China's Boutique Hotels

China increases its boutique hotel sector By: Gary Bowerman
Fuchun Resort is one of China’s pioneer design hotels. // © 2012 Gary Bowerman
Fuchun Resort is one of China’s pioneer design hotels. // © 2012 Gary Bowerman

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Chedi Club Suzhou

Chedi Taiping Lake

Fuchun Resort

Naked Stables Private Reserve

PuSen Resort & Spa

PuYu Hotel and Spa

The Temple Hotel

WH Ming Hotel

Xixhuan Spa Hotel Hangzhou

As major hotel chains open multiple hotels and launch new brands across China, accommodation options for business and leisure travelers improve almost daily. Beyond the global operators, another trend is becoming evident — China’s emerging penchant for design hotels.

Several explanations can be given for China’s increasingly impressive boutique hotel sector. These include local developers seeking to stamp their imprint on the nascent hotel industry, experimental hotel designers fusing global and Chinese motifs, an affluent lifestyle-driven class seeking new travel experiences and the ongoing diversification of tourism in China. Whatever the reasons, style-driven hotels in China now offer clients sophisticated accommodation choices.

One of China’s pioneering design retreats is Fuchun Resort, which opened in 2004. Set amid rolling hills and tea plantations, just a 45-minute drive from Hangzhou, this 110-room lakeside resort combines classic and modern Chinese interior design elements, including outsized lanterns, hardwood floors, stone colonnades, updated period furnishings and latticed paneling. The photogenic landscapes resemble a Chinese watercolor painting, while the divine Fuchun Spa offers rejuvenating Chinese wellness therapies.

From 2004, fast forward to 2010, when The PuLi Hotel & Spa in Shanghai became the debut property for Urban Resort Concepts. Its pan-Asian-themed 193 rooms and 36 suites, inventive JingAn restaurant helmed by New Zealand chef Dane Clouston and deluxe Anantara Spa have made it a hip hangout for style mavens and business travelers appreciative of eclectic design. The PuLi has served as an impressive showcase for Urban Resort Concepts, which is now working on the 320-room PuYu Hotel and Spa, slated for a late-2012 opening in Wuhan, followed by the PuSen Resort & Spa in Shaoxing. Also under development are urban resort hotels in Beijing, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Wuxi.

Expansion to other Chinese cities is also on the agenda for SL Partnership, which recently opened the 68-room Xixuan Spa Hotel Hangzhou at Xixi National Wetlands Park. The artsy marble-and-glass exterior gives way to minimalist detailing infused with contemporary Chinese design. An organic restaurant, tea lounge and three-floor library dressed with nutmeg-colored hardwoods set the tone, but the most impressive feature is the MetaSpa. Designed by Taiwan-based Ho + Hou Studio Architects, this palatial spa features 16 private suites combining cutting-edge aesthetic and spa treatments, including body contouring, skin rejuvenation, deluxe massage and body wraps.

Also newly opened is Naked Stables Private Reserve, a boutique resort occupying a private nature reserve in Moganshan, in the hills of Zhejiang Province approximately 120 miles southwest of Shanghai. Moganshan’s shaded slopes have been a bucolic getaway since the early 20th century, when Shanghai city-dwellers constructed villas amid its bamboo forests and freshwater springs. Naked Stables’ 21st-century update features deluxe treetop villas with a private Jacuzzi on the terrace overlooking tea plantations, an equestrian center, a spa and hillside hiking and cycling trails. The owners, who also manage the smaller-scale naked Home Village, are scouting similarly picturesque rural locations across China.

China’s capital, Beijing, prides itself as the nation’s most culturally creative city, and it too is raising the hotel design bar. Eagerly awaited in spring 2012 is The Temple Hotel. Tucked down a hutong neighborhood a short walk northeast of the Forbidden City, it will offer eight rooms and suites inside a complex that comprises a restored 400-year-old Buddhist temple. Three of these rooms will be housed in former monks’ quarters, while the beautiful main temple will host cultural, arts and musical events. The Temple Hotel’s Temple Restaurant Beijing opened to great acclaim in November 2011.

In Shanghai, homegrown luxury is promised when the WH Ming Hotel opens this summer. Owned by the founder of the Shanghai Min restaurant empire, the 166-room hotel will feature a vast spa complex with 32 private suites and five restaurants and bars, including a 22nd-floor sky lounge. Even by Shanghai’s extravagant standards, no expense is being spared. The design consultants include hotel interior specialists Bilkey Llinas Design, architecture firm Gartner, and Chinese-American film director Sherwood Hu. A unique feature will be the Mia Time Tunnel encompassing the entire fifth level. This digital art installation is said to take visitors on a “five-senses journey through Shanghai’s culinary evolution from the Qing Dynasty to the present day.”

Asia-Pacific resort specialists GHM are also making moves in China. Highly anticipated in late 2012 is the 36-room Chedi Club Suzhou in the historic city of Suzhou — famed for its traditional Chinese gardens. Occupying the top floors of Suzhou’s tallest new building, it will feature a 49th-floor rooftop restaurant, guest suites on levels 43, 45 and 46 and a spa with 15 treatment rooms. It will be followed in 2014 by Chedi Taiping Lake, near Mount Huangshan in Anhui Province, featuring 52 rooms and 45 villas, a hot springs spa and a Gary Player-designed golf course.

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