This fifty-three-room hotel in the heart of the French Concession has many fans. It is certainly more intimate than the other high-end choices, but the service is a bit more limited. The décor mixes traditional Chinese furniture with contemporary pieces for a very chic Asian look. A small pool and room service are available, as are many rooms with kitchenettes.
Aman at the Summer Palace
Aman has out Amaned itself with this incredible property because it has actually merged a luxurious resort experience with a historic cultural immersion. Today, too often a traveler is forced to starkly divide their sightseeing experience from their hotel experience. You leave a modern cocoon and dive into cultural exploration, then return to your hotel oasis to process. Here, however, within the very walls of one of China’s greatest monuments, Aman has fashioned a supremely special home-away-from-home-Imperial Chinese-style hotel so you actually feel like you are checking into history.
The Summer Palace, which at 293 hectares is three times larger than the Forbidden City and is still the largest garden in China more than a century after it was built, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built as the summer retreat for the imperial family, the Palace in its current form (the original was destroyed in 1860) was the fantastical project of Empress Dowager Cixi. Somehow, Aman managed to win the right to transform buildings annexed to the palace, some of which were once used as diplomatic waiting rooms, into a luxury hotel. So while tourists stream into the main gates of the Summer Palace through subway-like ticket turn styles, guests at the Aman arrive to a private courtyard adjacent to the East Gate where valets await to whisk them into a restored 19th-century Ming dynasty building where dignitaries once waited for their audience with the Empress.
The lobby, like the rest of the property, has been updated with the most luxurious modern materials but in a way that pays homage to history. So under the traditional peaked, beamed ceilings, there are lots of chic wood and paper lanterns, delicate wooden lattice screens and Ming benches with gorgeous silk cushions. If the Empress were to arrive today, she would know that she were in a different time but also that she was in a familiar place, which means for the modern guest going from the pampering enclave of the Aman, where bathrooms have deep soaking tubs and TVs hidden in Ming armoires, to the Summer Palace, there’s no jarring transition from tourist to traveler.
Cobblestoned pathways lined with gardens and weeping willows lead to the thirty-five guestrooms and suites, which are housed in historic buildings set around internal courtyards. Each room is slightly different but all incorporate traditional architecture and materials like Jin clay tile polished floors, exposed wood roof beams and Ming daybeds and armoires. The top accommodation, the Imperial Suite, occupies three separate structures, which share a courtyard. One building houses the bedroom and his-and-her bathroom suites; another has a living room and study and another a private dining room. And while the rooms feel like precious jewel boxes that you will not want to leave, the resort has many attractions to explore. In addition to the exquisite spa and state-of-the-art gym, there are squash courts, an indoor pool, a 37-seat screening room and one of China’s premier wine clubs. The Aman restaurants include the Grill, which focuses on Western food; a Chinese restaurant; and Naoki, where the chef serves French Kaiseki Japanese food. Cultural activities such as calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, tai chi and musical concerts are also offered daily. To visit the Summer Palace, guests merely duck through a private doorway, but it is also possible to have the hotel arrange for other sightseeing excursions to the Forbidden City, Great Wall or 798 Art District and even to have after-hours access to the Summer Palace itself, where you might have a private dinner or concert arranged.
The Aman group is often criticized for creating gorgeous bubble-like resorts that offer little interaction with their neighbors. Not so at the Amanfayun, which has made a conscious effort to facilitate local immersion. The property is surrounded by rolling mountains and folded into so many shades of green that arriving here feels like stepping into a Zen painting (an especially welcome respite after some days in energetic Shanghai).
Nestled into 35 acres of tea plantations, the property is built on the foundations of an ancient Chinese village, called Fayun. Many of its traditional houses were painstakingly restored and the village’s original layout was kept in tact. The main path that leads through the resort is one of the pilgrimage routes to Lingyin Temple, one of seven Buddhist sanctuaries that encircle the resort, and Aman opted to keep the path open for worshippers and villagers, allowing for an organic and authentic interaction between visitors and locals.
Not everyone will get what the Amanfayun is trying to be, and travelers expecting a glam scene and marble-clad bathrooms will be much happier at the Four Seasons West Lake. Everything at the Amanfayun is stubbornly, beautifully and consistently traditional China. There are no golf carts or shuttle transfers between the restaurants and villas. When you’ve completed your spa treatment at the serene complex on the northern end of the property, you get dressed and walk home across cobblestoned paths lined by bamboo and lush forest and lit by wire-framed lanterns at night.
The individual villa accommodations, designed by Indonesian architect Jaya Ibrahim, are housed in traditional Chinese structures featuring loads of dark-wood beams, lattice-work and shiny stone floors. That the beige-heavy interiors bring to mind the minimalist serenity of monastic life is surely intentional: everything is of the highest quality—high thread count sheets, handcrafted bath amenities, custom-made Elmwood furnishings, floor heating—but there is no excess here. Creaking wooden doors and windows are covered in latticed shutters, which keep the rooms dimly lit even during the day. Due to the ancient structures, bathrooms do not accommodate bathtubs, though the oversized rain showers more than make up for it (and there are three traditional bathhousees with enormous wooden tubs, part of the spa, that can be reserved on a complimentary basis).
Another innovative touch to draw Hangzhou into the resort grounds was to invite four local restaurant owners to open and run their eateries here. Two are managed by Aman, but three others are independent and offer everything from vegetarian temple cuisine to regional Hangzhou specialties. One of the most interesting spots is the Teahouse, headed by a famous Hangzhou tea matriarch, where guests can sample the area’s potent Dragon Well longjing tea. For guests tired of Chinese cuisine, there’s also a good Western restaurant.
A gorgeous property in an offbeat location with a unique origin story, Amanyangyun is designed for true Aman junkies and locals wanting a weekend getaway outside of Shanghai.
Bulgari Hotel, Beijing
An oasis in bustling Beijing, the Bulgari is one of the most sophisticated locations to wind down from a busy day of sightseeing in China’s capital.
China World Beijing
The China World, a veteran in Beijing hotel terms, was the first major hotel to be designed as the centerpiece of an entire complex, with shops, offices and restaurants incorporated into the block-long plot. This is one of the top properties of the renowned Shangri-La group, which ensures that it is powered by a slick and efficient Hong Kong–European mechanism. It is not for everyone—the gargantuan feel is accentuated by the presence of a sister hotel, the Trader’s, in the complex and a large exhibition center—but it is luxurious, fairly convenient and used to meeting the demands of American and European business and leisure travelers.
Interestingly, a portion of its trade these days comes from local Chinese traveling to the capital; they were once intimidated by such grand abodes; the prices, too, tended to scare them off, and also the risk of breaching Western etiquette rules and suffering the resultant loss of face. This changed because of the booming economy. For Westerners, it can serve as a bolt-hole after a long day of sightseeing or meetings; there are plenty of restaurants and bars, in the complex and nearby, that obviate the need to venture back out into the heavy traffic.
Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski
A series of striking buildings, the Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski complex, attracted world attention when it was unveiled. The concept was intriguing: today’s cutting-edge architecture next to one of the oldest structures of all, the Great Wall. Some of the villas are available for rent, with management by the Kempinski group, which is likely to appeal to those who have plenty of time in Beijing.
Fairmont Peace Hotel
The Art Deco Fairmont Peace Hotel was built on the Bund in 1929 by the Iraqi-British real estate tycoon Victor Sassoon. The grand hotel epitomized old-world glamor during the 1930s when Shanghai was nicknamed the “Paris of the East”. But following the Chinese Communist Party takeover in 1949, the hotel fell into decay. Eventually it was turned into a shopping mall with the property's glorious center-piece – a vast stained glass atrium roof which sits in an octagonal lobby – covered by a fake ceiling.
Now, following a $60 million restoration that took three years to complete, the newly named Fairmont Peace Hotel is back to its former glory. Fairmont Hotel & Resorts have gone to painstaking effort to preserve the hotel’s finest historical features. And it shows. As well as enjoying spectacular views across the Huangpo River towards the financial district of Pudong from the roof top bar, visitors can also sip cocktails in the ground floor in the quaint, old-world Jazz Bar. There, an octogenarian band who have played together since the 1980s (two members were in Jimmy King’s legendary 1940s jazz ensemble) only add to the charm.
Other highlights include the Dragon Phoenix restaurant located on the eighth floor. It is decked out in red, green, blue and gold, colors which are reminiscent of the Forbidden City. Rumor has it that hotel staff covered the elaborate ceiling motifs with paper during the Cultural Revolution to prevent them from being destroyed by Red Guards. **
Fittingly, rooms are designed in an Art Deco style. Although they harken back to a bygone time, modern comfort is the order of the day: rooms come with goose-down pillows, Illy espresso machines, iPod docking stations, and wireless internet, plus walk-in wardrobes. The Fairmont Rooms overlook an inner courtyard while the Deluxe Rooms offer the more impressive city views. Aside from enjoying dinner at the Dragon Phoenix, guests can have a sumptuous old world afternoon tea in the Jasmine Lounge. For adventurous types there is also the legendary Tea Dance, where professional instructors provide ballroom dancing lessons to the tunes of a live orchestra. For those after something a little more serene, the Willow Stream spa has all the usual massages and treatments set in luxurious surroundings.
Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, Shanghai
In a city as exciting as Shanghai, it adds a lot to the experience to stay in a hotel with a futuristic vibe, such as the Four Seasons Pudong. Opened in 2013, it is situated on the high floors of the 21st Century Tower in the business district. Standing in my Executive One-Bedroom Suite on the 33rd floor with two walls of windows offering sweeping views over the famous Pudong skyline, I felt like I was suspended in air in a glass cube. The 172 rooms and 15 suites are done in a masculine color scheme of taupe, chrome and chocolate with burgundy highlights and Art Deco-inspired touches. Throughout the hotel there are marvelous textural and design details: shagreen, velveteen, Macassar ebony, shiny lacquer. Even the low category Deluxe rooms are a spacious 500 square feet. Suites feature flat screen TVs, marble bathrooms with big soaking tubs and rainfall showers. Striped screens slide open to reveal floor-to-ceiling windows with sublime skyline views (request a room overlooking the Oriental Pearl Tower). On the first floor, Camelia restaurant has a sushi counter and a chic outdoor terrace that’s a delightful spot to meet for drinks on a warm night. The Shang-Xi restaurant serves superb Chinese food in either the intimate restaurant (just 22 seats) or one of five very stylish private rooms. The spa features four treatment rooms, a large 24-hour fitness center, and men’s and women’s lounges, each with a steam room and whirlpool. But the pièce de résistance is the sensational infinity pool overlooking the skyline, which is absolutely magical at sunset.
Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai
This lovely property, located close to shopping on Nanjing Road, has a residential feel that makes it a good choice for families. Unlike so many of the soaring grand lobbies you find in Shanghai, this one is arranged with lots of art and smaller pieces of furniture—the kind you might find in a home. Comfortable sitting areas invite guests to linger. Suites begin on the 6th floor, with the presidential suite occupying the 36th floor. Fabrics in sunny yellows or terra-cotta hues like those found in Chinese porcelain warm up the 422 guest rooms. Even the brass hardware on the TV cabinets replicates familiar Chinese shapes, and small iron sculptures and porcelain dishes on desks and tables in select suites add a reminder of the country’s great artistic heritage. There are five restaurants on property, including a steak house available for private use. Situated on the ground floor beneath a sunny atrium, Café Studio offers an excellent lunch buffet with Shanghainese specialties and views of the bustling street. The pretty indoor pool on the fourth floor has chaises both indoors and out for lounging.
Four Seasons West Lake
Designed to blend into the serenity of the natural setting, the low-built resort is situated within a beautifully landscaped park-garden, featuring tons of water elements (lotus ponds, waterfalls, portions of West Lake), so that each public space and most guest rooms come with picturesque views. The architecture is based on the region’s traditional Jiang Nan style, with many of the buildings boasting Pagoda-style rooftops, latticed trellises and shiny, lacquered doors. The traditional feel continues on the interiors as well, though all has been designed with a lot of style and stunning materials, one more luscious than the next.
Whether you’re sampling local cuisine in the soaring dining room of renowned Jin Sha restaurant or taking a dip in the massive outdoor or indoor pool edged by cozy, pillow-topped lounging nooks, all the details are top-notch and work together to create a backdrop that is at once traditional yet also sophisticated, stylish and sexy.
The resort has just 81 accommodations, including three villas. The in-room design is surprisingly restrained—some would say less inspired—compared with the uber-chic public spaces, but the resort’s main clientele tends to be mostly wealthy Chinese, explaining this penchant for more formulaic interiors. The furnishings are polished blond wood, touches of color include painted silk panels above the bed, the bathrooms are large marble-clad extravaganzas and the technology is, of course, first-rate.
The resort is close to all of the city’s main attractions, while also maintaining a tucked-away, serene feeling, thanks to the gorgeous landscaped grounds whose flower-lined paths and willow-framed ponds make the relentless beat of modern China feel blissfully far away.
Grand Hyatt Shanghai
One of the highest hotels in the world (occupying floors 54 to 88), this is a top choice of bankers due to its central location in the business area of Pudong. Views of Puxi across the river, especially the Bund are breathtaking from anyplace in the hotel: the rooms, the cocktail lounge, the restaurants, though first-time leisure travelers will most likely be based on the other side instead of gazing upon it from their rooms. Go for a drink or a meal instead, as the vistas inside (there is a 33-story atrium) and outside (of the sprawling city) are worth a visit. Warning: The tower was built to sway in high winds, so those who are motion-sensitive may want to avoid it in typhoon season.
Hotel Côté Cour Beijing
Book ahead for a stay at this intimate hotel, which has just fourteen rooms. It’s the personal project of investment banker Shauna Liu, who dreamed of turning a traditional courtyard home into a hotel, incorporating creature comforts. Liu happened upon a run-down courtyard in a protected area of Beijing and used her savings to totally gut and renovate it. The result is Hotel Côté Cour, the French name reflecting the owner’s passion for all things Gallic. The rooms’ decor is a mixture of traditional and modern: fine linens and handmade silks for the beds, olive paint for the walls, dark wood for the chairs, plus flat-screen televisions and walk-in showers. The rooms are arranged around a courtyard and lily pond. Although it is just a short cab ride from busy Tiananmen Square, the overall feel is that of a tranquil suburban retreat with a personalized ambiance.
J.W. Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square
This skyscraper hotel with 342 rooms resembles an upright rocket ship. With views of People’s Square from many of its rooms, the hotel has interiors that feel as sleek and expensive as its exterior. Some of the bathrooms are fantastic, with bathtubs facing giant windows with views over the skyscraper-filled horizon. The jarring note is that some of the bedrooms have floral bedspreads and fussy armchairs that seem out of place with the otherwise modern aesthetic. The Sino Spa, which specializes in Asian treatments, is an exquisite haven, with carved wooden screens and doors and lots of Balinese fabrics used on pillow-strewn couches and treatment tables. * *
The Langham hotel, opened in 2010, is located right across the road from Shanghai’s popular Xintiandi complex near the former French Concession. Xintiandi (meaning “Heaven and Earth”) was opened in 2003 to house a series of buzzing bars, restaurants, and shops in heavily renovated traditional shikumen housing, the architectural style unique to Shanghai which combines Eastern and Western flourishes. The Langham is a product of the complex’s success. The hotel is a smart, slick operation with excellent service, comfortable rooms, a fabulous buffet breakfast, and a beautiful pool and gym.
Rooms combine Western and Asian décor and are the epitome of understated elegance with floor to ceiling windows, giant bathtubs and all the usual technologies, including iPod docking stations and wireless broadband. Diners at the Langham Xintiandi are spoilt for choice: within minutes they can find themselves ambling among any one of the upscale international eateries located in the Xintiandi complex. For those who prefer to stay within the hotel walls, restaurants include the Chinese Ming Court, the pan-Asian and Western Cachet (which also has an al fresco café and a martini bar) and a chic outdoor lounge terrace called XTD, which is perfect for whiling away summer nights.
Mandarin Oriental Taipei
The Mandarin Oriental Taipei is a modern city hotel with everything you need for a luxurious weekend or layover in Taiwan. Read Indagare's hotel review.
Park Hyatt Beijing
The Park Hyatt is known for its modern, elegant interiors and fabulous views. Located in the middle of the Central Business District, the Park Hyatt occupies floors 37 to 66 of a gleaming skyscraper. Though you enter on the ground floor, to reach the lobby you must ascend to the 63rd floor, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the massive urban sprawl will stop you in your tracks. The miles of buildings and highways that extend into the distance in every direction give you an immediate overview of just how big and bustling this city of more than 20 million inhabitants truly is. There are numerous lounges and restaurants on the 63rd to 66th floor from which to marvel at the metropolis. Some face the famous Rem Koolhaus-designed CCTV tower, known as the “Trousers” (the Chinese nickname is boxer shorts) for its iconic square-legged shape.
Apparently Park Hyatt’s architect once said that he had wanted to create a building that a blind man would find beautiful. To this end, he mixed materials from granite and natural and lacquered woods with marble, glass and steel, and, yes, the result is that you find yourself wanting to reach out and touch the surfaces. Despite the high drama of the public spaces, the 237 guest rooms have a wonderfully warm but minimalist style to them. (True added touch: The toilet seats are heated.) Sliding partitions separate the sleek sleeping areas from the spa-inspired bath areas, which have deep soaking tubs. Among the most spectacular public spaces are Xiu, the outdoor terrace on the 6th floor, where tables and chairs are set beside hutong-style pavilions, and the China Bar on the 65th floor. The restaurant’s private dining room are among the most fabulous in the city.
Park Hyatt Shanghai
Occupying the floors from 79 through 93 in the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Park Hyatt is a study in minimalist chic. The understated entrance on the ground floor is a bit James Bond (you have to go through a metal detector before a long hallway leads through two sliding doors to the elevator dock). But once you arrive in the lobby on the 87th floor, the Zen-like interiors of New York–based designer Tony Chi take over with authority and innovation.
Every last space in the Park Hyatt—restaurants, bars, guest rooms, pool, gym—makes the most of the stunning panoramic views. The sleek lounge area that frames the reception desk resembles a chic living room, with low sitting areas, couches and romantic tables close to the windows overlooking the sprawling city (it’s particularly dramatic when you arrive at night). Each of the guest rooms has city views; the best are those that look towards the Bund whose Neo-Classical mansions look like Monopoly houses from this vantage point. Interiors in the rooms are understated and chic, with an earthy color palate (beige, grey, white, chocolate) and uber-comfortable king-sized beds. The rooms are well laid-out with a large day bed right by the window and a sleek writing desk, though I found the closet space a bit crammed. The roomy stone-clad bathrooms, with a huge bathtub-rain shower combination, feel like your own personal bathhouse. Suites are much more generously sized than the guest rooms, and some of the best ones have double ceilings.
The clientele of the Park Hyatt is mostly business travelers, due to the hotel’s location in financial Pudong. If you’re in Shanghai to sightsee, getting to the Bund, Xintiandi and the French Concession is a taxi ride across the river. However, the restaurants, cafés and multiple bars at the Park Hyatt are worth making the journey even if you’re not staying here. It’s a particularly good option if you’re traveling with a group, thanks to several private dining rooms, with stunning views and gorgeous décor. If you’re coming just for drinks, you can either join the party on the 92nd floor or have a quieter, romantic cocktail in the Living Room on the 87th floor. The food at the Park Hyatt is not inexpensive, but for a splurge, 100 Century, on the 91st floor, gets consistently good reviews. The restaurant concept occupies the entire 91st floor and has different stations (including a Western steakhouse, a Chinese wok and Japanese restaurants), so that everyone will find something to their liking on the menu.
Considering the business-heavy clientele, the stunning swimming pool and lounge area feel sadly underused. The dramatic infinity pool (elevated so bathers can take in the city views) is lined by a row of comfortable day beds, surely one of the most serene spaces for contemplating Shanghai.
This luxurious five-star hotel prides itself on good service and is located just a short drive from many of Beijing’s top sights.
Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai
I stayed here, and despite its slightly off-putting entrance—the lobby is set back from a commercial complex containing a Tony Roma’s rib restaurant and a Starbucks—it is very comfortable, with superb service. Guest rooms were clearly designed to cosset business travelers, with rosewood furniture and neutral fabrics. They feature all of the expected modern conveniences, like well-stocked mini-bars, high-speed Internet, safes and marble bathrooms, but I would have liked more Chinese touches. The 598-room hotel has a 24-hour gym, excellent concierge service and six restaurants (including Chinese, Italian and Japanese). The club floor has a lounge where food is served all day. The gift shop is small but artfully stocked with finds from some of the more interesting local artisans—not just Ritz logo-emblazoned items.
Red Capital Residence
Book early, as accommodations are limited at this extraordinary place, a shrine to Old China and Communist kitsch. The buildings are designed around several courtyards, in the traditional Chinese manner, the kind of place that usually exists only on movie sets. It is the brainchild of China scholar and entrepreneur Laurence Brahm, who realized that there was a dollar to be made from nostalgia, even though this theme harks back to the darker days of the recent past, when the nation was ruled by Mao Zedong. Some might find the commitment to verisimilitude a bit much—there are no televisions in the rooms and the dark wood everywhere can make the place seem dingy—but this is as close to the real old-days deal as it gets. The hotel also offers a tour of the city by Red Flag limousine, the model used by Mao and his cronies.
Ritz-Carlton Financial Street
The Ritz-Carlton Financial Street is a shiny property in the financial district, on the western side of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The suburb, which has little intrinsic interest for visitors, does now have a nucleus of posh properties—the Ritz, Intercon and Westin—and is within striking distance of the city center. The standard Ritz rooms are a generous 535 square feet and feature 37-inch flat-screen television sets.
Designers set out to make the lobby lounge different from the China norm, in which bombast usually triumphs over intimacy. They succeeded: the comfy space, with its earthy colors, natural light, hanging birdcages and crystal bar, is a cozy spot. Another novel twist is the “tea apothecary” with its choice of 88 blends; the number is considered auspicious in Chinese culture and, in any event, at least one out of that choice is bound to bring luck.
St. Regis Beijing
Set back from the highway, along a leafy lane containing mostly embassies and diplomatic housing, the 273-room St Regis is a rare ocean of tranquility in a generally noisy and crowded city. Every inch of the St. Regis exudes luxury and refinement; no corners were cut when building it, and no expense is spared in keeping up that standard—not always the case in China, where lack of investment money for maintenance can see new hotels shed stars quickly. The main lounge, with its marble floors, purple sofas, potted palms and stunning flower arrangements, is an excellent spot for afternoon tea or cocktails; and the Press Club Bar is a comfortable cigars-and-whiskey kind of place, with live jazz on some days. It has a large pool, spacious gym and acclaimed spa.
Located at the foot of the Great Wall, The Brickyard is a way to see China’s most famous monument in style. The boutique hotel is converted from a former glazed tile factory and sits in Beigou Village (around an hour and a half drive from central Beijing) where locals make a living harvesting pear and apricot trees. Run by American Jim Spear and his Chinese wife Liang Tang – who have both lived in the area for nearly two decades – it is a sleek operation. Facilities include a spa, gym, and outdoor Jacuzzi, plus a free local shuttle to the Wall.
The Brickyard terms itself an eco-resort: the food is sourced locally, most of the lighting is LED, grass slippers are given away to guests as souvenirs, and the majority of the staff are locals from surrounding villages. Best of all, however, are the rooms. They offer dramatic views of the mountains from vast floor-to-ceiling glass windows and shielded private terraces; on a clear day the Wall is visible snaking along the mountain peaks. For meals visitors can either eat at one of Spear’s restaurants (the excellent The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, which has views of the Wall and serves wholesome Western cuisine, makes a perfect lunch spot) or try home-style Chinese at one of the more basic village eateries. Mutianyu Village, a short drive away, is the main gateway to the Wall with a cable car going up and a toboggan slide back down the monument. The Brickyard offers more adventurous guests a map that marks a secluded mountain path from the hotel directly to the Wall. It is a tough forty-five minute uphill hike but it is a way to experience the lush surrounding countryside while avoiding the hordes of tourists.
The Middle House
In a city often defined by its colonial past, The Middle House is a refreshingly modern—and undoubtedly stylish—addition to the hotel scene.