Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, as the sun comes up. Later in the day the crowds, tourists from all over China (mostly) and elsewhere will make any peaceful photographs impossible. Not long ago the gal was here with a friend who had a broken leg, and he was wheeled round the square in a rickshaw. Now pedestrians, not motorists, have to go through proper airline-type security to get into the square. Want the closest luxury hotel to Tiananmen Square?
Actually, I should more accurately say, want Beijing’s most venerable historic luxury hotel? It is of course Raffles Beijing Hotel. Oh what history. It opened 1915 as Grand Hôtel de Pékin, was taken over by the Japanese 1937, had an additional block added 1954 (the first block was replaced), and in 2005 the owners, Beijing Tourist Group, gave management to Raffles. See a gallery of some of its famous guests in the form of 45 photos of celebrities on the wall leading to the new block: shown are, for instance, President Jimmy Carter and President George W. Bush, and, most recently, GM Christian Sack greeting Narendra Modi.
The gallery also has many photographs of the hotel’s resident – like on the job 24/7, day-in, day-out – Ambassador, John Spooner, a Sydneysider who must be the most applauded hotelier in the entire world of TripAdvisor. See a quote last month from Scot Alison W: ‘the icing on the cake was John Spooner. He went out of his way to make our stay totally problem-free. Nothing was too much trouble.’ We stand for a photo by the gorgeous flower balls in the 171-room hotel’s fabulous lobby, with its ten gleaming chandeliers overhead.
Personally I thought the green and white flowers were immaculate but that was apparently not the case. As I watched, one of the 280 eager-beaver team members came to replace the balls. My suite, 6413 (on the fourth floor of building six in this block, a very Chinese way of numbering), was similarly immaculate. I looked over East Chang An Avenue, the street leading to Tiananmen Square: polished wood floors (like the 1920 dance floor in what is now Jaan restaurant, leading off the lobby) were complemented by rich oriental rugs and a folding wood screen and old photos. I got the impression of Old Peking, and yet WiFi worked as well, and as fast, as anywhere in China.
This is a luxury hotel that lets you keep fit. As well as walking to Tiananmen Square, I hiked up and down the carpeted stairs (100 in all) up to my suite, I used the Matrix gym but not the pool. And I ate plenty. There is a fabulous new French chef, Cyrille Mollé. His JAAN menu includes modern versions of salade Niçoise as well as such classics as steak tartare. And at breakfast, there he was, personally conducting his orchestra of white-clad male and female chefs, all in tall toques that symbolise dedication to perfection.