Review of Six Senses Bhutan, Paro Lodge

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently traveled to India & Bhutan. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (October 16, 2019): Review of Six Senses Bhutan, Paro Lodge.

Six Senses manages five individual lodges in five separate valleys in the colorful Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, which are all operated under the umbrella of one all-encompassing name: Six Senses Bhutan. Each location has been thoughtfully designed to fully immerse travelers into the local culture. The lodges, which vary in style, showcase the diversity and special character of each valley. From sunrise meditations and holistic spa treatments to private astrology readings and butter lamp lighting ceremonies to incredible hikes and treks through pristine forests, the aim is to leave enriched and reconnected. This is a review of the Six Senses lodge in Bhutan’s majestic Paro valley, located close to the famous Tiger’s Nest.

Have you ever stayed at Six Senses Bhutan? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

Six Senses Bhutan features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels & lodges in Bhutan.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Designed to maximize what is surely one of the most scenic settings within the Six Senses Bhutan journey, Six Senses Paro enjoys a spectacular mountainside location at an elevation of 9,500 ft or 2,900 m, next to a 15th century ruined fortress. The ‘dzong’ ruins (from which it gets its name ‘Six Senses Stone Ruins’) and the sweeping views across the forested valley to dramatic mountains beyond provide a phenomenal backdrop to any stay. There are pleasant walks through pine forests as well as small and little-known monasteries well worth a visit just a few minutes’ walk from the lodge. The Paro lodge is a 30 min drive from Paro airport.
  • The lodge’s main pavilion features a stone-walled patio, which offers fabulous views upon arrival. The patio opens to a large outdoor terrace with fire pit, where all meals are served (weather permitting). A boutique shop and the lodge’s only dining room are located on one side of the patio, while a stylish living room, a small wooden bar, and a cozy library are found on the other side. Both the restaurant and living room are framed by vast floor-to-ceiling windows, capturing dramatic mountain panoramas which exemplify exactly why the Bhutanese are so committed to protecting their pristine Himalayan landscape.
  • The lodge’s minimalist design stays true to the Six Senses’ philosophy of responsible luxury, with a locally inspired architecture and eco-chic interior that harmoniously blend with the untouched surroundings outside. Hewn stone walls, wood paneling and neat neutral furnishings create a soothing effect throughout the sleek resort, while subtle splashes of color found within pastel yellow cushions add a playful design touch. Bhutanese decor elements can be found scattered around the property, such as local ‘bukharis’ (traditional wood-burning stoves) and vegetable-dyed, antique-washed Himalayan rugs.
  • Six Senses Paro features 16 suites and 4 villas, which are located a short stroll from the main pavilion. All accommodations are designed with large windows and awe-inspiring views of Paro Valley and blue pine forests in mind. During my visit, I was upgraded to a magnificent one-bedroom villa, which featured a sizeable outdoor area. Inside, there was a large living room with sitting area and dining table, and a separate bedroom with ensuite bathroom. The villa’s neutral tones were complemented by timber furniture and local decor touches. As an ode to the ancient stone ruins adjacent to the property, some walls were composed of hand-chiseled, local stones.
  • Six Senses Paro serves mouth-watering food, that incorporates ingredients from Six Senses’ organic farm. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be taken in the privacy of your suite or villa, or at the lodge’s only restaurant, where floor-to-ceiling windows take in the valley views while overhead candle-style chandeliers bring a touch of Six Senses luxury to the mountain-top chalet feel. Weather permitting, meals can also be served on the terrace. Guests can also head back in time for a feudal dinner set among 15th-century ruins next to the resort, or visit a local farmhouse for a truly authentic Bhutanese dining experience.
  • The property promotes health and wellbeing at its intimate spa and wellness center, which is built partly underground. The signature Six Senses spa offers a wide range of treatments, including full-body massages and locally inspired treatments. There are three single and one double treatment room, all taking in the lodge’s natural surroundings with views of the surrounding forest. There’s also a yoga and relaxation room (with complimentary classes offered each day), which looks out over the chubjka ruins next to the lodge. The spa also features a well-equipped gym, a beautiful indoor pool, and even an outdoor sauna with cool dip.
  • To add to its merits, this stylish hideaway’s location near Paro is a great base from which to explore cultural sites nearby. The area’s highlight is Taktsang Goemba monastery, more famously known as “Tiger’s Nest”. One of the most significant cultural icons of Bhutan, this highly revered monastery was built on a sheer cliff face roughly 2950 ft (900 m) above the valley floor. It was constructed in 1692, around the cave where Guru Rinpoche first meditated, the event that introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. The hike up to the monastery takes around three hours, offering wonderful scenery through pine forests.
  • Sustainability lives at the foundation of Six Senses Bhutan and is reflected through active management of energy, water, waste, purchasing and chemical usage. Bhutan keeps 60 percent of its land under forest cover, as mandated by its constitution. The four pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy are: Sustainable Development, Environmental Protection, Cultural Preservation, and Good Governance, all of which are carefully woven into the operation of Six Senses Bhutan.
 From the use of glass bottles everywhere to focusing on seasonal, locally sourced produce from the kitchen gardens, the sustainability efforts do not go unnoticed.
  • The lodge is operated by Six Senses, one of my favorite hotel brands in the world. After its launch in 1995 by Soneva CEO Sonu Shivdasani, Six Senses quickly became recognized as the hospitality industry’s pioneer of sustainable practices, demonstrating that eco-responsibility can be successfully wedded to uncompromised luxury. Six Senses resorts & spas are always located in some of the world’s most unique and beautiful places. Whether it be a Six Senses resort on a remote private island or a Six Senses Spa in an exciting urban setting, the touch-points are always decidedly the same. I have previously reviewed the following Six Senses properties:
  • As you may expect from the Six Senses brand, the lodge provides impeccable, world-class service. As with every Six Senses resort, everyone is also introduced to a Guest Experience Maker (GEM) at check-in, which is Six Senses’ smart terminology for a butler. The GEM looks after you during your entire Bhutan holiday (even as you move from one lodge to another one) and coordinates your needs and requirements with other Six Senses lodges, to ensure all your queries are handled to maximum satisfaction and that your experience is memorable.
  • Six Senses Paro will be the final stop of most guests who book a Six Senses journey in the remote Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Druk Yul, Bhutan’s official name, is known as the Land of the Dragon People. It is a stunningly beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage that has largely remained hidden until its recent emergence onto the world stage. Bhutan is a mystic land of fluttering prayer flags lining high ridges, beautiful monasteries perched precariously on sheer cliffs, and chanting red robed monks, all combining to give the aura of a long forgotten time.
  • Six Senses Punakha is just one of five intimate Six Senses lodges in Bhutan, and I highly recommend to combine a stay here with a stay at some of the other Six Senses lodges to immerse yourself in Bhutan’s spirituality, heritage and hospitality. As you journey through the vertiginous scenery of the western and central valleys, you will find meaningful and uplifting experiences at every turn. Each has a unique character and all embrace the Six Senses guiding principles, which include a spa and wellness center, mindful eating, sleep and self-discovery.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Six Senses Bhutan’s outpost in the Paro Valley, close to Tiger’s Nest, is a magnificent lodge, offering sublime accommodations, world-class wellness facilities, and excellent gastronomy. That said, you need to know the following when considering a stay here:

  • Six Senses Paro’s mountain-top location affords fabulous views, but getting there does require some efforts. From the valley floor, it’s a 20 min drive up the mountain on a badly maintained and winding dirt road (the lodge is currently negotiating with Bhutan’s authorities to pave the road with asphalt). So every time you leave the lodge for an excursion, you’ll have to pass this bad road twice (going down and back up), which is an unpleasant experience.
  • While all suites at Six Senses Paro enjoy spectacular valley views, that is unfortunately not the case with the villas. While the villas closest to the main pavilion have unobstructed views of the mountains and valley floor, those farther away are set at the edge of a pine forest, whose tall trees block panoramic views.
  • Payments for accommodations at Six Senses Bhutan can be pre-paid by credit card. However, visa fees and taxes need to be paid by wire as required by Bhutan government authorities. Once you have made the payment for visa and taxes, you must send the lodge a copy of the bank remittance slip, as it is required by the local banks in Bhutan to confirm a transaction. In my case, I had to transfer the payment to an account with a standard charted bank in New York and the entire verification process took 7 days (the lodge provides all the information you need for the wire transfer).
  • Lunch is served à la carte, with a choice of several delicious starters, main courses, and desserts. Unfortunately, lunch is charged at a fixed price, so even if you order just a salad or burger, you will be charged for a full-three course lunch (this is the policy at all Six Senses Bhutan lodges). IMHO, it would be necessary that the restaurant staff mentions this policy upfront before guests order their first lunch (which was not the case during my visit) and it would be much better if the lodge charges per ordered dish (since not every one feels like having a three course meal at lunch).
  • Bhutan is one of the world’s most expensive countries for travelers. Bhutanese government mandates that tourists spend a minimum of $200 USD (in low season) or $250 USD (in high season) per person per day. This amount includes accommodations, meals, transportation, and other activities, but excludes visa costs ($40 USD per person), a sustainable development fee ($65 USD per person per day) and FIT (foreign independent travelers) surcharge (US$ 40 per day for one person and US$ 30 per person per day for a group of two people). The reason behind this strictly controlled and expensive tourism policy is that Bhutan wants to protect its natural resources and authentic culture, and ensure that travelers don’t overwhelm the country.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 9/10
  • Design: 9/10
  • Pool: 9/10
  • Rooms: 9/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 9/10
  • Spa: 9/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: 9/10 – exceptional

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: get complimentary VIP perks at Six Senses Bhutan when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one complimentary 60 min massage for two).
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

October to December is the ideal time to visit Bhutan as the air is clear and fresh with sunny skies. January and February are colder, but from then until April the climate remains dry and pleasant (although often cloudy) and in late spring the famous rhododendrons bloom spectacularly, flooding Bhutan’s valleys with color. Heat and humidity increase from May, and from June to September the monsoon rains cover the mountains and travel to Bhutan is best avoided during that time.

Read my Bhutan travel guide for more inside travel tips.


HOW TO GET THERE

The lodge is a 30 min drive from Paro Airport, Bhutan’s only international airport. Only two airlines – Drukair and Bhutan Airlines – fly into Paro, and tickets can be reserved online, with flights usually routing via Bangkok, New Delhi, Singapore, and Kathmandu. Weather can delay flights for days at a time, so it’s important to have your itinerary designed with a few days in your stopover city and (if possible) to fly on an unrestricted ticket.


PHOTOS
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PARO VALLEY: RINPUNG DZONG
PARO VALLEY: RINPUNG DZONG
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PARO VALLEY: RINPUNG DZONG
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PARO VALLEY: PARO TOWN
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
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PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST
PARO VALLEY: HIKE TO TIGER’S NEST

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