An early morning flight whisks you to the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Simply arriving is a thrill, as the landing at Paro is a breathtaking squeeze between rippled peaks. In the nearby capital of Thimphu, you have the chance to stay at either the elegant Taj Tashi or a welcoming local guesthouse.
Teetering at an altitude of 2,350m, tiny Thimphu is couched in a steep-sided valley and hugged by mountains. This is the place to see real Bhutanese life: it’s a slowly modernising city, still peopled by red-robed monks and dotted with Buddhist temples. Learn about the local culture at the Folk Heritage Museum, the Painting School and, best of all, the lively weekend market.
It's a dramatic drive east from Thimphu to Gangtey, along the river and into the mountains. The ancient Simtokha Dzong and the wonderful wall paintings of Hongtsho monastery provide plenty of reasons to stop. Most memorable of all, however, is the Dochu La pass. Here 108 chortens, or shrines, stand in a 360-degree panorama of snow-capped mountains.
The Gangtey Valley is a revelation. This lush, open plain is tickled by rivers and loved by wildlife. Every winter, rare black-necked cranes migrate here from Tibet. The area is perfect for nature walks and treks, or even mountain biking. A visit to the 16th-century monastery is highly recommended.
Heading back west, delve into Punakha Valley, the summer residence of the Bhutanese royal family. It's easy to see why they choose this location. Welcome to an idyllic, temperate haven, where rice paddies and jacaranda trees flourish, and two mighty rivers converge.
Punakha Dzong was the seat of government until the 1950s. The stately and august with its white-washed walls, the dzong is one of Bhutan's finest. All of Bhutan's monarchs have been crowned here. It’s a joy to get active in the local area: explore the surrounds on mountain treks, on a mountain bike or in the mountain rivers on a raft.
You’ll adore the atmosphere of pretty Paro, the enchanting riverside town that’s home to the National Museum, an imposing dzong and the intimate Uma Paro hotel. This is one of the country's finest retreats, where every stylish villa sits in a glade of azaleas and camellias. Enjoy the unbroken views of the forest and mountains as you settle into a hot stone bath or try your hand at archery, Bhutan's national sport.
No trip to Bhutan is complete without making the hike up to Tiger's Nest, the cliff-perched monastery that clings improbably to the sides of the Paro Valley. Climb up amid mossy forest and fluttering prayer flags to reach the sacred site.
Despite being close to Paro, the pristine Haa Valley is one of the least-visited spots in the country, only recently opened to tourists. A day trip here is special indeed: hike or bike amid its primeval forests and tiny temples for a taste of untouched Bhutan.
Bid Bhutan a reluctant farewell for your flight to Delhi and then onward to home.