The French émigrés living in Vietnam at the turn of the 20th century were desperate to escape the sweltering heat of the lowlands – Bana, Sapa, Tam Dao and Dalat were all established as mountain retreats by the French.
It was Dr. Alexandre Yersin who first put Dalat on the map. Yersin departed the port of Nha Trang in 1893 and headed for the unexplored central highlands of Vietnam, where he discovered an evergreen mountain paradise dotted with lakes and waterfalls.
Despite the precipitous mile-high slopes, Dalat was established by 1912 and has pretty much continued to serve its initial purpose ever since. With cascading waterfalls, rolling mountains and a year-round cool climate, the city was naturally endowed and attractive to tourists. The area was also blessed with stunning biodiversity with wild flowers and cherry blossom trees lining the streets. Wealthy French émigrés built vacation homes in Dalat, which remain standing today giving the city a distinctly Mediterranean feel.
The photographer Dang Van Thong remembers in 1947 how Dalat was still in a relatively “primitive form”. “The population was sparse and pine forests were thick and endless. The literati described it as a ‘city in a forest and a forest in a city’. Even in the late 1980s, Dalat’s landscape was still poetic and dreamlike,” says Thong.
Today there are now top class golf courses and luxurious resorts catering for tourists, who can fly into Dalat’s Lien Khuong airport. But the city still knows which side its bread is buttered on. People flock here for the crisp, cool mountain air and the stunning views.
Dalat has also quite literally blossomed into the “Flower capital of Vietnam”. The temperate climate means Lam Dong province is ideal for agricultural cultivation – the area is renowned for its coffee plantations, vineyards, fruit and vegetable farms as well as its flowers.
The annual Dalat Flower Festival is a chance to celebrate the city’s natural beauty while showcasing the locality’s prized products: flowers, wine and coffee. It’s also a party. This year there was a festival within a festival: the Dalat Wine Festival offered guests 5,500 litres of Vietnamese, Old World and New World wine, generously provided by Vinh Tien, Dalat (Lado Foods) and Lang Biang companies.
Over 60,000 tourists attended the week-long event. Visitors could last week marvel at some spectacular floral arrangements: a 3,200sqm-flower arrangement made by Lam Dong Flower Association’s 20 member companies and 6,000 tulips provided by Viet Dang Company at Xuan Huong Lake; a chrysanthemum-tiger made by Agrivina Dalat Hasfarm Company; 100 peach trees provided by Dalat Peach Flower Valley on Ba Huyen Thanh Quan street; flowers and ornamental plants associations from Holland, South Korea, China and Taiwan.
There were also several records set to mark the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi at the flower festival with a giant flower vase titled Hoan Kiem Lake made by 1,000 locals and tourists and two 54-metre long dragons representing the country’s 54 ethnic groups.
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