Two days before we flew to Bhutan, somebody mentioned that the descent into the country’s main airport in Paro can be fairly hairy — fewer than 20 pilots in the world are qualified to land between the sheer, 5,000m-high cliffs of the Paro Chhu valley.
If that sounds like an off-putting start, good. Because I’d hate for too many people to discover the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Where to begin? It’s carbon negative, thanks to 71 per cent tree coverage, and has a national happiness index (NHI) which is arguably more important to the Bhutanese than their GDP. There are hikes in pine-covered woods, jaw-dropping mountainscapes and a glorious local delicacy of chillies and cheese (ema datshi). That plane ride, meanwhile, was awe-inspiring, weaving between mountains so close you feel you could touch them.
If you must go, at least leave me a spare room at Six Senses Bhutan. We stayed in three of its resorts, in Paro, Thimphu and Punakha; there’s a fourth in Gangtey and a fifth planned in Bumthang. Built by the king of Bhutan’s brother-in-law, they occupy some of the plummest hillside spots around, with stupendous views across emerald valleys and snowy peaks.
Each hotel has a different style: in Paro, dark stone walls reflect nearby ruins, outside which red-robed monks play football; there are white plaster mimic dzhongs (the beautiful wooden-roofed ornate fortresses which pepper the landscape) in Thimphu. In Punakha, the hotel resembles a farmhouse overlooking green fields in the warmer eastern region. But identical throughout are the fabulous, minimaluxe Scandi rooms, extraordinarily comfy beds and wood-burning stoves. Food is sourced where possible from the kitchen gardens — in early October, for us that meant homegrown radishes, cabbages and apples in locally inspired dishes.
Six Senses just gets it. Every element of our stay was so meticulously thoughtful and warm, it’s difficult to see how we’ll cope afterwards in the outside world. Or without Jigme, our Six Senses guide. Guides are mandatory for tourists in Bhutan and before we arrived we were grumpy at the thought of being nannied. But Jigme was wonderful, intuiting our every whim, whisking us swiftly between dzhongs and riverside pomegranate cocktails and leading us on thrilling hikes. Bhutan resembles a sort of Highlands of the East, and is home to the highest unclimbed peak in the world (mountains are sacred, and therefore shouldn’t be trodden upon). We climbed four hours to the Flying Tiger’s Nest monastery, clinging to a sheer cliff face 900m above the valley, and trekked through a mist-wreathed Brothers Grimm forest, munching on homemade flapjacks until we eventually reached the 15th-century monastery of Jele Dzong, where monks sit in silent meditation for three years, three months and three days.
That’s a period I’d happily endure in order to stay in Bhutan, the best country in the world. Just don’t tell anyone about it.
Frankie was a guest of Six Senses Bhutan, rooms from £786 (sixsenses.com).