China's unique boutiques -- hotels with a personal touch
Gone are the days when all China could offer the intrepid tourist were dank guesthouses or sterile three-star chain hotels. Spurred on by the Olympics, the last few years have seen the rise of the boutique hotel on the mainland. And not just in Beijing and Shanghai, either. Here are a few of the boutique highlights.
Modern art for the weary
Set amongst Guilin’s stunning karst peaks and rice terraces, the Hotel of Modern Art is the first Relais & Chateau property in China. The brainchild of Taiwanese cemetery tycoon, Tsao Rhy-Chang, the 46-room HOMA is the centerpiece of a contemporary art park with over 200 works by international artists such as German sculptor Eberhard Eckerle. An English-speaking concierge picks up guests at the airport.
Royal hot springs
Moving farther north is the private all villa Kayumanis Nanjing retreat. Located in the nearby village of Sizhuang and benefiting from the hot springs that originate in the Tangshan Mountains -- reserved exclusively for Chinese royalty in the Qing dynasty -- this property is the first China venture from the Bali-based group. This is the place to turn off BlackBerry and have some quality family time. Either that or leave the family behind for some solo solace. Whatever works.
For those who find themselves amongst the legendary walled and manicured gardens of Suzhou there is Hotel Soul. It has typically been done as a day trip from Shanghai because until recently there have been very few decent lodging options. However, this summer, the team behind the Luxe Manor in Hong Kong opened Hotel Soul. Located next to the famed Guanqian Pedestrian Street, Hotel Soul is equal parts funky design and business-traveler friendly, like its sister property.
A speakeasy feel
A truly unique place to stay in Beijing is 3+1 Bedrooms from a local nightlife impresario. Hidden in a hutong alley near the Drum and Bell towers, 3+1 has a speakeasy feel on the outside and a warm, contemporary interior. This is East meets West without the kitsch. The service is personal but not overbearing and the complimentary stocked fridge and iPod (to borrow) are nice touches. The biggest room is Jade, named after the owner’s daughter, and boasts a steeping tub.
Red lantern was here
Pingyao in the Shanxi Province (aka the Coal Capital) is probably most recognizable as the location for the 1992 film Raise the Red Lantern. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city’s Qing dynasty architecture is extremely well preserved. The recently opened 19-room Jing’s Residence in the Old Town is the first boutique hotel in the vicinity and the owners have painstakingly restored its original courtyard structure under the direction of architect Antonio Ochoa (of the Beijing Commune’s Cantilever house fame.) Thankfully it has added the modern conveniences of running water and a sewage system (still a novelty in Pingyao) without compromising the site.