The Sofitel Legend Metropole – the venue for the failed nuclear summit between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un – has a colourful history.
Bernard O'Riordan visited in September 2018
From its trademark green shutters and classic white facade, to the vintage Citroëns parked at the porte-cochère, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Paris when you arrive at Hanoi’s century-old Metropole Hotel.
With a Parisian-style sidewalk cafe that wraps around the hotel’s exterior, and chandeliers and exquisite french cuisine inside – the sophisticated elegance belies its conflict-prone history.
It has been more than six decades since the end of French colonial rule, but the four-storey Metropole Hotel is a lasting reminder of Vietnam’s links with its former occupier.
Located in the heart of Hanoi’s French Quarter, just steps from the Hoan Kiem Lake and opposite the historic Hanoi Opera House, the five-star hotel is as famous as the guests who’ve stayed there during its 118-year reign.
While it was the global focus of last month’s historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the hotel has long been a magnet for visiting royals, politicians, writers, actors and celebrities.
A plaque in the hallway, near the main lobby, is like a roll call of the hotel’s most notable guests, including former US politicians like John McCain, George Bush and Bill Clinton to celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Noor Al-Hussein, the Queen dowager of Jordan, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame all stayed there.
Home to Hanoi Jane
Perhaps its most iconic guest was American actress Jane Fonda, who stayed for two weeks when visiting the then enemy territory in 1972, at the age of 34.
A controversial photo of her sitting with North Vietnamese troops atop an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot at American planes (above) earned her the famous nickname “Hanoi Jane”.
The Oscar winning actress was serenaded with a Communist folk song as she was led to the weapon for photos, which she has come to regret. She reportedly said afterwards: “It is possible it was a setup. I will never know.”
These days the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is both a historical landmark and a luxury hotel.
Around every corner is a reminder of its painful past, including the numerous US Air Force raids during the 1955-75 Vietnam War. The hotel is less than two miles from the famous Long Bien Bridge, which the US military was obsessed with destroying.
When Hanoi was bombed at Christmas 1972, guests at the Metropole – including American folk singer and anti-war activist Joan Baez – were led to the relative safety of an underground bunker that was built in the 1960s.
It was here that Baez partially recorded Where Are You Now, My Son; a song she wrote after watching a woman search for her son underneath the rubble of a destroyed building. The falling bombs can be heard in her original recording.
The roughly 500 sq ft bunker was sealed up after the war and virtually forgotten about, until a chance discovery during renovation work almost a decade ago.
Now, at 5pm and 6pm every day, the hotel runs an exclusive Path of History Tour for registered guests, who don helmets and head underground to hear stories of the hotel’s role in the war. The tour finishes in the bomb shelter.
With the distinction of being the first Sofitel Legend property (only a handful of Sofitel properties carry this honour), the hotel has three restaurants, three bars, seven function rooms, an exclusive Club Lounge, a heated swimming pool, a health club and the luxurious Le Spa du Metropole.
There are 364 rooms spread over two wings. Hardwood floors, mahogany furnishings, Vietnamese silk, rice-paper walls and ceramic lamps all add to the classic French Colonial vibe.
The Club Metropole Floors (the fifth, sixth, and seventh floors) are where you’ll find the Grand Premium Rooms – six Prestige Suites and the Grand Prestige Suite that offer services such as a personal butler, private breakfasts, afternoon tea and evening cocktails.
The suites are actually named in honour of some of its more artistic visitors, including British novelists Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, and legendary comic actor Charlie Chaplin.
The Metropole’s main restaurant, Le Beaulieu, is also considered one of the best French restaurants in Vietnam with its French cuisine and wine pairings selected by the house sommelier.
If you’ve visited Raffles Hotel in Singapore you’ll appreciate everything the Metropole has to offer. It’s just a lot grander – and costs about a third of the price.
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