When traveling, I look for opportunities to indulge in the luxurious and the culturally enriching. Taking in a well-curated museum, for example, can reveal a destination’s triumphs and struggles, opening a window on its conscience and soul.
The Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image: Apricot Hotel
And so it was with no small measure of delight that I encountered the Apricot Hotel, a 123-room luxury property that opened in April this year in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam, that marries a refined sense of hospitality with an equally sharp eye on the arts. More than 600 original Vietnamese artworks, created by the country’s most renowned master painters and contemporaries, deck the walls and command the pedestals of this stunning debut.
After stepping into Apricot Hotel’s exquisite chandelier-lit lobby, a woman in an ao dai, a tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pants that is to Vietnamese women what the kimono is to the Japanese, glides over and guides me to the hotel’s “A’telier” lounge, where a selection of teas from around the globe and a tiered glass stand offering up finger sandwiches, homemade scones, cakes and pastries await me.
Entrance and lobby of the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image: Apricot Hotel
It soon dawns on me that resplendent art collections need not be relegated to the confines of only museums, galleries and, unfortunately, private collections hidden from view.
L’Atelier Loung at the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image: Apricot Hotel
“Our lobby alone houses 27 authentic artworks, marking the beginning of an incredible artistic journey spanning Vietnam’s rich and fascinating past and present,” says the hotel’s general manager Steve Tan, gesturing towards some of the works as a pianist tickles the ivories of a grand. An eclectic mix of paintings, sculptures, watercolors and sketches preside throughout the lobby, corridors and all of hotel’s rooms and suites.
“While we promote the acclaimed master painters, it’s pivotal we also support up and coming artists to help foster Vietnam’s increasingly vibrant arts scene, which is starting to gain traction on the international stage and further expose Vietnamese culture to the world,” says Tan.
After eagerly taking up his offer of an impromptu art tour, contemporary artist Bùi Hữu Hùng’s valiant, golden-hued Nhã Nhạc (Royal Elegant Music) greets us, a lacquer on canvas piece right behind the reception counter. I then eyeball the dramatic mountainscape captured in Phan Kế An’s Nhớ Một Chiều Tây Băc (Recalling One Late Afternoon in Tay Bac), an oil on canvas. Tan points to the Vietnamese troops marching in the foreground, explaining the painting commemorates their heroism during the French-Vietnamese war.
Vietnamese contemporary artist Bùi Hữu Hùng’s valiant, golden-hued Nhã Nhạc (Royal Elegant Music) (above top) and Phan Kế An’s Nhớ Một Chiều Tây Băc (Recalling One Late Afternoon in Tay Bac) (above) at the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Images: Apricot Hotel
The general manager clearly embraces the artistic appeal of the property, which in addition to the lobby lounge café features two restaurants, a rooftop bar and heated rooftop swimming pool, meeting facilities, spa and fitness centre. More artworks and sculptures wait to be marveled at as I progress down the corridor and into my suite, aptly dubbed “Masterpiece”. The other room categories are labeled “Sketch”, “Canvas”, “Gallery” and “Studio”.
The Masterpiece room is an airy realm of muted color palettes and carefully selected décor, contributing to a modern-meets-timeless take on neo-classicism. It’s sophisticated yet cozy and intimate, exuding the warmth of a home. As the sun sinks, I draw the under curtains and, right there is Hoan Kiem Lake, a souvenir left by the nearby Red River when the current changed course hundreds of years ago.
Rooms at the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Images: Apricot Hotel
Later over a sumptuous dinner cooked by Paris-born executive chef Hugo Barberis at “L’Artiste”, which boasts an open-style kitchen and menus in the design of sketchbooks, Le Anh Ngoc, the hotel’s marketing and communications manager delves into the past of the land lining Hang Trong Street where Apricot stands.
L’Artiste restaurant at the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Images: Apricot Hotel
“Not surprisingly, it was part of the Tu Thap painting village, a hamlet that goes back to at least the Ly Dynasty (1009-1225) and was famous for one very artistic custom,” says Ngoc. “Villagers used to hang paintings above the front doors of houses to drive away ghosts and demons!”
Under French colonial rule at the turn of the 20th century, grand, luxurious Parisian-style mansions mushroomed around Hoan Kiem. Along the stretch from Hang Trong to Le Thai To, which Ngoc describes as “typical of Hanoi’s architecture today: romantic and elegant in scale and design”, emerged the long-running Phu Gia restaurant, which the following century experienced a new lease on life when it became Apricot Hotel.
“Back in its heyday, young men born into families in the Old Quarter had beautiful girls fall head over heels simply for a night out at Phu Gia; it was famous for its luxurious parties,” says Ngoc.“ Apricot Hotel restores the area’s former glory. You can feel antique Hanoi with every step, and it’s very nostalgic.”
The rooftop pool at the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image: Apricot Hotel
Before I call it a night, I venture up to the rooftop swimming pool to take in the breathtaking panoramic view of Hoan Kiem by night, with the lit-up Turtle Tower adding to the reflections of light freckling the vast surface.
I think about the day ahead. I’ll be sure to indulge in a signature Vietnamese or continental breakfast at L’Artiste before a facial and massage at the hotel’s “Spa L’Art”, promenade around the lake, explore the teeming Old Quarter, and sample what I’ve been told is some of the world’s best street food.
Dessert at the Apricot Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image: Apricot Hotel
A thought comes to me then: Art and luxury equals bliss. And I’m feeling all the more culturally enriched for it.
For more information about Apricot Hotel Hanoi, Vietnam, go to www.apricothotels.com.
Feeling a touch of wanderlust? For more ideas, read about the 3 most affordable international travel destinations for your end of year holiday plans; the top 10 favourite holiday spots for Singaporeans and what about trying a different Indonesian island rather than just heading to Bali again?
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