Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang
What is it? A restored French colonial-era prison/fort in the quiet, residential outskirts of Luang Prabang, Laos, Hotel de la Paix is built around a large courtyard containing gardens, gravel pathways and a pool (above right). Visitors to the town may have known it as an Alila property, but the owner decided the Hotel de la Paix brand, with its celebration of arts and community, was a better fit. Luang Prabang is a Unesco Heritage site and the rules governing restoration are strict. The exterior revival of this unique property was undertaken by Pascal Trahan, a French-Canadian who has had a hand in much of what makes the town special architecturally.
Hang on; 'outskirts'? Does that mean the town proper is difficult to get to? Not at all. Luang Prabang is a bijou gem of a place and a pleasant 10-minute stroll will take you from the hotel to its slow-beating heart and the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, which meet at the head of the town.
What's the accommodation like? These cells are ones you'd now prefer not to be released from. Think high ceilings, slate-grey floor tiles, nets draped over beds and diaphanous curtains floating in the breeze, with accents borrowed from the vibrant Lao culture. Each of the 23 suites has a semi-alfresco bathroom and private garden, and four of them, those at the corners of the property, have pools. The two 120-square-metre Governors Suites have spacious living rooms and sitting areas, as well as fireplaces.
What else is on site? To the rear of the main area, steps lead up to a smaller square and stilted buildings, housing a spa, the kitchens and the conference facilities, which are where the hotel's restaurant was meant to be - given the choice of where to eat, guests overwhelming preferred the courtyard terrace in front of the library, or, if it's raining, the library itself. A lawn in this upper area is used for cultural shows (far right).
What is there to do? Relax, relax and relax, but if you really must get busy, the hotel hosts cooking classes or can arrange for you to be driven to the local attractions. A trip to the food market with the head chef is a worthwhile experience, especially if you've never considered bats or rats as ingredients.
Anything else we should know? The hotel is keen to be seen as more than just a place in which to lay your head - or put your feet up - and, along with occasional cultural events, is rolling out a programme for guests based on photography. The events get under way this month, with the Jack Picone and Stephen Dupont Documentary Photography Workshop (July 9 to 14). Picone and Dupont are highly regarded war photographers.
What's the bottom line? Internet rates begin at US$225 a night for a Garden Suite and US$417 for a Governors Suite.
Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang is on Manomai Street, Ban Mano, Luang Prabang, Laos, tel: 856 71 260 777; hoteldelapaixlp.com.