ROOMS TO MOVE

Well-priced bou­tique ho­tels are all the rage in Bei­jing and Shang­hai, writes Helena Ive­son

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - China Holidays -

UST a cou­ple of years ago, trav­ellers to China had two op­tions: high end, high­rise chains or grimy youth hos­tels with squat toi­lets and snarling ser­vice. But as China booms, so does its ho­tel in­dus­try, and there has been some­thing of a revo­lu­tion in Bei­jing and Shang­hai, driven in the for­mer’s case by the Olympics in Au­gust and, in the lat­ter’s, the 2010 Expo.

BEI­JING

Ho­tel Kapok: This was Bei­jing’s first bou­tique prop­erty when it opened in 2006; it’s five min­utes walk from the tow­er­ing east gate of the For­bid­den City and its eye­catch­ing, glow­ing, grid-like ex­te­rior, sup­posed to re­sem­ble jade, makes it im­pos­si­ble to miss. The ho­tel was cre­ated by one of China’s best-known ar­chi­tects, Zhu Pei, who has de­signed one of the most prom­i­nent build­ings in the Olympic Park.

With the re­work­ing of the tra­di­tional Chi­nese sym­bol for jade, plus the bam­boofilled court­yard in the cen­tre of a small atrium, you couldn’t be any­where else but China, al­beit a chic, min­i­mal­ist ver­sion. Book a court­yard room open­ing on to a small gar­den and with a huge round bath. From 800 yuan ($124); www.hotelka­pok.com. Gux­i­ang 20: Away from the tourist sights and set on one of Bei­jing’s most gen­tri­fied tra­di­tional al­leys, or hu­tongs, Gux­i­ang 20 is a chic new bou­tique ho­tel with more style than you would ex­pect from its low tar­iff.

The re­cep­tion ar­eas are wel­com­ing and filled with bam­boo and an­tiques, but in its 28 gue­strooms de­sign­ers have gone for a more mod­ern aes­thetic: ex­pect a char­coal and beige colour scheme, flat-screen television, wire­less in­ter­net and fab views over tra­di­tional Chi­nese rooftops. From 750 yuan; www.gux­i­ang20.com. Ho­tel de Cour SL: Even more se­cluded, this ho­tel is down a wind­ing al­ley that hasn’t fallen vic­tim to the Olympics build­ing boom and where the only noise comes from bi­cy­cle bells. With its stylish and se­cluded court­yard, lit with glow­ing red lanterns at night, the ho­tel may have an odd name but there’s plenty of charm in the con­verted court­yard style. Ho­tel de Cour SL has 14 in­di­vid­u­ally dec­o­rated rooms, all of which face the gar­den and fuse lux­u­ri­ous ameni­ties with stylish an­tique sur­rounds (the mo­saic bath­rooms with huge shower heads are lovely). A peace­ful night’s sleep is helped by dou­ble glaz­ing, goose­down du­vets and lux­u­ri­ous bed linen. From 1265 yuan; www.hotel­cote­coursl.com.

SHANG­HAI

This go-ahead city has more than its fair share of five-star lodg­ings but, to ex­pe­ri­ence a taste of old Shang­hai, avoid the fu­tur­is­tic sky­scraper ho­tels of Pudong and stay in the city’s most at­trac­tive dis­trict, the tree-lined for­mer French con­ces­sion, or in Jing’an, which is not (yet) as gen­tri­fied as other parts of the city. In Shang­hai, you won’t find hu­tongs but li­long , or con­verted al­ley houses, which date back to the city’s glam­orous golden age of the jazz-filled 1920s and 30s. Old House Inn: A de­light­ful con­verted lane house, this inn has brought a breath of fresh air to the lo­cal ac­com­mo­da­tion scene, thanks to its small se­lec­tion of beau­ti­fully ren­o­vated and stylish rooms at rea­son­able rates. The creak­ing wooden stair­case leads to charm­ing gue­strooms dec­o­rated with an­tiques res­cued from de­mol­ished Shang­hai houses. The most ex­pen­sive room, with an an­tique four-poster bed and new grey-tiled bath­room, is worth splash­ing out for: it’s all ’ 30s el­e­gance with se­duc­tive lights and blood-red walls. The ho­tel’s restau­rant, A Fu­ture Per­fect, is one of Shang­hai’s funki­est. From 700 yuan; www.old­house.cn. Urbn Ho­tel: Shang­hai al­ways has an eye for the latest trends and the new 26-room Urbn Ho­tel ticks the en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly box as well with its car­bon-neu­tral sta­tus and re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als (the build­ing was once a fac­tory). Guests walk through a bam­boolined court­yard and past a re­cep­tion area dec­o­rated with an­tique suit­cases; cor­ri­dors on the four floors are lined with bricks taken from de­mol­ished fac­to­ries, and the wood used on the floors and in the rooms is re­cy­cled Chi­nese ma­hogany.

One of the two ex­pat own­ers is from Syd­ney and they have tried to make the rooms as dif­fer­ent from a stan­dard ho­tel as pos­si­ble; there are sunken baths, low Asianstyle beds and wrap-around couches that are great for loung­ing and watch­ing a mas­sive TV. It’s a buzzy place to stay in an in­ter­est­ing part of town near the glitzy Jing’an Tem­ple. From 1400 yuan; www.urbn­ho­tels.com. No. 9: If re­lent­less trendi­ness isn’t for you, try stay­ing at No. 9, which is more like be­ing in a friend’s beau­ti­ful and sur­pris­ingly rus­tic ’ 30s house than in a ho­tel. The Tai­wanese owner has con­verted his grand­fa­ther’s home and, with only five rooms, it’s a world away from most anony­mous ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ences.

You’ll find this de­light­ful B & B, with its walled gar­den, down a lively back lane where life con­tin­ues in much the same way it has for cen­turies. But be warned: taxi driv­ers can strug­gle to find No. 9 as it doesn’t an­nounce its ex­is­tence and there’s no web­site.

Af­ter a fran­tic day’s sight­see­ing, rooms feel like havens, though it’s some­thing of a lot­tery as to what kind of fa­cil­i­ties you’ll en­joy. Some rooms have more add-ons than oth­ers. But all blend China’s past and present with art deco furniture and hi-tech touches we’ve come to ap­pre­ci­ate, such as wire­less in­ter­net and heated mat­tresses. From 700 yuan. 9 Lane 355, Jian­guo Xi Lu; phone + 86 21 6471 9950. Lapis Casa Bou­tique Ho­tel: Guests here couldn’t be closer to the ac­tion: the ho­tel is a block away from Shang­hai’s main en­ter­tain­ment com­plex, Xin­tiandi.

This small and el­e­gant place opened in May 2007 af­ter its brother and sis­ter own­ers spent two years con­vert­ing the unas­sum­ing build­ing into an an­tiques-filled hideaway. Guests en­ter through large wooden doors be­fore reach­ing the stone-floored re­cep­tion area and cor­ri­dors lined with lovely stained glass. The 18 gue­strooms have dif­fer­ent themes, though all are from the past; the favourite (and most ex­pen­sive) is the cor­ner suite with its 1900s tra­di­tional Shang­hainese decor, wooden floors, soft light­ing and red car­pet. If you like what you see in your room, you can take it home, as all an­tiques here are avail­able for pur­chase. From 1500 yuan; www.lapis­casa­ho­tel.com. Jia Shang­hai: De­scrib­ing it­self as a res­i­dence rather than a ho­tel, the 55-room Jia Shang­hai opened at the end of 2007 and has seen a host of stars through its doors (al­though pre­sum­ably some­one es­corted them in as there isn’t any­thing as bor­ing as a sign).

The orig­i­nal struc­ture was built in 1926, but few traces of the past re­main inside; in­stead, like its orig­i­nal sis­ter ho­tel in Hong Kong, it is cut­ting-edge de­sign all the way.

The cor­ri­dors are dark and mys­te­ri­ous but open on to bright, white gue­strooms equipped with the latest en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems and small kitchens.

The ho­tel throws in a lot of ex­tras in­clud­ing free in­ter­net ac­cess, the use of an iPod, DVD li­brary and swanky toi­letries.

There’s a com­pli­men­tary break­fast served in the arty lobby as well as free af­ter­noon tea and cock­tails all evening. From 1395 yuan; www.ji­ashang­hai.com.

Stayed in China: Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Old House Inn, Shang­hai; Ho­tel de Cour SL in Bei­jing; the rooftop ter­race of Urbn Ho­tel in Shang­hai; Jia Shang­hai’s Is­simo Restau­rant

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