It was Dr Alexander Yersin who first divined the therapeutic properties of Da Lat’s temperate climate on an exploratory mission into Vietnam’s southern highlands, in 1893. His subsequent report on the area must have struck a chord: four years later Governor-General Paul Doumer of Indochina ordered the founding of a convalescent hill station, where Saigon’s hot-under-the-collar colons could recharge their batteries, and perhaps even take part in a day’s game-hunting. The city’s Gallic contingent had to pack up their winter coats after 1954’s Treaty of Geneva, but by then the cathedral, train station, villas and hotels had been erected, and the French connection well and truly forged.
The French elite who once maintained villas in Da Lat preferred to site their homes on a hill to the southeast of the city centre, rather than in the maw of its central area. The villas that they built along Tran Hung Dao survive today, some renovated and others in a sad state of disrepair, but they evoke the feel of the colonial era more than anywhere else in Da Lat.