View from the outside gym, 0630, Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, Four Seasons
For the last six weeks the gal has been looking for an all-purpose baseball cap that does publicise a hotel, a ship, a golf course or Taylor Swift – the last cap lasted nearly ten years, and all it had on the front was a Canadian flag and the words ‘Rocky Mountains’. It fell apart, not from baseball but because it is used twice a day for workouts.
Luxury hotels do sometimes have great headgear – see the superb selection above, in the reception foyer of Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, Four Seasons. They certainly think of everything, other than baseball caps, here. What I really liked about its wellness is having two gyms, a Technogym with Kinesis inside, and, out in the gorgeous gardens, an outside gym (only four Technogym pieces, no Kinesis, but it is so marvellous to be working out in fresh air and looking down to the Mediterranean Sea). Another Four Seasons, Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, also has an outside gym, as does Taj Campton Place in San Francisco. See, I remember these facilities, whereas anything inside, particular those without windows, are, regardless how much has been invested on the equipment, quickly forgotten.
Please will developers and operators take note. Working out, outside, is far more fun, and better for you, which makes happier customers who could well become more loyal…
The gal has, like everyone without exception who has seen it, raved about The PuLi, a hotel that is not only unique in Shanghai but pretty rare throughout Asia generally. The nearest comparison is Swire Hotels’ Temple House in Chengdu, but whereas that was built around and above two century-old houses, The PuLi started from nothing. A Taiwanese entrepreneur, Gino Tsai, who more or less invented modern-day scooters, got architect Kume Sekkei to design a 26-floor building that is perfectly in sync with the adjacent Jing’an Park. Even the arrival, via a bamboo-lined grey brick walkway, makes the 229-room hotel feel part of its surroundings, says the gal.
Wash basins on floor stands
Inside, the interiors by Johannes Hartfuss, from Melbourne, typify what feng shui would be if it could speak. But you only speak in hushed tones here, in public areas – I guess the volume of the typical Chinese voice gets lost in the high ceilings. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that this is a very creative hangout. This hotel sees a lot of business from the fashion and beauty sectors, as well as the advertizing and banking that is prevalent in the Jing’an area (45% of all those who stay are repeats). I was merely day-rooming here, which sadly meant no chance for a bath or shower looking straight down into the park: both parts of the bathroom are right up against the outside wall.
Look along the lobby corridor…
We lunched, surrounded by locals, in PHÉNIX Eatery & Bar, up on the second floor, which showed me yet again that if the appeal is right, discerning diners will get into an elevator and go to an upper floor to a hotel restaurant. The chef, Michael Wilson, is also from Melbourne, and he knows how to present beautiful as well as tasty food – see his zucchini salad, above. The previous evening, by contrast, he and Jan Tibaldi, the GM here, had gone much simpler when catering a function on the hotel’s ground floor outdoor terrace, one-bite hamburgers, or oysters shucked to order. That was just the right tone, then. The PuLi always seems to be a success.
This is one luxury hotel, by the way, that does not believe in ratings – Jan Tibaldi goes by the success of return, people coming back, and spreading the word (the PuLi is consistently in the top-ten on Tripadvisor, which has over 5,000 properties in Shanghai). He is always thinking of ways to make a hotel better – in the photo on the right he holds the top of the restaurant bar which pulls forward, at breakfast, to make a buffet counter. He was destined for the hotel world, he says. His mother met his Italian father at Lausanne EHL and his own career includes Four Seasons, Oberoi and Viceroy and he joined Urban Resorts, which manages the PuLi, in 2013.
Shanghai’s The Bund is unique, and you can absorb all the atmosphere you want by merely getting out there, joining tourists from all over China who come to take selfies and buy souvenirs. There are stalls selling personalised T-shirts: they take your photo, with a background of Pudong skyscrapers across the Huangpu river, and instantly print that image on a right-sized T-shirt. Others sell drinks and, amazingly, everywhere is really pretty clean – someone has done an extremely good job in educating the public not to throw trash. Luxury hotels that are right on The Bund have a distinct advantage when it comes to attracting leisure business, says the gal, noting that over half of those staying at Waldorf Astoria Shanghai are now coming purely for pleasure, and the biggest number is domestic.
Oysters in the Long Bar
This is a clever hotel, marrying a 1910 historic building with, a hundred yards away, a 24-floor tower opening on to Sichuan Road, parallel to The Bund, that was built exactly a hundred years later. The 1910 original has variously, in its illustrious past, housed the Seamen’s Club, and the Shanghai Club, and also, less gloriously, China’s first KFC outlet. At some point, presumably not in the Colonel Sanders era, Chou en Lai and Nixon dined here. Anyway, it was expanded into a stately 273-room hotel, and opened September 2010. Just as with Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, some customers like the old building, others prefer the new, looking back at the old. Here in Shanghai, choose a room in the new tower if you want the gym and pool, and access to the Waldorf Astoria Club, but definitely stay in the heritage building if you prefer to look out, through your easily-opened windows, at The Bund.
Beetroot and burrata salad
I was back in Suite 404, in the heritage building, and once again loved looking out at the action, from early-morning kite flying through to evening strollers. This is a great hotel for exercise fanatics, by the way. From The Bund it is 21 steps down-and-up to get to the hotel’s Bund-end lobby, and, for those who do not take one of the elevators, a further 96 original stairs up to the fourth floor. To reach the main lobby, in the modern tower, you need five minutes’ walk, with 15 new marble steps en route. The excellent concierges, who have double falls of ornamental gold chains on their Laurent Ginioux black jackets, are back in the modern-tower lobby. Want to eat? Main choices are back in the heritage building.
We had an early supper, that night, but then Chinese people dine so early that, were they sharing a hotel with Brazilians or bodies from Barcelona it would be a case of ne’er the twain would meet. They specialise in oysters in the Long Bar but the hotel’s GM, Rudy Oretti, who is remarkably good at anticipating what someone needs (he comes from a line of hoteliers) had also thoughtfully already ordered burrata and beetroot salads, with a side dish of absolutely addictive salt-free fries, and that, with a glass of Bourgogne Pinot Noir Louis Latour 2015, was a perfect start to an evening that went on to functions, and finished, back home in my four-poster bed in suite 404. If you want to see what it looks like, by the way, LOOK AT THE VIDEO BELOW.