There is nothing quite like arriving at the next destination in style, says the gal, dreaming of arriving somewhere by horse and carriage. Of course she is kidding. She arrived at her next luxury hotel, the sparkling new Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin, in a Bentley, WiFi-enabled of course. There was the hotel’s GM, Vincent Billiard, to meet her, personally, beyond the barrier. Tip to all of you who sensibly choose to travel within China by train, exactly on time both ends, rather than often-delayed planes, no-one is now allowed on the platforms, to see you off or to meet you.
This can cause confusion. Arrive, and wonder which exit to take (in Beijing, always take the odd-numbered exit, and make sure your hotel knows this so they can meet you at that exit, be it 7 or 11 or whatever). In Tianjin, I knew to take exit South 4. There was my meeting party, the other side. We drove around spotless streets, and over one of the many bridges over Haihe River, and round Victoria Park. There I saw the ten-floor hotel, a colonial style building that belies its youth. Red bricks soar up. I am greeted by alert bellmen. No-one in China wants their beloved only child to be a doorman, which for some reason smacks of low status, but bellman is OK.
Inside, I am in a gleaming palace, with acres of polished marble. To my immediate left and right are ceremonial staircases, 37 carpeted steps, each, with plausible old-family-portraits at both landings. Straight ahead, there is a library meets bar meets afternoon tea place (choose the Royal, with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rosé, to show you have really arrived, and do bring your baby in his designer buggy and no, he will never be a doorman). Go ahead again and immediately turn into a cross corridor, its white walls enlivened with painted-direct Chinese mythical scenes in shades of mushroom. This is designer Pierre-Yves Rochon in his pictorial-scene mode, which he also did, in blue, at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, Geneva.
The 277 rooms are statuesque, palatial, lush and plush. Walls have high-set moulded cornices, painted with gold leaf, and air-con vents are covered by white metal patterns. Bathrooms’ wall-set lighted magnifying mirrors have to jostle for space with elaborate wall-set electric lights with metal drapery and curlicues, and hanging crystal. Toiletries are Asprey. Shelves hold big books with gold-embossed spines – no worry about whether you have enough energy to take a book down from on high, the cover and spine, cleverly, are merely a box, empty but for air.
But I do, also, have real books. I am in 935, the Victoria Suite, looking out at Victoria Park. I have a proper office, with ergonomic leather chair. I go along the corridor, outside my room, to the ninth floor club lounge. I am greeted by a ship model, and see many more in some of the separate rooms that open off each side of the lounge’s main corridor: these rooms, with three walls, are open to the corridor but they still give the privacy that the Chinese PDR, private dining room, addict requires. There is a proper kitchen, centrally set, with a table right there, where I shall sit for a kitchen breakfast. A charming woman, as well trained as all her 399 colleagues, serves superb coffee.
Of course there is a Chinese restaurant, Tian Tai Xuan, with walls formed of collages of shards of real old hutong houses – one PDR, into which we peep, is currently hosting a birthday party for 40, around one table, the whole room a feast of balloons and toddlers. After checking out Flare, a ground floor version of the Ritz-Carlton Pudong Shanghai rooftop venue, we dine in the adjacent ground-floor, multi-area Zest. There are more live stations here than I can count, and we choose a semi-private area, sheltered by an all-glass display of china from large and noisy buffet-taking groups. Our meal, from a menu that simply offers Chinese, Japanese and Italian fare, is interrupted by the arrival of two signature cocktails from Flare. The chocolate martini comes in a chocolate-dipped glass. Its candy-floss sibling comes as an empty glass topped with candy-floss, which disappears as the liquid is poured in, from a shaker. This is indeed a stylish and memorable luxury hotel – the carriage, by the way, is used for weddings and, with horse, can go right into the chandeliered ballroom.