The land of temples and tranquillity also promises unparalleled luxury.
Utopia on Earth is a tiny Buddhist kingdom set high in the eastern Himalaya. A simple nation of 800,000 souls where mindfulness and spirituality infuse every thought; where the environment is sacrosanct (it’s the only carbon-negative country); where health and education are free; and where, famously, happiness is valued above all because everything in life is meaningless without it.
Bhutan is precious but it is not for everyone. Since opening the borders to foreigners in the 1970s, the country’s leaders have limited tourist numbers and types by imposing strict entry requirements in an attempt to preserve the kingdom’s fragile culture. As a result, visiting the Land of the Thunder Dragon is a privilege reserved for those able to pay hundreds of dollars a day.
The country’s reputation for discreet luxury gets a big boost this northern summer with the debut of five striking Six Senses properties, the latest in a group of elite hotel operators (Aman, Como and Taj) granted entry into Bhutan. (It helps that the developer is the king’s brother-in-law.)
Image: Six Senses Punakha
Each Six Senses hotel has a prize location in one of Bhutan’s major valleys. In Thimphu, a lodge of 20 suites and five villas sits on an alpine ridge between apple orchards and pine forests, with views over the capital towards the Tibetan border. Rice paddies surround the 19-suite lodge and spa at Punakha, with only the odd temple or farmhouse to interrupt the endless landscape.
At Six Senses’ Gangtey hotel – which overlooks the Phobjikha Valley, a renowned place to spot the black-necked crane – the nine-suite property offers 180-degree views and access to the atmospheric 17th-century Gangtey Monastery. At Bumthang, in central Bhutan, a nine-suite lodge built in the forest has a small library and a spa with hot-stone baths. And the 16 suites and four villas at Paro are nestled within 12th-century ruins above the valley. Thimphu and Paro are scheduled to open first, around September.
Top image: Six Senses Thimphu