The art of surprise is often underestimated in this era of all-inclusive, ever-connected travel. So I'm bowled over when, on the last day of a two-week trek, the "organic farmstay" mentioned in our trip notes turns out to be a three-storey boutique hotel with bougainvillea-covered balconies in the subtropical Middle Hills west of Kathmandu.
We arrive just in time for lunch at The Famous Farm, so named because local builders transforming the 150-year-old house into a hotel in 2006 kept saying, "One day this farm will be famous" and the name stuck.
As soon as we take our seats around a long table set with a checked tablecloth under a shady tree, waiters appear bearing baskets of fresh bread and silver pots of freshly brewed coffee. Chickens, geese and turkeys free-range around us and a white rabbit crouches next to a pot of pink geraniums (all rescue animals, not for the cooking pot). We could be in Italy or France – until the dal bhat arrives (Nepal's national dish of lentils, curries and rice). Either way, it's an ideal introduction to a surprisingly enchanting one-night stay.
After lunch, manager Dumbar Bhandari shows us to our rooms. I'm in the princes room, at the top of a narrow, ladder-like staircase. Pushing open the heavy wooden door, I step over a high threshold – and almost bump my head on the low doorframe.
"This is a traditional house and all the doors are very small, so please mind your head," says Bhandari.
Inside, it's rustic, romantic and quietly luxurious – and not just because we've spent the past two weeks staying in monastically simple teahouses. Everywhere I look there's a new surprise: an antique teapot filled with fresh flowers, a white mosquito net over the queen bed, Ayurvedic soaps in the bathroom. Getting to know your room's idiosyncrasies – those low doorways, wooden latches on the windows, shutters within shutters for privacy and darkness – is part of the fun.
"It's like a Hobbit house," says one of my fellow trekkers, Nora from Switzerland, who's been reading The Lord of the Rings. Or a creaking tall ship built to weather life's storms, although it was partially rebuilt after a fire in 2012 and after Nepal's devastating earthquakes in 2015.
Situated on an ancient trade route between Tibet and India, the surrounding region of Nuwakot has seen plenty of action too. For more than 1000 years, the nearby fort guarded the western entrance to the Kathmandu Valley and it was from here that the Gorkha king Prithvi Narayan Shah invaded and united various city-states to create the nation of Nepal in 1769.
His pagoda-like palace, Nuwakot Durbar, is visible from almost anywhere in the hotel. Or stroll 10 minutes down the road for a closer look, though it's currently closed until 2019 for restoration. You're unlikely to see any other tourists: the nearest village, Nuwakot Bazaar, is so off-the-map it has only one other hotel and a couple of homestays.
This being Nepal, you can use the Farm as a base for day walks or multi-day treks, perhaps in the nearby Langtang Valley or on the Tamang Heritage Trail. Guests are free to wander the 1.2-hectare terraced garden, which supplies most of the hotel's fresh, pesticide-free (soon to be certified organic) produce; three meals a day are included in the room rate. Or join the chefs in the kitchen for an impromptu cooking class.
It's also the perfect place to do nothing much – to relax in a hanging cane chair, read a book on your balcony, maybe enjoy a pre-dinner glass of Australian shiraz in the garden. For this reason, there's no Wi-Fi, to make the hotel "a haven from the electric spaghetti of modern life," as Bhandari puts it. That night, we dine under the stars, our table lit by candles and kerosene lanterns. It's a magical setting, perfect for sharing the highlights of our trek over the best meal of the trip: various curries, flatbreads, roast chicken (not the ones we'd seen earlier) and baked apples for dessert.
I'm woken the next morning by roosters from a neighbouring farm and the cooing of doves. Sliding out of bed, I open the shutters and gaze at the Trisuli river valley below, still sleeping under a blanket of smoke-scented mist.
One final surprise comes after a leisurely breakfast of eggs, bacon, vegan pancakes and more good coffee, when Bhandari tells us that most of the staff had never even been into a hotel before they'd started at The Famous Farm, let alone worked in one. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the service is a delight: friendly, unassuming and sincere, making us feel like honoured guests right up to the moment we leave in our private bus and look back to see Bhandari and two other staff members standing at the gate waving us goodbye until we're out of sight.
China Southern Airlines flies to Kathmandu from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne via Guangzhou; see csair.com/au/en
The Famous Farm is just outside Nuwakot Bazaar, about three hours' drive west of Kathmandu; transfers start at $US75 for up to three people one way.
The Famous Farm, owned and run by Kathmandu-based Rural Heritage, has 14 rooms starting at $US110 a night including three meals; see rural-heritage.com
Louise Southerden travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.