Published in the September edition of Myanmore InDepth Magazine
A weekend at Aythaya Winery in Shan State can rejuvenate and restore
When Yangon becomes too wet, hot or just plain busy, take comfort in the knowledge that a serene weekend retreat awaits in the cooler climes of Shan State.
While the wine produced by Myanmar 1st Vineyard is ubiquitous throughout Myanmar under the Aythaya label, the accommodation at the winery, for now at least, remains something of a well kept secret among those in the know. The Monte diVino Lodge’s three luxurious, timber and glass paneled bungalows were designed by SPINE Architects’ Amelie Chai and overlook the rolling mountains and the winery below. The bungalows flow seamlessly into the side of the mountain and each is shrouded in a riot of tropical flowers: visitors at the winery’s restaurant could be forgiven for missing them altogether. Each bungalow is equipped with a king size bed, indoor and outdoor showers, vast balconies, a well-stocked mini-bar and chic furnishings. Mr Leiendecker said that plasma TVs and wifi are coming soon. Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend away or a secluded spot to polish off that manuscript, the Monte diVino Lodge is hard to beat in the tranquility stakes.
Nowadays, the winery itself attracts up to 300 visitors a day: however things weren’t always so rosé. When the 100 percent foreign-owned vineyard and winery first opened in 2004, Taunggyi locals were reluctant to even approach it.
“Myanmar was a completely different place eight years ago: Myanmar people actually seemed scared to come to a foreign business. So I said to myself, ‘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,” said 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 that the winery would appeal more to foreign tourists than locals, today the latter far outnumber the former. Mr Leiendecker said that locals comprise around 80 percent of all visitors – a fact he attributes 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 pariah 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,” said Mr Leiendecker.
Last year Aythaya recorded an impressive 8,000 foreigners, while local day trippers totalled 25,000. With its Sunset Wine Garden Restaurant starting to overflow, its 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 – as well as a Mongolian-style barbeque on Friday nights and daily specials – guests can sample Aythaya’s wine varieties for K2,000 and take a free, 30 minute, guided tour of the vineyard and winery. Mountain bike hire is also available, and stand-up paddleboards will be coming soon. The winery is located just 25 kilometres away from Inle Lake, which means there is lush hiking in the nearby surrounds.
From October, Aythaya will open a spa and sauna retreat, which will be managed by Thin Thin Yu, a licensed acupuncturist and certified holistic healing practitioner with 10 years’ professional experience in Canada and the US.
“The idea is to add a wellness spa to the wine country visit to make it like Napa Valley in the US,” she said.
Rates per night at Monte diVino Lodge start from US$120 a night from September until April.