Set amongst the gentle rolling hills of Soc Son, a district littered with lakes and verdant hiking trails, Amaya Home Lodge, Spa & Restaurant elegantly sits as if a fairytale Swiss Ski lodge has been gently transposed into the hills of northern Vietnam. Though just a 45-minute drive away from Hanoi’s iconic Old Quarter, the peace and solitude offered here feel like you could be a 1,000 miles away.
There’s a crispness to the air in these parts, and as we arrive at the lodge on a slightly chilly December afternoon, a couple of reindeer hand-carved from logs are perched outside the door, as if to give us a festive welcome. Entering Amaya, an easy warmth quickly envelops us. A soft, fresh vanilla scent pervades the air, pine cones are dotted here and there, and a ring of holly sits on the wall, as a small fire crackles in the corner surrounded by comfortable leather armchairs–chairs we will become all-too-familiar with over late night mugs of hot chocolate in the coming days, as we enjoy the quiet among this enchanted home away from home.
Amaya is a masterclass in understatement and taste, all natural stone and pinewood, that captures a striking balance between aristocratic luxury and spare Nordic design– unlike anything else in Vietnam. After our bags are taken from us, we make our way upstairs to a light and airy two-corner room, with its own outdoor bathtub. It’s a tub that we later submerge ourselves in, the hot water forming a soothing contrast to the cool air. The view is of a small garden, perhaps the size of a small apple orchard, with a swimming pool nestled within it, built to look like a natural lake. One almost expects a soft snow to start falling here, but this is Vietnam and despite the mountain lodge feel, there is no skiing to be had– just peace and glorious relaxation.
Mercifully, there are no TVs in the bedrooms here (though there is a private cinema and games room for those that feel the need to watch an old movie or two) and despite Wi-Fi being available, we eschew the laptop and go for an escapist novel—it’s a pitch perfect place to catch up on reading—ordering a neat Scottish whisky be brought up the room as we enjoy the soothing views.
In winter, my family always went skiing and stayed at ski lodges. Amaya is a piece of Europe I brought back with me,”
Later, we do tour of the resort and its 12 guest rooms, all ever-so-slightly distinct in character; one of them even sees you go underground through a small grotto, briefly feeling like you are walking through the corridors of an old castle. Going down a tunnel-like entrance, we find a snug room with six beds huddled together, perhaps a place where a group of 20-somethings might gather together to celebrate their graduation, a birthday, or perhaps just to retreat and gossip, away from the bustle of Vietnam’s capital.
Modern European Dining
Soon it’s time for dinner, and we make way to the casual open-dining room set slightly back from the lobby with an open view of the gardens. They pride themselves on their food here, so much so that when Chào asks for the name of the chef, we are requested to not mention his name for fear he might be stolen away, such are his skills. The menu is mostly modern European, and I opt for a creamy mushroom soup, followed by a medium rare steak, my partner going for a fresh seafood salad, which we wash down with a gorgeous Spanish red, with just a hint of spice.
Against the backdrop of the Christmas decorations and enchanting view, the wine starts to work its magic, and all our stresses and strains seem to just melt away. The Danish have a word, hygge. It’s hard to translate exactly but roughly means a warm quality of coziness and conviviality that brings a feeling of contentment or well-being. This is is certainly what Amaya have achieved. We feel bathed in hygge.
A Personal Touch
There’s an almost boutique feel to everything here, and the lodge is not one that could have been built up by a hotel chain or a group of gray-suited investors. Sure, they could have dreamed up such an idea, but corners would have been cut. Not so here. All is revealed when we have a brief chat with the owner and founder of the lodge, Ms. Thuy. Though Vietnamese, she lived in the Czech Republic for the best part of 30 years, and on returning to her homeland found herself missing Europe more deeply than she ever imagined. “I miss that, it’s my second home. In winter, my family always went skiing and stayed at ski lodges. Amaya is a piece of Europe I brought back with me,” she says with an air of slight nostalgia.
Indeed, Amaya’s nods to ski lodges are apparent throughout. With any room you book, a buffet breakfast and unlimited access to the spa house are included at no extra cost. Located in a cozy wooden hut right by the swimming pool, the spa consists of a steam room, sauna and a hot tub. And, yes, our eyes lit up on learning drinks could be brought inside—a perfect way to sip on a glass of sparkling white wine with your girlfriends on a weekend evening. The best part was undoubtedly skipping from the hot intensity of the sauna to the cooling swimming pool outside, a dreamy, invigorating process we were to repeat again and again.
“We want to connect with our clients in a close and intimate way, and build long-term relationships. If we can have a chat before they arrive, all the better. They might want us to do something special for them!”
It’s clear for all to see that Amaya is a labor of love, and Thuy talks passionately about how she is trying to create a different culture of vacation in Vietnam. “Beyond providing food and accommodation during our guests’ stay, I hope the guest will feel and understand our well-wishes, the efforts that us – the hosts – try to convey. Amaya’s heart lies in the more subtle details it was built upon.”
It is this unique vision of authentically connecting with their guests that sees Amaya eschew hotel booking websites. To stay here you have to contact them directly, and they prefer it that way. Charming and helpful resort supervisor Van Doan explains it all: “We know it might limit business, but we want to connect with our clients in a close and intimate way, and build long-term relationships. If we can have a chat before they arrive, all the better. They might want us to do something special for them!”
Escape the City
As night falls, we decide to have a quiet stroll among the gardens and to sit by the lodge’s outdoor campfire. With chamomile tea layed out on a tray, we huddle together and toast marshmallows on the roaring fire, occasionally gazing up at the brightly lit stars as they brilliantly light up the northern Vietnamese skies. It’s magical.
Admittedly, it’s easy just to laze around and do nothing at Amaya–no thoughts, head clear—and though that’s certainly tempting, the lakes, hills and local scenery here mean it is great for hiking or mountain biking, and on our second day, Chào ventures into the surrounding woodlands. We hike a short distance on the 8 km Ham Lon hiking trail that runners are so fond of – home to the eponymous mountains, dubbed by nearby villagers as “Hanoi’s rooftop.”
Within just a 20 km radius there are three natural lakes, with the beautiful and serene Cau Ca lake within walking distance of the lodge. For the adventurous, a kayaking service is also offered. The water here so pure and blue, we find ourselves spending half an hour, just calmly gazing out across the lake–not thinking, just being. The whole district has a bracing, restorative quality and it is no surprise that the simple beauty of Soc Son has proved such a popular weekend escape among so many of Hanoi’s expatriate community.
Though given a European feel by design, Amaya are conscious of the local aesthetic and environment, capturing the natural beauty of Soc Son by incorporating its wild flora and fauna into their grounds, every single decision made with careful intention. An inconspicuous-looking garden bench is made from the most unexpected materials: wooden railway sleepers. “It has probably been around since the French-occupied era. Because it has absorbed petrol for a good hundred years, it’s practically as hard as iron, and won’t even rot,” Thuy says. When you come to Amaya do seek out this unique chair that’s lived a longer life than any of its future visitors.
In the era of Covid, travel has been difficult and some have just given up, preferring to stay at home on the couch and just ride things out. But inevitably the search to escape—to get away from it all–will recur, and for those that need this but want to remain within touching distance of Hanoi’s center, Amaya offer a place to rest and recharge like no other in the region. Whether taking in the warm ambiance of the fireplace, going for a wander among the lush hills, or resting in the warmth of the spa, Amaya Home will be sure to hit just the right note.
Price: Weekdays from 1,600,000 VND/room. Weekends from 2,240,000 VND/room
Facebook: AMAYA HOME Sóc Sơn Lodge, Spa & Restaurant
Ngã 3 dốc Dây Diều, xã Minh Phú, Sóc Sơn Hanoi, Vietnam