Boutique and Unique

China’s new hotel scene

By: By Gary Bowerman


Banyan Tree Sanya   
Luhuitou Bay, Hainan Island
Hotel Cote Cour S.L. 
70 Yanyue Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Hotel of Modern Art
Yuzi-Paradise, Dabu Town, Yanshan District, Guilin
Jia Shanghai
931 Nanjing West Road, Shanghai
Kayumanis Nanjing
Sizhuang Village, Tangshan Town, Nanjing
Opposite House
The Village, Sanlitun, Beijing
Urbn Hotels 
183 Jiaozhou Road, Shanghai

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For the past decade, hotel openings in China’s major cities have been uniform in kind: multi-level, new-build lodgings by international chains aimed at corporate travelers. That trend continues today across China, but there is an emergence of small, design-led hotels that offer world-class accommodations and bespoke services.

Hotel Cote Cour S.L. in Beijing // (c) Gary Bowerman
Hotel Cote Cour S.L. in Beijing

International operators and nouveau riche local hoteliers foresee sustainable, long-term growth for inbound leisure travel to China. Also, the hospitality industry is starting to see a significant rise in occupancy from affluent, urban Chinese who are now seeking the kinds of tailor-made travel experiences that American travelers have become accustomed to.

At present, Shanghai and Beijing are vying for the position of China’s boutique hotel leader, but luxe properties are slated to spring up across the nation in the coming years. The investments are big, the designers are much-vaunted and top chefs and leading spa operators are all involved. China is entering an exciting era of boutique and unique hospitality.

The most deluxe opening in the first half of 2008 was the Banyan Tree Sanya. Located at Luhuitou Bay on tropical Hainan Island, it is being marketed as "the first luxury all-pool villa resort in China." Boasting 61 lavish pool villas, it also offers a spa and hydrotherapy center, signature dining and extensive conference facilities. The resort’s two Presidential Villa complexes are designed to meet the whims of heads of state and their entourages, offering two king-sized bedrooms and four adjacent bedrooms, a theater, a game room, a private spa suite, a gym and a 3,229-square-foot pool with an outdoor sunken pavilion and a heated jet pool.

Kayumanis Nanjing applies the luxury resort concept to mainland China. Located in a private, forested park, the small Balinese-style resort sits adjacent to a rural peach-farming community that is 45 minutes from Nanjing. There are 21 luxury private bungalows, offering one- and two-bedroom accommodations, as well as a hot spring Zen spa and 46-foot-long infinity pool. All are spacious and designed in open-plan style, with southeast Asian-style wooden shutters, hand-dyed fabrics, hardwood furnishings and Javanese antiques. Standard features include flat-screen televisions, a Bose stereo and free Wi-Fi.

Taking white-hot Chinese art as its inspiration, Hotel of Modern Art was inaugurated as China’s first member of the French Relais & Chateaux group this year. Funded by a Taiwanese business tycoon, the hotel is part of an extensive contemporary arts project in the stunning Guilin countryside. The hotel and grounds represent a giant, integrated exhibition of Chinese and international artwork and modern sculpture by artists from 47 different countries. Two lavish accommodation options are located in the park, including a 46-room boutique hotel and spa in a converted artists’ residence.

Two new boutique properties in Shanghai yield contrasting interpretations of the luxury lodging concept. Jia Shanghai is the chic, high-art sibling to the Philippe Starck-designed Hong Kong original. Exquisitely dressed with contemporary furnishings and high-tech
facilities, this 55-room hotel occupies a converted 1920’s town house on Nanjing Road. The attention to detail is sublime. Rooms feature timber-paneled walls, marble kitchenettes and artsy headboards created by photographer Russel Wong, plus iPod docking stations and Bose ceiling speakers. The see-and-be-seen Issimo bar and restaurant, by Tokyo-based Italian restaurateur Salvatore Cuomo, is reservation-only.

A few blocks north, Urbn Hotels is an eco-conscious, 26-room property that assiduously accounts for its own carbon credits. Enclosed by a rectangular courtyard with bamboo trees, slate tiles and a water fountain, the ambiance is immediately calming and attractive. A small lobby with leather suitcases stacked behind the counter opens into the Roomtwentyeight restaurant. The pared-down wood-and-brick room design is
enhanced by the use of recycled local materials such as gray slate and mahogany. To utilize space, each one features a sunken living room with cushioned benches, hemp rugs and a wall-hung plasma television.

The Beijing boutique boom began with small hotels located in revamped hutongs, gray-brick neighborhoods that were once ubiquitous across the city. The most stylish is Hotel Cote Cour S.L., a cozy-chic hotel with 14 rooms, all designed and dressed by Beijing owner, Shauna Liu (hence the "S.L." suffix). Rooms are set around a gray-brick courtyard with wisteria trees, a goldfish pond and a 200-year-old date tree. All rooms have cable television, traditional-mod furniture and mosaic-tiled bathrooms. There’s also a new rooftop deck bar with great sunset views.

The shape of Beijing boutiques of the future is showcased at Opposite House. Opened this summer, just in time for the Olympics, and encased in eye-catching emerald glass, this self-styled "luxurious contemporary hotel" is located at Sanlitun’s glitzy new The Village development. The high-concept interior is likened to an "urban forest, with the design elements focused around the play of natural and artificial light." The 99 oak-timbered rooms were designed by iconic Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, and the restaurants and bar concepts were created by Shanghai-based, Greek-Australian restaurateur David Laris.