Set yourself on the path to sageness at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, a hotel with the body of a monastery and the mind of a monk. On the pine-studded slopes of the Neyphu Valley, this Himalayan retreat takes after Bhutan’s fort-like dzongs, echoing their monastic looks and meditative atmosphere. Wanting to give guests a taste of Bhutanese wellbeing, the owner decided to weave holism into the whole experience, bundling everything from the soulful meals to the spa treatments in with the rates. You’ll ascend to higher plains with yoga sessions, art classes and hikes to flag-ringed stupas, then sink into states of bliss with the help of hot-stone baths and cloud-like beds. What’s more, you can be sipping tea on the terrace within 30 minutes of leaving Paro’s airport, but you’ll still feel like you’ve stepped through the looking glass and emerged in a mythic land.
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A small gift basket filled with locally made goodies
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £636.93 ($777), including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include all spa treatments and wellness sessions, all meals, snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, select activities and laundry.
It’s essential to pre-arrange a visa for Bhutan, which can be done online through Bhutan’s Department of Immigration. To apply, you’ll need a copy of your passport (which must be valid for at least six months before arrival), proof of travel insurance, and a passport-style headshot. Visas cost $40 a person and can take up to five days to be approved. You’ll also be charged a $200 sustainable development fee during the visa application. Nationals from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives are exempt, and can book directly without a visa.
At the hotel
Gardens, library, art and ceramic studio, gym, meditation and gong room, boutique, fire pit, free WiFi throughout and laundry. In rooms: minibar, tea and coffee kit, free bottled water, bespoke bath products by Kimrica Hunter and handmade soaps by Bhutanese brand Mudra.
Our favourite rooms
The rooms are full of nods to traditional Bhutanese design – decorative wall hangings, ornate woodwork and cushions dressed in colourful checks and stripes. The furnishings are simple for the most part, but regal touches come in the form of four-poster beds and milky-white marble in the bathroom, which is hidden behind sliding wooden doors. Every room has vast, timber-framed windows with pacifying views of the mountains, opening onto a terrace or balcony (the two namesake room categories).
Encased in white marble and surrounded by dark slate, the indoor infinity pool manages to be sleek and suave without losing touch with the mountains. Timber-framed windows run the length of the room, commanding far-reaching views of the pine-studded valley. When there’s no-one in the water, the surface reaches a glassy stillness, mirroring the rugged scene outside.
All-inclusive spa treatments may sound like the stuff of dreams, but they’re part and parcel of a stay here. Your rate includes at least one traditional signature treatment a day, for each guest, and wellness activities, including a consultation with a traditional-medicine doctor (which you’ll have soon after arrival). In the spa, there’s a lounge area, six treatment rooms (with 10 beds in total), two Bhutanese hot-stone baths, mens’ and womens’ saunas and steam rooms, a yoga/meditation room and a gym. Treatments include hot-oil compressions, full-body massages and moxibustion treatments, in which warmed parcels of herbs are applied to the skin.
Consign your inner Lagerfeld to the backseat, prioritising practicality instead. You’ll need warm layers for the evenings and sturdy footwear for hikes.
There are no lifts and a fair few staircases, making the hotel unsuitable for wheelchair users.
All ages are welcome, but the focus on wellness means it's better suited to older teens and adults. Under-3s can stay for free; children aged 4 to 11 stay for an extra US$100 a night; for over-12s, US$250 a night. Rates exclude tax and service charge.
If it’s warm enough, request a table on the terrace.
The Bhutanese aren't flashy dressers and many guests choose to dress down.
The restaurant shares the same space as the lounge, a room with a soaring ceiling and vast windows overlooking the valley. Tables spill out onto a large terrace, too, where the views are even more arresting. There are no fixed menus; instead, the chefs create a four-course lunch and six-course dinner each day, drawing from a repertoire of Bhutanese, Asian and Western dishes. Local produce is used as often as possible, including vegetables and herbs from the hotel’s greenhouse and gardens. The dishes are dictated by the seasons and the chefs’ inspiration that day, but they’ll always adapt for dietary requirements and children.
Tea bar is part of the restaurant, serving 25 different herbal teas, all of them made locally. It’s worth noting that alcoholic drinks are one of the few things that aren’t included in your rate.
The restaurant opens for breakfast at 5am and stays open until 11pm. Lunch and dinner times are flexible.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be ordered to your room. The options will be the same as whatever dishes are being served that day, but the chefs can also rustle up various snacks.
Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary is in the pine-studded Neyphu Valley near Paro. It’s a 20-minute drive from Paro’s airport, but the expansive views and all-pervading sense of peacefulness ensure it still feels wonderfully remote.
You’ll almost certainly be touching down is Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport. Most people get there by flying to Delhi, Bangkok or Kathmandu, then hopping on a Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines flight.
Bhutan’s tourism laws make it essential to pre-arrange your trip – and therefore your transfers – in advance, so you’re unlikely to be doing any driving yourself. You’ll need to arrange your visa and travel through a Bhutan-based tour operator, who’ll take care of all the details. If you’d rather not find one yourself, you can go through the hotel, who have a partnership with an agent.
Worth getting out of bed for
The all-inclusive rates make it easy to get beneath the surface of what Bhutan is all about. Instead of spending time cherry-picking activities that you think are worth paying for, you’ll be able to dive straight in, sampling whatever takes your fancy. Start your day with yoga or a guided meditation, or have an early breakfast before setting off on a hike through misty forests and expansive valleys. If the weather’s not on your side, try a cooking class or a session in the art studio, then spend the afternoon horizontal in the spa. Be sure to experience the pacifying power of a herbal hot-stone bath, a Bhutanese staple that borrows from ancient Indian and Tibetan medicine. If you’re in need of reading material to complete your ritual, pay a visit to the hotel’s library, where you’ll find books on Gross National Happiness (Bhutan’s alternative to GDP), the country’s Bhutanese history, Buddhism, meditation and more.
Anchored to a cliff face that drops into Upper Paro Valley, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is the most famous building in the kingdom, and something of an emblem for Bhutan. Built in 1692, the limpet-like refuge stands 3,000 metres above sea level and is often veiled in swirling mists. On the valley floor, Paro Dzong cuts an equally imposing figure, and for good reason: for hundreds of years, this monastery/fortress was Bhutan’s bastion against Tibetan invaders from the north. One of the most regal examples of national architecture, the dzong contains 14 chapels and temples, and is home to a 200-strong order of monks. A smaller and lesser-known alternative is the Bjela Dzong, reached by means of a soul-stirring hike into the hills. The sky’s the limit when it comes to trails – guides can lead you through first-growth Himalayan pine forest or to hilltops crested by flag-ringed stupas. Once you’ve had your fill of the heights, head down into the centre of Paro Town, where you’ll find charming shops selling the gho and kira (the men’s and women’s national dress), silver amulets and monk’s robes.
The food’s delicious and included in your rate, so there’s not much reason to go looking elsewhere.
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 mountain retreat in Bhutan and unpacked their handmade soaps from the hotel’s boutique, a full account of their Himalayan wellness break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary in Paro…
Arriving at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary marks the moment you really feel enfolded in the country’s mystic character. Having swooped between Himalayan foothills to touch down at Paro, you’re soon winding your way up the valley into pine-swathed hills, where your mind has all the space and silence it needs to begin unfurling. Stepping from the car, you cross a bridge and enter a courtyard, where you’re invited to light a candle at the shrine. The ritual complete, you’re led into the lobby where you’re immediately struck by the valley-spanning view, on show through vast windows that stretch all the way to the roof.
This feeling of stepping from one world to another is no accident, of course. Everything about the hotel is designed to immerse you in the nation’s culture, ensuring you leave understanding why the Bhutanese are some of the happiest people on earth. To make this happen, the owner devised a top-to-tail wellness program that ensures a complete departure from the stress of modern life. Alongside meditation, herbal baths and hikes to hilltop temples, you’ll also get to indulge – or rediscover – your creativity with childlike freedom, making your own ceramics or painting with the resident artist.
If you’re still not convinced of the hotel’s pacifying powers, just speak to hotelier and owner Louk Lennaerts, who’ll greet you personally when you arrive. He had no connection with Bhutan until he visited on the advice of a friend, finding his trip so restful that he set about creating a hotel so he could share the experience with others. He now lives right next-door in a traditional mud-walled house, ensuring he gets to live his dream every day of the year.