The high life in Hong Kong

The sanc­tu­ary-style Up­per House is the ideal ur­ban re­treat

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Luxury - MICHELLE ROWE

HO­TEL rooms with banks of iden­ti­cal switches and re­mote- con­trolled gad­gets to per­form sim­ple tasks such as turn­ing off the lights and open­ing the cur­tains can in­duce stress in even the most pa­tient of trav­ellers.

Michelle, my bright-as-a-but­ton guest ser­vices as­sis­tant, is talk­ing me through my ex­pan­sive Stu­dio 80 room at The Up­per House in the Ad­mi­ralty Dis­trict of Hong Kong Is­land, and so far there have been no nasty hi-tech sur­prises (al­though she did check me in by iPad).

Pic­ture win­dows with clear views of the fa­mous Peak? Yes. A bath­room the size of a day spa with an over­sized, lime­stone-clad tub and walk-in rain­shower? You bet. Free maxi-bar (a far more ex­cit­ing ver­sion of the usual mini-bar, fea­tur­ing bot­tom­less jars of M&Ms, nuts and cook­ies, and free bev­er­ages other than wine)? Just to your left, madam. Loo with sen­si­ble lever flush in­stead of one of those frus­trat­ing sce­nar­ios in which I must wave my arms near an in­fra-red sen­sor and hope for the best? Of course.

But some­thing is miss­ing. Look­ing around my eyrie on level 39 — as Michelle opens the wardrobe doors to re­veal enough space to host a small party, points out the tele­vi­sion screen cun­ningly dis­guised as a mir­ror in the bath­room and walks me through the dress­ing room I’ve al­ways wanted — I no­tice there is not a shred of pa­per­work. No brochures or fold­ers clut­ter­ing the stream­lined sur­faces and no ho­tel com­pen­dium, my usual go-to source of im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion, from room-ser­vice menus and the lo­ca­tion of the near­est chemist to the cor­rect num­ber to dial for an out­side line. I’m start­ing to feel un­set­tled.

Michelle slides out a thin drawer in the desk to re­veal an iPod Touch. On it, she as­sures me, is ev­ery­thing I need to know about the ho­tel, its sur­rounds and vir­tu­ally any pe­riph­eral is­sue of in­ter­est, from how to or­der a wake-up call and sum­mon a den­tist to ac­cess­ing typhoon up­dates.

En­ter­tain­ment is cov­ered, too; Michelle plays some mu­sic from the pre-pro­grammed cat­a­logue through the sur­round-sound speak­ers in the enor­mous LCD TV at­tached to my bed­room wall. I make a note to avoid the iPod’s in-room shop­ping sec­tion, through which much of what I see can be pur­chased on­line, lest I end up with mul­ti­ple sets of 400-thread-count bed linen and a dozen king-sized feather top­pers. (Such slip-ups can be dealt with swiftly. I can check on the iPod how much I’ve clocked up on my bill at any time.)

While the 117-room Up­per House has its foun­da­tions firmly in the fu­ture (in ad­di­tion to its pa­per­less phi­los­o­phy, the ho­tel’s guest ve­hi­cles are fu­el­friendly Lexus hy­brids), much of its charm lies in the time-hon­oured tra­di­tions of com­fort and hos­pi­tal­ity.

Gue­strooms in The Up­per House, named af­ter its lofty po­si­tion in the Pa­cific Place com­mer­cial, re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity com­plex above Queensway and the his­toric Wan­chai dis­trict, are said to be among the largest in Hong Kong. Mygue­stroom feels more like an up-to-the-minute pri­vate apart­ment than a stan­dard ho­tel space.

Hong Kong-born de­signer An­dre Fu, sought af­ter for his sleek trans­for­ma­tions of up­mar­ket depart­ment stores, af­flu­ent res­i­dences, restau­rants and art spa­ces, made this his first ho­tel pro­ject (in 2009). By com­bin­ing lav­ish artis­tic touches with taste­ful, minimalist in­te­ri­ors in clay, earth and wood tones, he has cre­ated a tran­quil, har­mo­nious re­treat.

More than 300 com­mis­sioned works of art — in­clud­ing a 10-storey me­tal wall sculp­ture by Ja­panese artist Hiro­to­shi Sawada that spans a 40m-high atrium like a shim­mer­ing ver­ti­cal sea — lend a dra­matic flour­ish.

The Up­per House is the sec­ond lux­ury prop­erty from Swire Ho­tels (which also owns the unique Op­po­site House in Bei­jing). The dis­tinc­tive Be­do­nia stone fa­cade by de­signer Thomas Heather­wick con­jures a sense of ar­rival be­fore guests en­ter through a tow­er­ing nickel door flanked by floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows. You are then trans­ported via a dimly lit es­ca­la­tor lined with bam­boo lamps to the light-filled lobby lo­cated on level six. This small space opens on to a ‘‘se­cret gar­den’’, a rare but wel­com­ing in­door-out­door area in this high­rise ter­ri­tory.

Gue­strooms in four cat­e­gories — two sizes of stu­dio, 21 suites and two pent­houses — oc­cupy lev­els 38 to 48. A level higher, glamorous restau­rant Cafe Gray Deluxe, a bar and a sep­a­rate lounge, com­mand ex­cel­lent views of Vic­to­ria Har­bour. And no ex­pense has been spared in the fitout, down to the thoughtful padded win­dow frames in the re­strooms de­signed to pro­tect the heads of guests, such as my­self, who lean in too close for a bet­ter view of Hong Kong Is­land and the city’s twin­kling lights.

The whip-sharp young concierge team is a fount of knowl­edge, reg­u­larly sup­ply­ing me with rec­om­men­da­tions for noo­dle shops and de­signer bou­tiques, and of­fer­ing trans­port tips. Get­ting around is a cinch; just across Pa­cific Place and through the labyrinthine shop­ping com­plex fea­tur­ing myr­iad lux­ury brands, is the en­trance to Ad­mi­ralty MTR Sta­tion.

Some­times, though, a night in is what’s needed. Ly­ing on the bed, gaz­ing at The Peak, my thoughts turn to din­ner. Af­ter a lav­ish meal at Cafe Gray Deluxe the pre­vi­ous evening, I want some­thing light and restora­tive. With some trep­i­da­tion, I get out the iPod and scroll through the room-ser­vice menu. A few touches later, I hope that I have or­dered a plate of Hainan chicken rice with steamed bras­sica, ginger, sweet chilli and soy. But my check­ered his­tory with new tech­nol­ogy means I’m not hold­ing my breath.

Two min­utes later, the shrill tone of the tele­phone pierces the air. It’s a mem­ber of the room-ser­vice team con­firm­ing the or­der. Soon, a smil­ing as­sis­tant is ar­rang­ing my din­ner tray.

The Up­per House bills it­self as ‘‘a small lux­ury ho­tel full of sur­prises’’. Ly­ing in whis­per-quiet, zen-like sur­rounds in the heart of one of Asia’s busiest cities, hav­ing fi­nally mas­tered new tech­nol­ogy, I can’t ar­gue with that. Michelle Rowe was a guest of The Up­per House and Cathay Pa­cific Air­ways.

Clock­wise from left, a Stu­dio 80 room of­fers dra­matic views of The Peak; the well-ap­pointed re­stroom at Cafe Gray Deluxe; The Up­per House’s dis­tinc­tive stone fa­cade; the well-pro­vi­sioned lounge on level 49

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