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Princess, heel thyself
  • | The Sun-Herald | May 11, 2010 09:22 AM

The shoes fit and a palace beckons — Julietta Jameson is in Cinderella mode at a hotel in Vietnam.

Bygone charms ... Sofitel Dalat Palace, interiors fit for royalty.

SHOES can really make a person feel like a princess.

They can also have the opposite effect. In Australia my feet are considered small. In Vietnam they are thought humungous. And you will never feel more like a lumbering plebeian than when your European size 38s have been tittered at by the dainty-footed shoe salespeople in Hanoi, who delight in telling you the biggest size they have in stock is 37.

For days in Vietnam - having overlooked packing heels and being in need of them for a function - I had been roaming around like Prince Charming and his slipper, only with the inverse quest. He was seeking a foot to fit a shoe. I was searching for a shoe to fit.

It was in the mountain resort town of Dalat that I suddenly felt like Cinderella the moment she slipped her hoof into that glass slipper.

I had asked the desk staff at my hotel if there was a place in town where I might find Western-sized shoes. A yes was followed by directions quickly drawn on a map, followed by - eureka - not only a pair of heels that fit but a gorgeous pair for the equivalent of $17.

I put them on for dinner that night and did indeed feel like a princess.

But then, I was already feeling pretty regal, because if there's another thing that can make a person feel like a princess, it's a palace - and I was staying at the Sofitel Dalat Palace.

And if there is one more, it's a bed where real royalty has slept. On a recent state visit, none other than Princess Mary and Prince Frederik of Denmark stayed in the same suite I occupied.

It had french double doors and a balcony revealing a view beyond the main road of Dalat's stunning Xuan Huong Lake. I have to confess to ducking on to that balcony for a quick royal wave to the lake and the passing traffic. But then, the whole hotel has that bygone-era elegance that makes a sucker for such things (like me) feel to the manor born.

Dalat, 360 kilometres north-east of Ho Chi Minh City, was founded at the turn of the 20th century and quickly became a health resort and enclave for the French because of its cooler temperatures and beautiful forests. It is now the honeymoon and summer break of choice for well-to-do Vietnamese, as well as a wonderful respite from the heat for international tourists, with roads meandering through the succulent fields of what is Vietnam's food bowl. (The Dalat strawberries are out of this world.)

In 1922 the French government opened the Langbian Palace Hotel, the now Sofitel Dalat Palace.

It became the landmark around which the rest of town developed. Ten years later, the government opened the Hotel du Parc across the road to meet the increasing number of tourists and hunting enthusiasts.

Now, the two hotels comprise one complex under the same management. Guests of the delightful four-star Mercure Dalat du Parc have access to Sofitel Dalat Palace's tennis courts, gym and bars.

The Sofitel Dalat Palace has a mere 43 rooms over two floors. It is full of art and elegant decor, which will soon be updated under the charge of the new Australian general manager, who vows the change will simply ensure the property continues to meet Sofitel's high standards.

The five-hectare grounds are all rolling lawn and hedges, giving the feeling of a grand country estate.

The ground floor public areas add to that. Ambling from the beautiful book-lined Rose Library, to the Blue Billiard Room, to the main lobby, which in winter glows with an open fire and in summer is festooned with white flowers, you half expect to run into a royal or two.

There is a beautiful French-style restaurant and piano bar, Le Rabelais, where Sofitel's signature lavish breakfasts are served as well as lunch and dinner; there's also a little bar nestled under the building for a casual drink.

The property is connected to what is considered the finest golf course in Vietnam, the 18-hole Dalat Palace Golf Club, and includes a lovely spa.

Royal guests are not assured but in the evening, the whole place is lit by big white candles and, as we all know, everyone looks more regal by candlelight. You may easily pass for a prince or princess yourself.

The writer was a guest of Vietnam Airlines and the Sofitel Dalat Palace.

Trip notes

Where
Sofitel Dalat Palace 12 Tran Phu Street, Dalat, Vietnam.

How much From $200; +84 63 3825 444; www.sofitel.com/1744; sofitel.reservations@ dalatresorts.com.

Top marks A highly professional management team leads a friendly, committed Vietnamese staff who really aim to please.

Black mark No flywire on windows in a place where the mozzies are the size of Volkswagen Beetles.

Don't miss Dalat's buzzy markets, selling flowers and an extraordinary array of dried fruit as well as apparel. (My shoes were not found in the market but on Truong Cong Dinh Street in the centre.)

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