Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Sofitel Dalat Palace
12 Tran Phu St.
Dalat, Vietnam
84 63 825 444
www.sofitel.com


Our Favorite Hotel in Vietnam
Refined Viet-Franco Alliance in a Vietnamese Hill Town
by Kim Fay

Dalat Palace

At the Sofitel Dalat Palace, there is more than one magical hour each day. There’s the time just after dawn, when you draw back the shutters and open your window to mist lying over Xuan Huong Lake below. And there’s the early evening hour, as you sit on the terrace at the restaurant, sip Bordeaux and watch as the sky turns the dusky color of the hydrangeas growing beside the steps at the back entrance. This is a place where interior and exterior beauty harmonize, just as Vietnamese and French influences enjoy a refined symbiotic bond.

This Viet-Franco alliance began with the founding of Dalat, which is situated about 5,000 feet above sea level, 200 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. In the late 1800s, Dr. Alexandre Yersin, a protégé of Pasteur, chose the site for a sanitarium because of its cool climate and fresh air. A model city was formally established in 1912, and "Le Petite Paris" served as a hill station for French civil servants, administrators and military personnel who came to hunt tiger and wild boar, and to escape lowland heat. Naturally, visiting expatriates needed a place to stay. Many built private holiday homes; today, there are hundreds of villas in the Art Deco or half-timbered Brittany, Savoy or Basque style. Those who didn't invest in their own houses checked into the then-named Lang Bian Palace, which opened in 1922.

View from the front of the Palace
Lobby

The hotel went into decline after the end of the Vietnamese-American War, and it wasn't until Larry Hillblom, the founder of DHL, rediscovered it that it began its latest, phoenix-like ascent. When the Sofitel Dalat Palace officially reopened in 1995, it was restored with an eye to the past. The intimate lobby opens onto a foyer that rises three stories to frame a glamorous chandelier. Muted Oriental carpets, comfy country house furnishings, parquet floors and reproductions of Impressionist paintings add to a grace that feels effortless and organic. An enormous lawn makes it an island in an already oasis-like destination, and a wedding cake icing-façade enriches its landmark stature.

Breakfast buffet in the dining room

We once preferred accommodations on the top floor overlooking the lake, because of their aerie-like mood. But now that the terraces on the first floor rooms have been separated with dividers for privacy, we favor these, since you can open the French doors and enjoy morning coffee outside in your cozy robe. All guestrooms and suites are consistent in their elegant décor; and although we prefer those with lake views, rooms at the back side have their own unique attribute: they gaze onto the Eiffel Tower. Built to resemble the Parisian monument, the town's telecommunications tower is lit up at night.

One of the things that amazes us every time we visit is that the main dining room, Le Rabelais, is never full. There aren't many expats in Dalat, and the prices—although excellent—are still too high to make this a hangout for locals. The dining room is serene, the service is professional, and the daily changing prix fixe dinner menu by chef Huong—one of the few Vietnamese executive chefs at a luxury hotel in Vietnam—makes this one of the best restaurants in the country. Unlike many foreign chefs we encountered, chef Huong is not a blustery personality. He is quiet and thoughtful, and his character shows in his food, which is subtle. Among the dishes we have enjoyed are grilled shrimp with creamy fresh leek and vanilla sauce, steamed lobster in chili orange sauce served with Milanaise risotto and vegetable linguini, and out-of-this-world desserts: raspberry mille-feuille with red coulis and warm apple feuillete with rosemary and vanilla sauce. Along with exploring French flavors, Chef Huong is also interested indigenous Vietnamese food, and he has created an authentic—and outstanding—Lang Bian beef and wild game barbecue at the adjacent Y Nhu Y restaurant.

Bedroom

If you have time, sign up for one of chef Huong's cooking classes, which are held in nearby Villa 27. This also happens to be the home of general manager Antoine Sirot. A gourmand, Sirot works closely with Huong in all aspects of the hotel's culinary affairs. When we were in the demonstration kitchen learning how to make ragu, a Dalat specialty, Sirot sampled it and decided it must go on that Friday night's menu at Larry's Bar, the cavern-like pool and beer joint in the basement of the hotel. It is this kind of personal attention, combined with the tastefully opulent atmosphere (and its celebrated Dalat Palace Golf Club) that makes Sofitel Dalat Palace a grand and welcoming home away from home—and our favorite hotel—in Vietnam.



*Images by Julie Fay

Going to Vietnam? Check our guide.

P020906
(Updated: 06/27/08 HC)


From turrets and moats to spas and golf courses, GAYOT's Top 10 Castle Hotels blend the best of past and present.
Whether you are in the mood for zingy Creole or fresh Hawaiian, you will find the perfect place to settle in for Sunday morning hedonism.