Not all stays in Bhutan need to be in wellness retreats. Le Meridien Thimphu meets the contemporary needs of the gypset while respecting the Kingdom's ethnic identity
As soon as you step through the heavy front doors of Le Meridien, you're not quite sure where you are, or if it fits what you've expected. Firstly, you're in Bhutan, a country that's long thought to be difficult to access and secondly, you're in a French-born property that doesn't quite drip of Francophilia.
From the main road, the drive into the property is abuzz with activity. Streets are lined with modern conveniences of shops, local restaurants (and even a Korean barbecue round the corner), and locals in traditional wear. Le Meridien comes into view and frankly, the property's not particularly large nor is it striking. In fact, all buildings in the kingdom follow strict regulations on design and height and end up looking quite similar. The devil really lies in the details here.
Like everywhere in Bhutan, your view doesn't quite pan horizontally. With the capital at 2,500 meters above sea level, you're expected to adjust your sights to a 360-degree scope — there is just so much to see everywhere. In fact, from the moment you step into Paro Airport's immigration hall, you'll notice the ceilings plastered with an assortment of motifs.
This constant state of discovery continues in Le Meridien. Upon arrival, the guest looks up to discover Mani, the sacred six syllable mantra. The most widely used Buddhist mantra in the country, it's said to invoke the powerful, benevolent attention and blessing of Chenrezig, the enlightened being of compassion.
Upon entering, you'll sense an immediate familiarity to the lobby. Superficially, the hub seemingly takes after any other design-led hotel anywhere in the world. Nouvelle Vague's sultry bossa nova covers of British classics waft through the speakers, mingling with the fervent typing of fellow guests on their MacBooks. Bright, light and contemporary, the lobby's a gypset's enclave within the busy street.
Bhutanese identity isn't the dominatrix in this design, and makes herself known quietly through textiles reflecting the local culture. Red curtains hang above, inspired by prayer flags that are hung throughout the country. According to local beliefs, the stronger the wind, the more likely wishes are granted. It is this modern re-interpretation that envelops the guest in spiritual ease instead of cultural misappropriation.
Lest you forget that you're in the world's last Shangri-la, sink into one of the swanky chairs and look out. There's a statuesque Buddha at the edge of a lush mountain, with a hint of a snowy peak in the distance. Welcome to the Kingdom of Bhutan.