Gangtey Goenpa, Bhutan

The idea of floating over the ancient Himalayan kingdom in a balloon led an Australian couple to first create a luxury base.

It began as a thought bubble 10 years ago - a bold idea to float hot-air balloons over a valley in Bhutan.

"When we looked at it, though, the logistics and expense in such a remote place were just too difficult for a balloon operation without a support base," says Eastern Safaris' founder Brett Melzer, "so then we considered opening a simple guesthouse." That idea has morphed instead into a 12-bedroom luxury lodge called Gangtey Goenpa, which Melzer and his wife, Khin Omar Win, opened late last year in the kingdom's remote central valley of Gangtey.

Their design brief for Sydney architect Mary Lou Thompson drew inspiration from the valley's rough-rendered Bhutanese farmhouses and a 300-year-old monastery a short walk downhill from the new lodge. "We wanted it to feel like a home, with simplicity and peace, albeit with everything you'd expect in a luxury lodge," says Melbourne-based Melzer. The interiors feature Bhutanese textiles and motifs and the sense of place is reinforced by a 360-degree map of the valley painted by a local monk; the luxuries include fireplaces, lounges and handcrafted bathtubs in each guest room.

Melzer and Win launched their first Eastern Safaris enterprise, the pioneering Balloons over Bagan, in 1999. Now their Bhutan lodge is operating, the couple will return to their original idea: launching the kingdom's first hot-air balloon operation later this year.

Lodge rooms cost from $740 including breakfast.

Read more: Gourmet Travellerguide to Bhutan.


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