24-hour room service: Ana Mandara Hue, Vietnam
A vision of beauty on the coast of Vietnam
It was my first morning at the Ana Mandara, and I couldn't see a thing. I stepped gingerly towards the hiss of the South China Sea, first across fat, springy grass and then on to white, hot sand. A heavy morning mist was tumbling in from the ocean thick and fast, obscuring the view to no more than a few metres ahead. The bright sun still managed to infiltrate the fug, illuminating other figures in a surreal scene: a Vietnamese woman in a wedding dress posed for her photographer, while bewildered-looking guests made their own tentative journeys down to the sea.
By lunchtime, the haze started to clear, revealing the magnificence of Thuan An beach – a long finger of sand lapped by the gentle blue waves of the South China Sea on one side and the Tam Giang lagoon on the other. In spite of the recent opening of the chic Ana Mandara here, it was still blissfully empty, with just a few other guests and the pre-wedding party (official photographs are taken several days before the big day and Thuan An is a popular spot) sharing the space.
How long this will continue remains to be seen. The first direct flights to Vietnam took off from the UK last month and sleek hotels are already popping up along the country's 3,440km of coastline, particularly in the south. The Ana Mandara is as yet the only luxury hotel in the central belt near the imperial city of Hue. Its charm lies in its simplicity – gentle exploration of this unhurried region is the order of the day. A short walk to the village supermarket will usually elicit enthusiastic greetings from the local children.
About 10km south lies Hue, the national capital from 1802-1945. Remains of an ancient citadel, pagodas, tombs of former emperors and French colonial buildings that line the Perfume River (the name comes from flowers that fall into the river upstream in autumn) await the visitor.
Of course, you can just come and relax. The pace is slow, the ambience low key. The small resort is focused around the pool, where a beach bar serves drinks and snacks, and families take shade on the lawn under the coconut trees.
At night, the Hue Flavour restaurant offers a more grown-up and intimate setting for local dishes, while the larger Lagoon Restaurant caters to bigger groups with pan-Asian cuisine.
There's no bar as such, and don't expect to be served drinks after 10pm, or, indeed, to find anywhere within walking distance that does – this is somewhere to seek peaceful solitude. At any other time of day, the cheerful staff – in their "teamwork makes the dream work" T-shirts – are eager to impress, whether it's by offering tips on what to eat in the restaurant that night, or what to go and see during the day.
The hotel is a 25-minute drive from Hue and will arrange transfers; there's also an on-demand shuttle. If you're flying into Danang, 80km south, the way to arrive in Hue is via the spectacular Hai Van Pass that separates the south- and north-central coast.
By train, the sluggish two-and-a-half hour journey traces the coastline before chugging up into the mist-shrouded mountains that divide the climates of the north and south. You can leave a hot dry day on one side and emerge 3.5km later in mist and rain. Adventurous drivers can tackle this "deserted ribbon of perfection – one of the best coast roads in the world" (according to the BBC's Top Gear) via national road 1A.
The 78 guestrooms range from spacious rooms arranged in two-storey complexes to duplex suites and beach-facing villas, four of which have private pools. All are generously proportioned, although the look veers more towards upmarket holiday resort than exclusive boutique hotel.
Attention-grabbing design features include geometrically patterned hardwood headboards, vibrant red and purple silk throws and impressive bathroom with claw-foot tub and two showers, one inside and one out in a patio festooned with bamboo and creepers. And all for a fraction of the price charged by luxury beach resorts further south.
Ana Mandara Hue, Thuan An Town, Phu Vang District, Hue Province, Vietnam (00 84 54 398 3333; epikurean.ws)
Doubles start at US$116 (£77), including breakfast
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