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The weight of Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi’s legacy was obvious within the first few hours of my stay. After a quick stop to my room, I accompanied a woman named Yen from the hotel’s lobby, around a courtyard bar and down a dimly lit staircase.
“Here, put this on,” said Yen, handing me a green hard hat.
We were about to enter the hotel’s 1960s-era bomb shelter, and loose debris could fall from the ceiling at any moment.
The 364-room Hanoi, Vietnam, property — which was owned by the government during the Vietnam War — discovered its sealed bomb shelter only when renovating its poolside Bamboo Bar. Now, guests who book the daily Path of History tour in advance can crouch in the bare, dank spaces that make up one of the most significant shelters of its time.
Singer and anti-war activist Joan Baez famously stayed at the Metropole during the “Christmas Bombing” of Hanoi in 1972. During air raids, she retreated to the shelter and recorded some of the album “Where Are You Now, My Son?” Once we reached a dead end, Yen played a snippet of the title track, and we stood cold as we absorbed Baez’s piercing soprano eclipsed by real sounds of war. A shiver ran up my spine when I realized my underground visit fell on Christmas, too.
Baez returned to the hotel a few years ago, along with others who had come to Vietnam during the war, such as U.S. Sen. John McCain. In fact, most of the world’s major politicians have stayed here, as well as a slew of actors — from Charlie Chaplin and Jane Fonda to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Many visitors are drawn to the Metropole for its reputation, exacting service, French Quarter address and history — which dates to 1901. But one could be forgiven for visiting the hotel for more shallow reasons: The property and its historic Metropole Wing have aged gracefully, and one can feel the Old World charm in every corner.
While the entire hotel nods to French and Vietnamese design, my room in the newer Opera Wing — with its white neoclassical-style moldings and dark-wood furniture — gave me that same whimsical feeling I have when staying at five-star hotels in Paris. In Vietnamese culture, red is associated with power, making pops of scarlet — like a window-side rose and a tiled bathroom accent wall — feel especially emboldening.
Also adding some pep to my step was the hotel’s very own jasmine tea blend, which is offered as a free amenity. Each day, we looked forward to daily treats, which ranged from homemade chocolates and macarons to a Christmas gift of a crimson velvet satchel filled with locally made handicrafts.
Food is another highlight at the hotel, which offers French, Vietnamese and Italian restaurants as well as a few bars with snacks, inventive cocktails and live music. Each morning after a gym visit, I headed to Le Beaulieu for French-style omelets and fruit, but my good intentions waned at the sight of the cheese tray, a personal bread and pastry basket and Vietnamese iced coffee laced with condensed milk.
Staff, who are quick to dole out a “bonjour madame,” are unflinchingly sharp and upbeat both in appearance and personality, which is a good thing when you’re like me and wrap up sightseeing early enough to unwind by the pool. There, eased by warm service and enveloped by foliage and green-shuttered white facades, I marveled at how I was just a few feet above the bunker.
Times may have changed, but it’s clear that the Metropole is just as much of a haven as it ever was.
Open since 1901, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is a Hanoi, Vietnam landmark. // © 2018 Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
The property has hosted major politicians and actors, including singer Joan Baez who famously recorded music in the property's bomb shelter during the Vietnam War. // © 2018 Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Visitors who want to see the hotel’s bomb shelter should arrange a tour in advance. // © 2018 Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
The hotel’s Metropole Wing charms with Old World elegance. // © 2018 Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
The newer Opera Wing has a neoclassical look. // © 2018 Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Don’t miss a meal at French restaurant Le Beaulieu. // © 2018 Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi