If smiles were a currency, then Bhutan would be among the wealthiest nations on the planet. It’s no surprise when you consider that it’s the world’s only carbon-negative country (something SevenTravel certainly applauds), something you’ll realise when you smell the fresh pine upon arrival in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu. On one of our luxury holidays to Bhutan, you’ll spend a few days in the city understanding how entwined Buddhism is in Bhutanese culture, from witnessing monks learning about the night skies at the Pangrizampa Astrology Institute to visiting the grand Trashi Chho Dzong, one of the most important dzongs (Buddhist forts) in the country.
Before you leave Thimphu to continue your enriching journey, nothing nourishes the soul quite like an outdoor yoga lesson – especially in Bhutan under a giant bronze Buddha statue. Once you’ve found your zen, you’ll move onto the glacial Phobjikha Valley. Buddhist culture is everywhere in Bhutan but nowhere does it feel more charming than here. You’ll spot over one hundred chortens (monuments) in the Dochula Pass, before meeting monks and lighting a butter lamp at Gangtey Goenpa, a remote hill-perched seventeenth-century monastery. But the Phobijkha Valley is prime Bhutanese countryside and crying out to be explored, so lace up and hit its hiking trails to spot its rare black-necked cranes, wild boar and sambar deer.
More pristine wilderness lies further afield in Punakha and you’ll be accompanied on your drive there with snow-dusted views of the eastern Himalayas. This wild region is not only a pretty mosaic of forested hills, mountains and paddy fields, but it’s also studded with tiny villages and some of Bhutan’s most eye-catching Buddhist temples and dzongs. A leisurely rafting adventure will serve up another perspective of this emblematic landscape while a visit to the appropriately named Happiness Fields farmhouse will reveal Bhutan’s answer to field-to-fork cuisine.
On this trip, Bhutan’s mysteries keep unravelling and its surprises keep delighting right until the very end. Your final port of call is the slumbersome town of Paro, another hotbed of atmospheric temples and dzongs but also where you’ll test your aim with a lesson in Bhutan’s national sport of archery. Paro is also the perfect base for what will surely be the golden-topped highlight of your holiday – the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Somehow defying gravity to cling to a granite cliff face around three thousand feet above the Paro Valley, this is Bhutan’s holiest – and most dramatic – sight. It takes some legwork to get there, but we reckon you’ll think it was more than worth it.
If you’re looking to indulge in a luxury holiday, Bhutan should be high on your itinerary.
If you want a luxury snapshot of how a monk lives, Amankora Thimphu comes pretty close. Serenely situated on the outskirts of Bhutan’s capital amid sweet-smelling pines, the hotel is built in the image of a traditional dzong. Even the simple designed rooms and bukhari wood-burning stoves, resemble monks’ quarters. Tap into Bhutanese life here, from half-day hikes to a nearby monastery to archery classes and downtime in its cedar-scented spa.
There’s nowhere better suited to help you slide into the zen-like slipstream of Bhutanese life than Gangtey Lodge. A remote outpost nestled in the pristine Phobjikha Valley, this decadent take on a traditional farmhouse feels permanently set to a meditative tempo. There aren’t any TVs here but you won’t need them – the view from your room is like the Discovery Channel in high definition. Watch to your heart’s content as black-necked cranes soar silently overhead in a valley that is quite possibly the most tranquil place on Earth.
Resembling a Buddhist fortress, COMO Uma Punakha effortlessly blends in with the wild Himalayan landscape of the Punakha Valley. And what a location it is: floor-to-ceiling windows in every room give you a front-row seat presiding over tiered paddy fields and jade-hued hills tumbling into the Mo Chu river. This is Mother Nature at the top of her game. Hikes, rafting trips and local market visits are available but if you’re having trouble peeling yourself way from that view, the hotel’s spa has a Bhutanese hot stone bath overlooking the valley.
Clinging like a limpet to a pine-covered Himalayan hillside, each one of the standalone villas at COMO Uma Paro feels like an exclusive Bhutanese retreat. The main building was once the home of a nobleman and his heritage is reflected in the villages, which are bedecked in hand-carved woodwork, artisan-knitted rugs and bedcovers stitched with authentic Bhutanese patterns. COMO Uma Paro’s status as a swoon-worthy spa sanctuary only serves to amplify its peaceful wildflower-sprinkled setting.
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