Jessica Mudditt travels to Aythaya Winery in Shan State for a weekend away to rejuvenate and restore. She finds a tranquil haven in the hills.
When Yangon becomes too wet, hot or just plain busy, take comfort in the knowledge that a serene weekend retreat is attainable in the cooler climes of Shan State.
While the wine produced by Myanmar 1st Vineyard Estate, under the Aythaya label, is ubiquitous throughout this country, the accommodation at the winery, for now at least, remains something of a well-kept secret. The three luxurious, timber and glass paneled bungalows of the Monte diVino Lodge were designed by Amelie Chai from SPINE Architects, and overlook the rolling mountains and the winery below. The bungalows sit seamlessly into the side of the mountain, and each is enveloped in a plethora of tropical flowers; visitors at the winery’s restaurant can be forgiven for missing them altogether. Each bungalow is equipped with a king size bed, indoor and outdoor showers, extensive balconies, well-stocked mini-bar and chic furnishings. Plasma TVs and Wifi will also be available soon. Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend away or a secluded spot to polish off that manuscript, the Monte diVino Lodge will certainly provide the necessary tranquil surrounding.
“Myanmar was a completely different place eight years ago. Myanmar people actually seemed scared to come to a foreign business. So I said, ‘Okay, if they won’t come inside, I’ll go outside and show people what we have to offer.’ We actually put tables and chairs on the side of the road – that’s how our business began,” relates the Director of Technical Operations, Hans Leiendecker.
Despite initial doubt from Aythaya’s founder, a fellow German called Bert Mosbach, the experiment worked and the pair haven’t looked back since. Although they initially assumed the winery would appeal more to foreign tourists than locals, today the locals far outnumber foreign visitors. Locals comprise around 80 percent of all visitors – attributed in part to a sizeable population of wealthy Taunggyi residents and Yangonites who are keen to escape the heat and bustle of the commercial capital.
As for the foreign clientele, they too have changed over the years thanks to the end of the tourism boycott led by a UK-based rights group and the lifting of EU and US sanctions against the former military state in 2012.
“The nationalities visiting Aythaya have changed quite bit over the years. In the beginning we used to get a lot of Austrians and Germans, but nowadays they are outnumbered by the British, Americans and French,” explains Mr Leiendecker.
Last year Aythaya recorded an impressive 8,000 foreigners, while local day-trippers totaled 25,000 people. The Sunset Wine Garden Restaurant is now at full capacity, so the owners have decided to build a café and a second bar, along with an enormous menu that features Myanmar, Chinese, Shan and European culinary treats. There is also a Mongolian-style barbeque on Friday nights and daily specials – guests can sample Aythaya’s wine varieties for 2,000 Ks and take a complimentary half-hour guided tour of the vineyard and winery. Mountain bike hire is also available, and stand-up paddleboards will be available soon. The winery is located just 25 kms from Inle Lake, which means there are good hiking trails nearby.