“If you ask my son if he will go to the moon in his lifetime, he will say ‘yes’,” said our guide during a recent visit to Shanghai. Despite the turbulent history China has endured, Shanghai is a strikingly modern place where anything is possible—the entire financial district, Pudong, was created in a mere 30 years and now boasts the world’s second-tallest building—and nothing is too outlandish or out-of-reach to be attempted. This attitude has cultivated an innovative spirit in the creative industries, with pioneering contemporary art museums, avant-garde restaurants and trendy bars opening at a breakneck pace.
And while there is a futuristic element to Shanghai—the cityscape is more similar to that in Blade Runner than any modern city—travelers who venture beyond the Bund, the waterfront boulevard lined with well-preserved Art Deco buildings, will experience different sides of Shanghai. From the ancient water villages that give a taste of rural China to the up-and-coming West Bund area, which boasts some inventive museums (and little else), Shanghai’s seemingly endless sprawl of city offers a wealth of diverse experiences.
The rapid development of Pudong into Shanghai’s financial center brought with it a bevy of luxury hotels, most notably the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong, which occupies the top floors of a 58-story skyscraper just a few blocks from the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower. In fact, the hotel seems to draw inspiration from the monumental structures that surround it; each room boasts spectacular views, whether of the Huangpu or back into Pudong, an Art Deco décor in a nod to Shanghai’s historic Bund and subtle touches like shimmery pink accents, which draw out the Pearl Tower’s subtle pink sheen. To experience Shanghai in all its modern, futuristic grandeur, this is the hotel to stay at.
Jean-George Vongerichten’s fondness for Shanghai has resulted in new upscale eateries at Three on the Bund. In addition to the chef’s beloved Mercato, Three on the Bund also houses the upscale Jean-Georges, which opened in spring of 2016 after an elegant renovation (and serves discerning, Asian-inflected French cuisine). Just a block away is Bund 18, another shopping and dining venue home to a big-name chef; Joël Robuchon broke onto the scene with his first restaurant in Shanghai, L’Atelier Joël Robuchon, which opened in early 2016. The reigning favorite for a unique culinary experience remains Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet. Diners meet at a set location on the night of their meal, are ushered to a secret dining room, and are then treated to a 20-course, multisensory culinary show. Paul Pairet, who is also the chef at Shanghai favorite Mr & Mrs Bund, helms the avant-garde food experience that placed third on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Asia list for 2016.
Dining in Shanghai is as much about the view as it is about the cuisine, and the best way to observe the city’s abstract architecture is to go up. The second outpost of Umberto Bombana’s hot spot Hong Kong restaurant—the first outside of Europe to be awarded three Michelin stars—is 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, an Italian restaurant in the art-centric Rockbund development with a stunning outdoor terrace. On the other side of the Huangpu River is Pudong, the financial center, which boasts the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Tower and a number of high-rise hotels. The top floor of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong is home to hot-spot Flair Rooftop Restaurant & Bar, which, styled by star interior design firm Super Potato, comes close to rivaling the views it offers of the Pearl Tower and Bund.
With abundant Art Deco and French Colonial architecture and cutting-edge contemporary galleries, Shanghai offers an overwhelming amount of activities for art-lovers. Of late, the biggest news is the opening of the Long Museum West Bund in 2014. Housing the personal collection of Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang, the museum occupies a previously nondescript wharf that was used for coal transportation in the 1950s, but thanks to Shanghai-based architect Liu Yichun, is now a stunning piece of art itself. The stark, grey concrete museum is centered on a coal hopper unloading bridge, a reminder of Shanghai’s industrial culture as well as a nod to the dynamic artworks housed within the gallery, including several by Yayoi Kusama, a clear favorite of the owners. After visiting, pop over to the Power Station of Art, also in West Bund, which has been compared to London’s Tate Modern and hosts the renowned Shanghai Biennale.
An interesting complement to the city’s modern galleries is the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre. Even in Shanghai, the most modern city in China, locals are reluctant to speak about the Cultural Revolution, as the prevailing attitude is one that favors looking forward not back. Visitors who find the Mao years fascinating should make this progressive museum a must-stop. Tucked away in the basement of an unmarked apartment complex, the Propaganda Art museum boasts a trove of posters from the Maoist period of communist China, which are interesting historical artifacts and unique souvenirs to bring home.
Often called Shanghai’s Venice, Zhujiajiao water village is located one hour from the city and has a history spanning more than 1,700 years. The tiny town is a charming place to explore (via gondola and on foot) both modern and ancient China. Recently is has become a hotbed for artistic creativity thanks to the Shangduli project, a waterfront development focused on bringing contemporary art to the town—a number of modern exhibits (murals, vibrant installations) already line the streets. The project also operates a four-room hotel (No.3, Lane 24, Xinfeng Rd.), which provides a chic hideout for visitors that want to spend a night before returning to Shanghai. A number of stylish boutiques line the streets surrounding the hotel, including You Mu You Tao for pottery, Choc Choco Chocolate Bar and SJPC Bookstore. Indagare Tip: explore with a guide as the tiny town is hard to navigate.
Even the process of getting to Shanghai has been revolutionized with premiere aircrafts and luxury airport lounges. Cathay Pacific Airways offers flights from most major cities to its hub in Hong Kong, with connecting options to Shanghai and other destinations in Asia. The airline’s newly renovated first-class lounge in the Hong Kong airport, The Pier, is a sleek minimalist haven complete with green onyx walls, day suites, washrooms with showers, a foot massage parlor and full-service restaurant.
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