Capella Shang­hai Jian Ye Li is an op­u­lent oa­sis in the mid­dle of Shang­hai’s mad­cap moder­nity

Set in one of Shang­hai’s her­itage dis­tricts, Capella Shang­hai Jian Ye Li charms with its quiet ele­gance and grace.

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Shang­hai is a mod­ern city for the 21st cen­tury, all sky­scrapers, neon, shop­ping malls, with a great sub­way sys­tem and a myr­iad of taxis to take you from one hap­pen­ing place to the next. But the bustling me­trop­o­lis has a qui­eter, more con­tem­pla­tive side – one of serene tree-lined nar­row streets in quiet neigh­bour­hoods where it’s tempt­ing to take a peek into res­i­den­tial court­yards where you could find wash­ing hang­ing off win­dows in a gor­geous Art Deco apart­ment. Where neigh­bour­hood stores, sell­ing fruit and ev­ery­day ne­ces­si­ties, are still around. Where it’s easy to imag­ine el­e­gant cheongsam-clad women walk­ing by with their para­sols, like Shang­hai in the 1930s, when it was called Paris of the Ori­ent.

One of th­ese quiet neigh­bour­hoods is the his­toric Xuhui Dis­trict, part of the Former French Con­ces­sion, one of the sev­eral for­eign con­ces­sions or dis­tricts in Shang­hai from 1849 to 1943. Take a walk in this neigh­bour­hood, and it’s not a stretch to imag­ine Shang­hai in its hey­day.

The streets of the FFC are nar­rower and lined with plane trees (a rel­a­tive of the sy­camore and planted by the French) and el­e­gant early 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. Here, you’ll find stately res­i­den­tial com­pounds with a small gar­den in the cen­tre, rem­i­nis­cent of old French neigh­bour­hoods. A lack of sky­scrapers in the dis­trict also means that there are fewer peo­ple here, which adds to the gen­eral feel­ing of step­ping into the past.

This feel­ing in­ten­si­fies once you get to Capella Shang­hai Jian Ye Li, which is at the heart of this tree-lined her­itage area.

Old-world charm

Turn into the drive­way of this new lux­ury prop­erty, which opened late last year, and im­me­di­ately, it feels as if you’re step­ping back in time. So dis­creet is the façade that it’s not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that the ho­tel is even there – our cab driver had to dou­ble back to find the en­trance.

For those vis­it­ing Shang­hai, Capella Shang­hai gives you the best of both worlds. You can ex­plore Shang­hai’s ex­cit­ing and hap­pen­ing hotspots, but once the ex­cite­ment of the high-rises, fancy clubs, bright lights wears off, you’ll be glad to soak in the calm­ness of leafy av­enues and nar­row al­leys, which are home to quirky bou­tiques and in­ter­est­ing restau­rants. This is not to say that the all-villa re­sort is far from ev­ery­thing else. Capella Shang­hai is a mere 35-minute drive from Shang­hai Pudong In­ter­na­tional Air­port – though that could be longer depend­ing on the traf­fic – while the near­est metro sta­tion is less than a kilo­me­tre from the ho­tel. Hip shop­ping en­clave Tianz­i­fang and F&B dis­trict Xin­tiandi are both nearby.

A taste of old Shang­hai

Capella Shang­hai gives guests a taste of old Shang­hai, though a very stylish ver­sion, of course. Built from some of Shang­hai’s re­main­ing shiku­men (lit­er­ally, stone-gate)

laneways, the re­sort is a taste­ful com­pound of 55 pri­vate res­i­dences and 40 vil­las in guest-only red-brick lanes, all set with stone en­trances, lush court­yards and se­cret gar­dens. The area was once a whole 1930s neigh­bour­hood built by a French real-es­tate com­pany, Fon­cière et Im­mo­bil­ière de Chine, for ex­pa­tri­ates. By 1945, the ex­pats had left and the vil­las be­came res­i­dences for hun­dreds of Shang­hainese fam­i­lies, with the laneways filled with mar­ket stalls and work­shops.

De­signed by Jaya Ibrahim, the vil­las mar­ries the best of shiku­men ar­chi­tec­ture with fresh up­dates of 1930s French-Chi­nois­erie ele­gance. Each villa has three lev­els, with 4.5-me­tre high ceil­ings, hard­wood framed win­dows and in­ter­nal court­yards that you ac­cess with your own key­card.

The first level in­cludes a very el­e­gant re­cep­tion-cum-liv­ing room. Go up a flight of stairs to the en­ter­tain­ment room with a TV, com­pli­men­tary mini­bar fea­tur­ing a Lavazza cof­fee ma­chine, canned so­das and beer, as well as lo­cal snacks, like hawflakes and White Rab­bit can­dies. Go up one more flight to get to the el­e­gant bed­rooms and huge mar­ble bath­rooms which fea­ture Ac­qua di Parma bath prod­ucts – all of which add to a sense of ele­gance and re­fine­ment to the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.

Calm and serene

De­signed with the ut­most com­fort and lux­ury in mind, you’d be for­given for not

want­ing to leave the villa, but the re­sort’s en­vi­rons beg to be ex­plored. The main build­ing houses the re­cep­tion area, with its shelves of Chi­nese sculp­tures and books and the li­brary stocked with tomes on his­tory, art, ar­chi­tec­ture and fash­ion. Com­fort­able chairs and so­fas will make you want to sit down and while the day away, while munch­ing on sweet and savoury snacks and drinks, which are served all day long.

Also in the main build­ing is the Auriga Spa – named af­ter the con­stel­la­tion – which of­fers ser­vices based on the cy­cles of the moon (more on this in the side­bar).

Should you be feel­ing more than a lit­tle peck­ish, then head over to the re­sort’s only restaurant, Le Comp­toir de Pierre Gag­naire, which is three Miche­lin­starred chef Pierre Gag­naire’s first restaurant in China. Helmed by Ro­main Chapel, Pierre Gag­naire’s pro­tégé, the chic restaurant’s con­cept is de­fined by le

comp­toir (the counter), which im­plies a sense of com­mu­nity and neigh­bourli­ness. As be­fits its name, the restaurant serves rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of tra­di­tional French fare, ac­com­pa­nied by an im­pres­sive wine and drinks list. Guests at the re­sort en­joy com­pli­men­tary break­fast that in­cludes fresh baked breads and pas­tries from la Boulan­gerie down­stairs.

Grace notes

A word or three must be de­voted to Capella Shang­hai’s ex­cel­lent be­spoke ser­vice, which makes its pres­ence known even be­fore you step into the prop­erty. The re­sort has a team of per­sonal as­sis­tants whose mis­sion is to make your stay as be­spoke as pos­si­ble. Be­fore you ar­rive, one would have got­ten in touch with you to fi­nalise your itin­er­ary. They will also check you in once you have ar­rived and will be at your dis­posal through­out your stay for all your con­cerns – triv­ial or other­wise.

Also a nice touch are the lit­tle gifts dur­ing turn down ser­vice – like a jar of snow cream, a Chi­nese fan and a set of book­marks, evoca­tive keep­sakes of Shang­hainese cul­ture.

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