Kathmandu's oldest luxury hotel, the Hyatt Regency is also the largest, sprawling across a plot the size of a small neighbourhood with gardens, a swimming pool and tennis courts. It's the choice hotel of politicians, celebrities and Everest summiteers, and home to the best breakfast buffet in the capital.
Nepal is famous for its mountains so most travellers that brave the bumpy and rather hairy flight into Kathmandu airport are usually looking for adventure. As such, the capital itself only tends to hold visitors for a couple of nights before they rattle down to Pokhara to explore the Annapurna range or take an even hairier flight to the start of the Everest base camp trek. Yet, it's an interesting city, full of some of the world's most magnificent Buddhist temples and if you're in search for five-star luxury, this is just about the only place you'll find it.
Built in the style of classical Nepalese architecture, the Hyatt is a striking reminder of Kathmandu's past. Guests enter along a floating walkway through a heavy gold door to be greeted by a statue of Buddha, lemongrass-scented cold towels and a glass of rose ice tea (the best I've ever tasted) – after the pressing heat and dust of the city, it's a welcome touch. The centrepiece of the open-plan lobby space is the indoor courtyard complex of miniature temples. Edged by a cushioned stone bench, it's a peaceful place to sit in the early evening when the light casts long shadows across the stone floor. Beyond the temples, in the afternoon, high tea is served – a tower of macaroons, cakes and small sandwiches – in the lounge and on the terrace.
The best rooms are those with a view of the Boudhanath Stupa, a UNESCO recognised World Heritage Site and Nepal's most impressive Buddhist temple. Whilst it's not possible to see the slanting, painted eyes from the hotel, you can glimpse the gold spire and prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Then in the evening you can slip out the hotel's back gate and join the evening prayers in the square, which is also a beautiful place for a rooftop drink where you can fully appreciate the enormity of the startling white structure.
The Stupa view room is also more spacious than the standard category, and whilst it's not the most inventive interior design, the warm colour palette of orange and cream with light brown wooden flooring makes it more homely and relaxing than most business hotels. There are also some nice cultural touches; antique carved sculptures and a Tibetan hand-woven carpet. There are more of these to be found dotted round the hotel. If you're feeling particularly flush, check into one of the suites, which are kitted out with stunning antique furnishings and local artwork.
The hotel really excels when it comes to gastronomy with two formal restaurants and three more casual outlets. The Rox Bar and Restaurant is only open for dinner and serves a menu of Southern European cuisine, including delicious wood-fired pizzas and cocktails. The atmosphere is sultry and relaxed, and on cooler evenings, you can opt to dine alfresco on the terrace overlooking the hotel's magnificent gardens. The breakfast though is the real highlight.
Normally, breakfast buffets are a bit hit-and-miss and if you arrive late, usually all the good stuff has gone, but the spread at The Cafe is well chosen and plentiful. The bread table is piled high with a variety of freshly baked loaves from German pumpernickel to sourdough, and the pastries are easily the best in Nepal. It's well worth waking up for.
There's also a compact spa and gym on the hotel's ground floor, which overlooks the Japanese garden. Like most Asian countries, the steam and sauna room is single sex, which actually can be more relaxing as people tend to be more liberal about stripping off. The treatments on offer are catered specifically to mountain climbers, who reportedly check into the hotel after summiting Everest or embarking on a more modest trek for some well-deserved luxury and recuperation.
There are also traditional Ayurvedic treatments on offer such as Shirodhara, which aims to awaken the third eye (the space between your eyebrows) and reduce stress. It involves warm oil being poured onto the forehead in a continual stream, which may sound relatively similar to Japanese water torture, but the effects are pleasantly hypnotic.
Whether you're preparing to summit the world's highest mountain, have just returned from a trek or are simply on holiday, the Hyatt Regency is an all-round winner. Located in a rare oasis of green, it's a beautiful place to relax and appreciate the dramatic scenery of the surrounding Himalayan mountains and for those looking to soak up the culture, it's conveniently located close by to most of the city's main attractions.
All photographs are by James Houston.