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China's 8 best heritage hotels
Live like a Qing merchant, a Shanghai gangster or China's former president in one of these revamped historic buildings
Heritage hotels dot the length and breadth of China, honoring the nation's rich history.
Situated in revamped buildings with an intriguing past -- be they former homes of affluent merchants, royalty or legendary gangsters -- these heritage hotels provide an intimate and ethnic experience.
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Here are the top eight from different corners of China.
1. The Linden Centre, Xizhou, Yunnan
In a village whose name means "happy oasis" stands the two-story hotel, founded by Chicago-born Brian Linden and his wife Jeanee Linden thanks to their passion on the lifestyle and traditions of Yunnan people.
Known as Xizhou (喜洲) in Chinese, the village is located near Yunnan's major tourist city Dali, between the shores of Lake Er (洱海) and the foot of the Cang Mountains (苍山).
The 14-room hotel is a refurbished Bai-style courtyard home, a nationally protected heritage site that once belonged to a local merchant named Yang Pingxiang (杨品相).
Much of the original architecture survived the Cultural Revolution, and to enhance the hotel's cultural background, the Lindens have filled each room with Bai-style antique furniture.
Voted as the best hotel in China in TripAdvisor's 2011 Traveler's Choice Award, Linden's other highlights include its themed programs, which give the guests opportunity of experiencing the authentic village and day-to-day life of various minority groups in Dali.
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The Linden Centre (喜林苑), 5 Chengbei Road, Xizhou Town, Dali City, Yunnan 云南大理市西周镇城北路5号, +86 872 245 2988. Room rates: from RMB 830, www.linden-centre.com
2. Le Sun Chine, Shanghai
Tucked away from the bustling Jiangsu Lu, this homey boutique is within a 20-minute drive of several of Shanghai's business and commercial hubs, including Xujiahui, Zhongshan Park and Huaihai Lu.
The building was first constructed as part of a cluster of European-style villas. Some were built with Spanish influence, others with French, and this one -- the only remaining one, in fact -- with British colonial style in mind.
Sun Boqun (孙伯群), owner of China’s first private flour factory, lived in this four-story villa after its completion in 1932. The Sun family was so prominent that even the country’s second president, Liu Shaoqi (刘少奇), is said to have visited and stayed at the villa.
Le Sun Chine's owners have restored the art deco building to the same luxury level of its past: the venue is not only one of the five Relais & Châteaux members in China but also the only place in Shanghai to sip the acclaimed Salon Champagne.
With 28 suites, an indoor pool, a spa (plus a soon-to-open gym) and more than 300 antique artifacts from the owner’s personal collection, this cozy retreat is an elegant tribute to, and meticulous restoration of, Shanghai’s culturally diverse history.
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Le Sun Chine (绅公馆), 6 Lane 1220, Huashan Lu, near Jiangsu Lu, Shanghai 上海市华山路1220弄6号, 近江苏路, +86 21 5256 9977. Room rates: from RMB 1,880, www.lesunchine.com
3. Jing’s Residence, Pingyao, Shanxi
Emanating calm in the heart of Pingyao -- one of the two UNESCO World Heritage cities in China (the other is Lijiang) -- this boutique hotel and member of Relais & Chateaux cultivates a respectful blend of old-world architecture with touches of new-world living.
From the outside, this former silk merchant’s home looks like the set of a Chinese martial arts movie (think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). But this restored Qing-dynasty structure manages to integrate bamboo, four brick-paved courtyards, and some 260-year-old original wooden beams with modern facilities and amenities in as sleek a way as possible.
Each of the 19 rooms and two suites has its own design, decked out with northern-style heated beds and natural, simple decor -- including bamboo floors, rice-paper ceilings, and silk and lacquer handicrafts -- that give a nod to traditional art forms and luxuries.
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Jing’s Residence (锦宅), 16 Dong Da Jie, Pingyao City, Shanxi 山西省平遥东大街16号, +86 0354 584 1000. Room rates: from RMB 1,100, www.jingsresidence.com
4. Hotel Côté Cour, Beijing
In a city where historical relics are aplenty and the crop of courtyard hotels is steadily expanding, Hotel Côté Cour has managed to become a charming little attraction.
The hotel is hidden in one of Beijing’s hutongs, where imperial musicians, dancers and actors would rehearse during the Ming Dynasty.
Just a few minutes’ retreat into the old laneways, before even passing through the establishment’s red gates, you get a break from the bustle of the country’s capital and a taste of old Beijing. And that laid-back sense of time carries on through the hotel space.
The comfortable, 14-room hotel values authenticity, while providing the level of amenities and services one would expect from a top-notch location.
Guestrooms and lounge areas are fitted with iconic Chinese furniture and trimmings, as well as fresh, modern elements (think Wi-Fi and contemporary art).
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Hotel Côté Cour (北京演乐精品酒店), 70 Yanyue Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 北京市东城区演乐胡同70号, +86 10 6523 7981, Room rates: from RMB 1,068, www.hotelcotecourbj.com
5. Yabshi Phunkhang, Lhasa, Tibet
One of the oldest buildings on this list, and likely one of the oldest heritage hotels in China, the Yabshi Phunkhang is one of very few traditional hotels in Lhasa.
This former home of the 11th Dalai Lama (Yabshi means parents of the Dalai Lama and Phunkhang is short for Phuntok Kangsar, meaning the 11th Dalai Lama’s family home) was built in 1838, and much of the original structure has been preserved.
Intricate wooden carvings, colorful detailing and a feeling of calm embody the welcoming Tibetan spirit, and each of the 21 rooms is reconstructed to revive the feeling of a classical local house.
The courtyard is airy and bright, which provides the guests a serene retreat during the warmer summer months. At 3,600 meters above sea level, it is also an ideal space for those arriving with altitude sickness to rest and catch their breath.
While the Yabshi Phunkhang itself is already culturally laden, the hotel is also within walking distance of Lhasa’s Barkor Market and the Jokhala Temple.
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Yabshi Phunkhang (尧喜平康大院), Beijing Dong Lu, Lhasa, Tibet 西藏拉萨市北京东路, +86 891 632 8885. Room rates: from RMB 380, firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Amanfayun, Hangzhou, Zhejiang
This secluded Hangzhou holiday village has the charm of a Chinese Zen outpost, surrounded by green carpets of tea plantations.
The property occupies an ancient village, which dates back to the Tang dynasty. Each of the 42 rooms, suites and villas is situated in a restored village house respectively, which boasts a rustic Chinese feel with dark wood and low lighting.
The common areas are reminiscent of the laid-back village life in southern China.
As a new travel hot spot in Hangzhou, the luxury resort is about 20 minutes from West Lake and is in walking distance of seven temples and monasteries, including Lingyin Temple -- one of the most important, largest and wealthiest temples in the China.
Hangzhou's iconic Longjing tea village lies within a 10-minute drive.
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Amanfayun (安缦法云), 22 Fayun Long, Xihu Jiedao, West Lake Scenery District, Hangzhou, 杭州市西湖风景名胜区西湖街道发云弄22号, +86 571 8732 9999 , Room rates: from US$650, www.amanresorts.com
7. Mansion Hotel, Shanghai
Originally designed by French architect Lafayette and built in the heart of Shanghai’s former French Concession in 1932, this five-story building played a big role in the early 20th century in Shanghai: it was the clubhouse of notorious gangster Du Yuesheng, where all of his major deals were brokered.
The government took over the building after 1949 and used it as the headquarters of the city's transportation department.
Even though the building itself is still government-owned, the five-star Mansion Hotel, opened in 2007, restored the architecture back to its old glory.
Apart from the addition of the two top floors, the building’s interior layout is exactly what is was when it was first constructed.
Each of the 30 rooms is individually outfitted in a blend of East and West. More than 300 Shanghai antiques can be spotted throughout the neoclassic villa, from wind-up gramophones to old-school cameras.
Mansion Hotel (首席公馆), 82 Xinle Lu, near Xiangyang Bei Lu, Shanghai, 上海市新乐路82号, 近襄阳北路, +86 21 5403 9888. Room rates: from RMB 1,374, www.mansionhotelchina.com
8. Zen Garden, Lijiang, Yunnan
Zen Garden has two branches -- Wuyi Yuan and Lion Mountain Yuan -- in Lijiang, the ancient city in Yunnan famed for its waterways and bridges.
The two four-star hotels are situated on hills in traditional Naxi-style courtyard buildings, which is Lijiang's main ethnic group. Both boast impressive views of the ancient city’s rooftops, some of which date back hundreds of years.
Rooms are cozy with traditionally Chinese decor and up-to-date extras, such bathroom facilities.
Both of the two yards provide a tranquil getaway from the touristy center of Lijiang while still being conveniently close to the city’s labyrinth of cobblestone streets and clustered storefronts.
Wuyi Yuan (瑞和园五一院), 36 Xingren Long, Wuyi Lu, Dayan Town, Lijiang, Yunnan, 云南省丽江大研镇五一路兴仁弄36号; Lion Mountain Yuan (瑞和园狮山院), No. 37, Shuangshi Section, Xinhua Street, Old City, Lijiang, 丽江古城新华街双石段37号674100, +86 888 518 999. Room rates: from RMB 880, www.zengardenhotel.com