Fairmont Peace Hotel, on The Bund, threw one of Shanghai’s most spectacular parties in June 2013. Host was George Wee, newly-arrived boss of this luxury hotel, built in 1926 at the cost of $5 million for Mr and Mrs Sassoon. It soon became renowned for its parties, with Charlie Chaplin, Doris Duke and Paulette Goddard among the guests. Perhaps they too watched can-can, just like here – the dancers are seen in front of one of four massive metal-relief panels in the lobby. George Wee, helped by party organizer Stéphane de Montgros, was hosting over a thousand at the official party of International Luxury Travel Market ILTM Asia. The gal was amazed to hear that ten glasses, of whatever, were allowed per guest…
And yet, day-long for three days, the ILTM delegates had to work, and hard. The 1950s-conference centre, built in true Soviet style but now even more magnificently decorated than ever, hosted about 500 luxury exhibitors (where was Oberoi?) and the same number of tip-top travel agents, from all over. There were, for instance, 27 from eastern Europe, right through to Siberia, with one from Bishkek and several from Ukraine. Want tip-top spenders, you need to be at ILTMs to meet their travel advisors. And you, if you have the right product to show, need to be there yourself, or send top people – having a stall staffed by a sleepy teenager does not impress.
Seeing the InterContinental stand at ILTM reminds me of two splendid InterCons I have seen recently, Marseille and here in Shanghai. InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin Hotel is still in opening stages but when it is finally ready it will be one of the best conference and meetings hotels in the world. With 100 acres right in the French Concession area of town, it includes a fabulous garden going back to 1920. One of the 11 buildings (shown) is the house of Irish gambler H.E. Maurice, who owned the racetrack that is now Peoples Square. Another original house was home to his son, Benjamin Maurice, who owned the city’s dog track and the North China Daily News paper: that building will become a special-security 28-bedroom ‘hotel’, with one suite of 9,000 sq ft.
There is more, at InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin Hotel, such as the original office of Chiang Kai-Shek, and the room where he got married, and so much more. Some areas, like the separate 80-bedroom Club House, are already open (love the covered purple waste-bins, a Chinese partiality). Love seeing people perambulate in the grounds. In another Shanghai greenery-area, Jing’An Park, by the way, I admired not only the tai-chi and fan-dancing, but people of all ages walking, backwards as well as forwards. Here, a mature lady makes use of the paracourse.
And everywhere in town, of course, there are food sellers. You will never go hungry in Shanghai – though the foodstalls are not as ramshackle as in, say, Bangkok, where they flow over the pavements so that you often have to walk in the road to avoid not only carts and people but also the smell. Here in Shanghai it is all meticulously clean. You have a feeling that health inspectors are constantly checking the entire city, perhaps by CCTV. This is a mobile food service station one block from the Four Seasons.
Perhaps that old lady is fortified by tea, more than ever a necessity of life. Yes, there are Starbucks but every luxury hotel, it seems, offers a special tea. This is a jasmine pearl tea ball, with another already opened up, in the water, photographed in room 3362 of Shangri-La Pudong West Shanghai.
It is impossible to get your arms around Park Hyatt Shanghai, as Americans might say. For a start, you cannot even see the top when the weather gods decree that the city needs a bit of mist and rain to nourish its commendable acreage of greenery, dotted along many main city roads, and in its parks. Somewhere in this 101-floor Shanghai World Financial Center building, on the Pudong side of the river, is the luxury hotel. My driver even had a problem finding the entrance but that was his fault (even reputable chauffeurs can be destination challenged).
But who cares? This is a sensational hotel. At the door, a theatrical ballet is played out for arrivals. Met, taken through high-high automatic doors, turn right, through yet more high-high automatic doors, past some sculptures, in an elevator up to the 87th floor lobby. Turn through 180 degrees to another bank of elevators to go down to your room. In 8304, a lovely suite that today looks straight into mist, I do more turns of 180 degrees, and some other degrees too, to inspect the room. At the far end of the concertina walkway I am greeted by the opening jaws of the automatic toilet, one of those that, alligator-like, opens wide as soon as it sees potential prey, and fortunately waits until you have left before closing them.
Room – suite – 8304 oozes China, freshness and health. A chair has an oriental feel (the apples are to keep the doctor away). Notelets and other paper items in the room show copies of etchings by Takahama Toshiya, commissioned for the hotel. Up by the highly-raised lap pool, on the 85th floor, are sculptures by Shintaro Otsuka, from Tokyo (the hotel is Japanese owned).
Now do I go up, or down, once I have finished at the pool (please, please, Tony Chi, you who designed this exquisite hotel, please put a floor sign by the elevators to help mere mortals, including me)? In fact Christophe Sadones, who runs this whole place, has had a finger in every moveable part of the pie. You can see his touch in the bathing set-up, in the wet area that wraps itself around the showers and the bathtub. His food finesse is visible in the Dining Room, an 87th-floor room that seems like a sophisticated kitchen, with several family-style dining areas around. Even in the most casual of set-ups, the napkins are perfectly-pressed pulled-thread linen. Wish I could be back here for the hotel’s Masters of Food & Wine festival end November 2013.
Alongside tiny silver salt and pepper shakers stand sterling silver birds (wonder if they, like those on all the tables at Mosimann’s Club in London, are from the Patrick Mavros community village in Harare?). These dining areas, leading off the lobby, are not the only dining venues – well, be practical, even if you have lightning-quick elevators you do not exactly feel like going out to eat when you are temporarily living on the 83rd floor and you can only get out via the 87th floor. For breakfast, I head up to the three-floor Dining Room, which starts on the 91st floor. In the morning, this is actually more like a(nother) kitchen, as you wander around the actual cooking areas, choosing, say, a banana and soy smoothie and deep-fried dough to show that, wow, you are an American here in China.
I need to go. I take one elevator from the 91st to the 87th floor, another from the 87th to the 83rd floor to clean my teeth. Wish I could come back for The Masters of Food & Wine, here November 27th – December 3rd, 2013. Miraculously, as I exit my door Iverson, a bow-tied attendant who is just about to transfer to weave his magic at Park Hyatt Tokyo, is waiting to take the Porsche Rimowa up to the 87th floor. There Mariano, from Mendoza, is also part of the act. It (the case) and I are escorted to the final elevator, back down to the luxury hotel’s ground floor. Goodbye, three bas-relief figures leaning out of a wall say (Tony Chi is very partial to anthropomorphic shapes – see MGM Grand’s SkyLofts in Las Vegas).
Female sommeliers are often encountered in the west but to meet up with the Chinese Sommeliers’ Champion 2012 – and the Best Chinese Sommelier for French Wines 2011 – Ying Guo, is a real treat. She is head sommelier at the six-month old luxury hotel that is Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai at Pudong and, she tells the gal in faultless English, she was destined to do this. Her parents are in the drinks business, and once introduced to it, she quickly knew wine, particularly fine French, to be her passion.
It is fortunate that her (German) boss, Rainer Stampfer, believes in only the best. In the bedrooms, he has commissioned exclusive Italian toiletries, from Villa Lorenzo Villoresi, in six-sided red rubber bottles with silver stoppers. He has called his main restaurant Camelia, not only for memories of Chanel but because a quarter of Chinese cook, at home, with camelia oil: here he has brought in both a Japanese master chef, Usao Takizawa, and a French chef, Benjamin Brial. There are therefore, as you might expect, two Hermès-look leather-covered menus, turquoise Japanese and orange French.
We start with a bowl of sashimi. We go on to Takizawa-san style rolled maki and fish-on-top nigiri sushi, and then I proceed to a Parisian version of black cod. Ying Guo, faced with an easily surmountable challenge of red with fish, chooses Marsannay 2009 Les Longeroies Olivier Decelle. We are, as you would imagine, drinking out of Riedel glass, and eating off Bernardaud plates. The cutlery, which looks as if it has lost all its shine, is an unusual matt Christofle. There is something about these hotel guys in Shanghai. It is not so much that they try to outdo each other, more that they cannot lose face by being left behind.
Up in my room I find a 12-inch wide pair of red lips, rather like a pillow but actually a top-only shelf. The lips are surrounded by standing lipsticks, clear plastic outsides, real chocolate (milk or dark) inside. I have the tea presentation that is the norm when arriving at any good hotel anywhere in China. Here the teapot has a clown’s nose as its lid’s knob. I wonder if has been borrowed from the Power Station of Art, the newish gallery of modern art that is a conversion of Shanghai’s 1897 Nanshi Power Plant (it is currently, through end July 2013, showing an Andy Warhol exhibition).
I do wonder sometimes if my life story is becoming boring – but I rely on my critics to let me know if performance is not up to par. I return to a final workout in the gym, wall sculptures and all, and then, for variety, run along the road outside. This is easy as the pavement sidewalk is wide and meticulously clean, but it is also frustrating as traffic lights do not allow plenty of pedestrian time. Solution, gal? Run round and round a block rather than trying to cross roads. You also know, this way, that you will not get lost.
Back in time for breakfast, I consider Chinese specialties, say shao mai dim sum or vegetable buns, or deep-fried dough sticks and vegetable spring rolls. I could try congee, and/or fried rice and ‘scalding’ vegetables. Sorry, even in this luxury hotel I chicken out, order wholegrain toast, to eat with French jam, French butter.