspection of Le Parfum restaurant and a mouth watering look at the Vietnamese and International dishes it offers I was led out into the splendid tropical gardens - such a lovely place to sit and take tea or maybe a sun downer cocktail. An Australian lady swimming in the pool gave us a wave and a hello. She said she was enjoying the novelty of a salty water pool.
As we stood on the banks overlooking the Perfume River I mentioned two concerns to Mr Phuoc. I remember Hue in the devastating floods of 1999. Mr Phuoc told me the French wisely chose their location to house their governors on a high bank. I was informed that waters of that exceptionally terrible year here had only risen high enough the water the lawns. I inquired about the green credentials of La Residence. "We are up to and maybe above accepted standards and are about to apply for international green certification," was the reply. If you stay here you can be assured to know you will be doing nothing to endanger the 'chanel number five' quality of the Perfume River.
I was shown the rooms. In the main block there are ten rooms. Each is different and is given its own name. They all exhibit a period feeling. The one I saw had a 1960s telephone in it. How quickly history progresses. I am only 57 but nostalgia overcame me on seeing a telephone from the days when you had to wait for months to be issued with one from you local telephone authority. As evidenced here they came in any colour you liked as long as it was black!
The crowning glory sits appropriately atop the main building as a kind of penthouse. This is the 'Resident Suite' the sleeping quarters of the French and Vietnamese supreme civil servants. As you would imagine it is palatial with a colonial ceiling fan and featuring both parquet and ceramic flooring. Imagine the important decision making taken here while lazing on that bed or even sitting on that loo. The suite has enough outside terrace space to hold a ball with a small orchestra.
I was shown the superior rooms in the new wings - also sumptuous with luxury fittings and dark wood furniture. How about seeing a standard room I asked. "Our hotel starts only with superior," Mr Phuoc told me.
Also in one of the new wings is an art gallery which features paintings by a group specializing in old imperial Hue themes. These paintings are on display and also for sale. When in the gallery be sure to look out for an excellent example of art deco stained glass. I could also see in the adjacent 'Le Spa' that the hotel further offers all manner of treatments to rejuvenate your mind and soul in settings that will take you back to the magical twenties and thirties.
My father is now eighty nine years old and planning his second visit to Vietnam early in the New Year. We are bringing him here to see Hue for the first time. Our house will not be comfortable enough for him and is full of noisy of grandchildren. I want Dad to be in the best of hands for his stay in the ancient capital. La Residence, I have decided is the place for him. I have seen the staff is exceptionally attentive and the rooms have every possible creature comfort. The only worry I have is that as Dad is slightly older than the hotel itself they may wish to keep here to add a bit of living history to the residence. An even bigger worry is that if they do that he is quite likely to accept and we shall never get home again!
* * *
La Résidence Hôtel & Spa
5 Le Loi Street – Hue City, Vietnam
* * * * *