Confused. There’s no other word for it. It feels like you’re in the Alps, French or Swiss, with the pine-covered mountains and the twisting roads. It looks like you’re in the Himalayas with the colonial hill stations and the ancient temples. It seems like you’re in West Java with the coffee plantations and the mist-shrouded valleys. You never would have guessed that this is Vietnam.
It’s really the climate that threw you off. Vietnam is famous for its tropical, humid weather. Not here. The Central Highlands don’t feel like the rest of the country. This area in Southeast Vietnam is cool all year. It’s known for its crisp mornings, warm (not hot) days, and chilly evenings. It’s downright comfortable.
Dalat, the capital of the Lâm Đồng Province, is often overlooked by foreign tourists. The mid-size city sits 4,900 feet above sea level on the Langbian Plateau. The French first set their sights on this part of the country in the late-19th century. They wanted to create a resort to escape the heat of the lower, coastal areas. So the first hotel was built in 1907. Colonial mansions, wide boulevards, and a railroad station followed. Bakeries and coffee shops, honeymooners and adventure-sport lovers did, too.
Dalat is known as Vietnam’s Little Paris. Xuan Huong, a man-made lake, is the heart of the city. It’s surrounded by aging French colonial buildings. Dalat Railway Station (now a historical monument) and Bao Dai Palace (the last emperor of Vietnam’s third palace) have an Art Deco vibe. The Domaine de Marie, a Catholic convent, features pink limestone walls. While Hằng Nga Guesthouse, known as the Crazy House, was inspired by Antoni Gaudí. The gorgeous Dalat Flower Park, the Dalat Market, and the Strawberry Gardens shouldn’t be missed either.
You need to venture outside of the city center to really appreciate Dalat, though. Lang Biang Mountain is full of hiking trails. A cable car leads up to Trúc Lâm Temple and its garden of animal-shaped shrubs. Linh Phuoc Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine, is covered with mosaics. Waterfalls (Cam Ly, Datanla, and Elephant) are peaceful spots for reflection. While villa-style hotels are tucked into the mountainside.
Ana Mandara Villas Resort & Spa is one of those hotels. The charming resort lies three miles from downtown Dalat. Its 35 acres are dotted with 17 French colonial villas and beautifully landscaped gardens. Each of the half-timbered villas holds a communal lounge, an open fireplace, period furniture, and three to six rooms. Your Villa Studio features a king-size bed, a clawfoot tub, and a full wall of French doors.
The rest of the resort is just as serene. Le Petit Restaurant serves both French and Vietnamese dishes. You quickly fall into a routine of a phở breakfast with a view of the mountains and afternoon tea on the shaded porch. The hidden, heated outdoor pool was Dalat’s first. Then there’s the spa. La Cochinchine Spa smells like lemongrass. It offers an Indian Shirodhara treatment, in which warm oil is poured onto your forehead to stimulate your third eye. Luckily, you’re already on your way to enlightenment.