Fortress-inspired Amankora Thimphu Lodge is a supremely serene retreat in virgin pine forest above Bhutan’s easy-going capital. Whether you want to be pampered or just ‘be’, the cedar-scented spa has you covered (usually in warm, plant-infused oil). Rise early for yoga at daybreak, go all Game of Thrones with traditional archery, or pack a picnic for a mini-pilgrimage to a Buddhist monastery – and at the end of each uplifting day, slip into your candle-lit bathtub and cosy up by the bukhari wood stove. You’ll be fed and watered at the intimate restaurant and bar, which whips up Thai broths and seasonal Western classics alongside signature cocktails.
Noon, check-in 2pm, but both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £1359.45 ($1,860), including tax at 20 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of $60.00 per room per night prior to arrival and an additional government tax of $65.00 per person per night prior to arrival.
Rates include à la carte meals and picnics, selected drinks and laundry service.
A quick lesson in Amanglish: the name is a combination of ‘aman’, the Sanskrit word for peace, and ‘kora’ which is a circular journey in the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha.
At the hotel
Spa, free Wi-Fi. In rooms: wood-burning stove, air-conditioning, TV (on request), free bottled water, Kama Ayurveda bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All the suites are kitted out to the same (impeccably high) standard, with a bukhari wood-burner and candle-lined bath tub. Ask for one on the upper floor for the best game of “I spy something beginning with F(orest)”.
No trip to an Aman retreat is complete without getting well-acquainted with the spa. Signature treatments draw on ancient Tibetan and Bhutanese knowhow, with a pinch of native herbs in the warm-oil massages and facials (the Ayurvedic head massage is the house speciality). Yoga classes kick off at 7am each morning, and there’s an open-access steam room too.
You don’t need much beyond mind, body and soul, but bring yoga gear too – it’ll get a good workout.
The hotel isn’t set up for wheelchair users.
All ages welcome, and extra beds or cots can be added to all suites. There’s an outdoor play area, and a selection of games and puzzles for rainy day activities. Babysitting can be arranged on request, from roughly $30 an hour.
On a sunny day, eat out on the terrace with the sweet smell of pine forest in the air. Inside, pick a toasty table near fireplace.
In Bhutan, traditional dress is alive and well – women wear a colourful kira skirt while men pull on a oh-so-dashing checked robe called a gho. On your last night, Amankora even provide you with threads from their own wardrobe.
A pair of towering fireplaces are the centrepiece of the wood-clad restaurant and lounge.You’ve got two menus to choose from, which change daily and vary depending on seasonal ingredients. On the Thai set menu you’ll find fragrant mushroom broths and coconut cream curries, while the à la carte Western-style menu often features tender roast lamb and feather-light foie gras.
Grab a book from the library and settle into a sofa by the fire. Complimentary house cocktails and wines are served up with a smile, and there’s an impressive whisky collection that puts the (Isle of) Bute into Bhutan. Some nights you’ll be cheersing to folk classics performed by local musicians in the intimate lounge.
The restaurant is open from 6am until 11pm. The bar opens at 5pm and closes at 11pm.
Any time the restaurant is open, you can order dishes to your suite.
The lodge is a few minutes’ drive from the centre of Thimphu (the capital of Bhutan), but you wouldn’t know it – it’s wrapped in dense pine forest and the only noise ‘pollution’ is from a stream trickling quietly past.
Fly with a major airline into Kathmandu, Bangkok, Delhi or Kolkata. From there, Bhutan’s national airline, Druk Air will whisk you into Paro airport, which is a 55km drive from Thimphu. Transfers to the lodge are free, and take around an hour and a half. For all your travel needs, call the Smith24 team any time of day or night.
The winding mountain roads are steep and (occasionally) scary, so it’s best to leave them to the local pros.
Worth getting out of bed for
If there’s one place more restful than your suite, it’s the Aman spa; indulge in a treatment in the cedarwood-scented cabins, or venture out for a course of ‘forest therapy’ – a guided walk through the woods culminating in a mandala creation ceremony. If you prefer to focus your mind on something firmly in the physical realm, try your hand at traditional archery instead.
Hike through the hills with an Amankora guide to the village of Dodedrak – the 12th-century temple is frozen-in-time, and the monks might join you for lunch. Bhutan’s national animal is the takin (a gregarious goat-elope with horns and a hunchback) – there’s a sanctuary near the hotel. Pack a picnic and take a trip to Dochula Pass for 360-degree views of the Himalayas and a stroll around Bhutan’s first Royal Botanical Gardens, known for its 46 species of native rhododendron – and while you’re there, pause for thought at the cluster of 108 chortens (memorial tombs for monks) neatly arranged on a mound of earth. Browse the boutiques in central Thimphu and find Bhutanese curios to take home – the hotel staff will happily recommend their favourite spots.
Tashichho Dzong is the star of the sightseeing trail – it’s a riverside Buddhist monastery, the seat of the national government and a sparkling white fortress rolled into one, set against a backdrop of the Himalayas.
Amankora essentially lets you link up four luxury Aman lodges to see the best of the Mountain Kingdom. Paro Lodgeputs you in reach of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery,Gangtey Lodgegets you to Goempa Monastery, and Bumthang Lodgeconnects you to a network of Himalayan hiking valleys. Stay at one, stay at them all – the choice is yours...
For a decent latte in downtown Thimphu, try Ambient Cafe (R Penjor Building, Norzin Lam) – they roast their own beans, and rustle up a good cheesecake.
The bad news is there’s not much to recommend in terms of dining out in Thimphu – but the good news is all meals are included at the excellent Amankora restaurant, and they’ll even pack you a picnic for daytrips and trekking. If you really want to eat like a local, ask the lodge staff to point you in the direction of the nearest neighbourhood joint.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this Himalayan hotel in Bhutan and unpacked their dzi beads and dappa bowls, a full account of their mountain forest break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Amankora in Bhutan…
These days, you have to work a little harder to truly get away from it all. At Amankora Thimphu Lodge, you get peace, quiet, and an infinitely tiny chance of bumping into a dreaded co-commuter from the 7.27. Out here in the not-insignificant foothills of the Himalayas – Thimphu is at 7,000ft – you’ll find an anxiety-free zone, where prayer flags rustle in the wind and Buddhist gongs ring out from ancient temples. Sure, there are sights to tick off and hikes to kick off, but your greatest discovery in Bhutan might just be inside yourself. And if that discovery happens to be that you like warm-oil massages and long, candlelit baths, then you’ll know you’ve come to exactly the right place.