Chairman Mao’s gaze still defines Beijing. His portrait above the
Gate of Heavenly Peace (at the entrance to the Forbidden City),
where Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China
in 1949, is the centerpiece of Beijing’s heart and soul, Tiananmen
Square. But despite the imagery from the past, China’s capital city
has its eyes fixed firmly on the future. As it refashions itself to
host the 2008 Olympics, a confident, modern city is emerging. On
the steps of the China National Museum, an Olympic countdown clock
galvanizes tourists’ attention.
For visitors, Beijing’s municipal makeover is good news. Several
new luxury hotels are opening, all offering state-of-the-art
service, facilities and multilingual staff. Boutique offerings are
better than ever and fashionable new restaurants open regularly.
Tour companies are also devising ever-more creative itineraries
enabling clients to enjoy Beijing’s powerful mix of imperial
palaces, temples, culture and history in style.
China’s capital is a giant metropolis and its traffic congestion
is legendary, so choosing the right hotel location is essential.
Two of the finest, Peninsula Palace and Grand Hyatt, are located
just off Wangfujing Dajie, Beijing’s main shopping street, in close
proximity to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The St. Regis
is another popular option, located further along the main
Dongchangan Jie thoroughfare, a 15-minute cab ride from Tiananmen
Square. Forthcoming openings by Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Four
Seasons, Park Hyatt and Westin promise yet more upscale
For clients who wish to swap “supersmart” chic for Chinese
courtyard character, the Bamboo Garden Hotel and Lusong Yuan hotels
are excellent mid-range options located in traditional Beijing
hutong districts. Both offer an intriguing insight into Beijing’s
fast-disappearing architectural past. For a quirkier historical
experience, the Red Capital Residence is a small boutique hotel in
a 200-year-old courtyard home extravagantly decorated with
antiques, furnishings and memorabilia favored by China’s Mao-era
Having chosen a stylish hotel, clients must now decide how to
see the city in style. Many options are available, but some spots
simply cannot be overlooked. “There are certain things you must see
and do in Beijing, especially if you are a first-time visitor,”
said Adam Minter, marketing director of upscale travel specialists,
Such “must-see” attractions include Tiananmen Square, the Great
Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, but
Minter said Wild China aims to add value by providing new
“We like to take visitors to places not everyone visits or offer
something not everyone else will do,” Minter said.
Examples include a guided canal tour, rather than bus trip, to
the Summer Palace. This unique boat journey features expert
narrative on the history of Beijing’s waterways and delivers
clients straight into the sumptuous surroundings of the Summer
Palace’s vast Kunming Lake avoiding the coach queues in the parking
lot. On the way back, Minter suggests a short stop to enjoy the
fabulous architecture of Beijing University.
The Great Wall of China magnetizes visitors from across the
globe and can get very busy during weekends. “For the more
adventurous traveler, there are great hiking options along ‘wild,’
unreconstructed sections of the Great Wall, between Jinshanling and
Simatai.” Minter said. “These trails are about a three-hour drive
from Beijing, farther than the more-popular sites of Badaling and
Mutianyu, and therefore quieter particularly during the week. And
the scenery is spectacular.”
Blending history, sightseeing and culture is a perfect way to
enjoy Beijing. The Peninsula Palace offers a three-hour rickshaw
tour of the historic hutong districts accompanied by a professor
from Tsinghua University so clients can learn about different
Chinese architectural styles. Other offerings include a 2½-hour
Chinese Tea Culture masterclass from a local tea master and a
demonstration of the intricacies of Chinese antique furniture,
allowing participants to spot real antiques from fakes.
After gorging on Beijing’s rich daytime offerings, clients will
want to relax and dine in style after dark. The Peninsula Palace’s
noble house-style Huang Ting Cantonese restaurant; the authentic
Tuscan villa feel and excellent Italian cuisine at Danieli’s at the
St Regis; and Made in China’s contemporary take on a traditional
Chinese kitchen at the Grand Hyatt are the pick of the hotel dining
Each time I’m in Beijing, I head straight for The Courtyard.
Located in the moat of the Forbidden City, its excellent fusion
cuisine, strong wine list, great views and Cuban cigar selection
make it the place to eat. My Humble Home in the Oriental Plaza
complex serves up excellent Sichuan and Asian-fusion dishes in a
contemporary setting. More historic is Mei Mansion near Houhai
Lake, which upholds the traditions and recipes of an old Peking
opera chef. Its plentiful Shanghainese hot and cold dishes are
served in special set menus created to meet your budget.
Beijing’s 21st-century renaissance is riding the crest of an
Olympic-fuelled wave, bringing with it unprecedented levels of
creativity, style and new experiences for visitors to sample. As
the clock counts down to 2008, China’s capital is sure to become
one of the hottest destinations on the planet.
|WHERE TO STAY|
8 Goldfish Lane, Wangfujing
Superlative service and refined luxury. All 525 rooms (including 57
suites) offer a plasma-screen TV, high-speed Internet access and
Braille room number. The lower lobby shopping court features
Bulgari, Tiffany & Co., Chanel and Prada.
Beijing Oriental Plaza,
1 Dongchangan Jie
Opened in 2001, this 782-room hotel is located on Beijing’s main
thoroughfare and offers eight different room types, from Grand Room
to Presidential Suite. The interior is bright and contemporary and
the service friendly and assured.
21 Jianguomenwai Dajie
Popular with business visitors, the St Regis offers 273 rooms, fine
restaurants and excellent facilities, including a natural hot
spring spa and aromatherapy treatments, bowling center and
Red Capital Residence
9 Dongsi Liutiao
Boutique hotel with suites inspired by prominent Chinese historical
figures, including Chairman Mao. The design seeks to retain the
elegance and exclusivity of traditional courtyard living, while
also providing modern amenities, such as Internet access.
Bamboo Garden Hotel
24 Xiaoshiqiao Hutong, Jiugulou Dajie
Located near the Drum Tower, this atmospheric courtyard hotel was
once owned by a Qing Dynasty. The delightful bamboo garden is
complemented by red-lacquered walkways. Mid-range rooms start from
$65 per night.
22 Banchang Hutong, Kuan Jie
Located in one of Beijing’s northern historic hutong districts,
this charming hotel is built around a series of traditional
courtyards. Bike rentals, Internet access and tour bookings
available. Mid-range rooms run from $45 per night.