Imperial Palaces

There is no shortage of great hotels in Beijing, whether clients prefer days gone by or tomorrow

By: Allen Salkin

BEIJING Two decades after foreign tourists began trickling back into the “Middle Kingdom,” Beijing boasts five-star hotels to go with its famous delights: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the wonderful cuisine. Now, a newer Beijing is being born, evidenced by construction cranes silhouetted against the sky and taxicab windows with banners heralding the 2008 Summer Games: “Build New Beijing. Hold Great Olympics.”

Amid the hubbub, however, there still are a few old Chinese gems: hotels situated along the hutongs, meandering alleyways where traditional courtyard homes are spread out behind gracefully aging walls.

No hotel better evokes the feeling of old Beijing than the Bamboo Garden Hotel. Narrow pathways snake through courtyards that whisper with the rustling stalks and shoots of green bamboo.

There’s a wonderful tearoom in a corner of the gardens, woodsy and perfect for reading a novel. Some rooms have Ming Dynasty touches like teak canopy beds, polished wood floors and porcelain tea sets.

Long before being host to international luminaries like Muhammed Ali, the complex was home to officials of the Qing Dynasty, which ended with the Revolution of 1911. During the past two years, many of the drab Western-style guest rooms have been renovated, giving them a more authentic Chinese decor and improving the ambiance of the hotel.

Clients with an appreciation for the unusual will enjoy discovering the Bamboo Garden.

The first luxury hotel to open in Beijing, the Palace Hotel, is changing its name next month to The Peninsula Palace.

It is also welcoming a second decade with a freshly renovated lobby with spiffy retail spaces for Piaget, Prada and Christian Dior, as well as Tiffany’s first store in China.

The renovation also has added a new room class to the hotel, the $500-a-night Beijing Suite, which includes a master bedroom with a marble bathroom, a spacious living room with a 42-inch plasma television, a complete audio-visual system with centralized speakers and subwoofers and a dining/meeting area.

At The St. Regis Beijing, every room comes with butler service, including the Ambassador Suite, room 1716, where Andrew Lloyd Webber stayed in 2001 before the music gala in his honor at the Great Hall of the People.

The hotel recently opened a spa that features hot spring water drawn from almost 5,000 feet below the earth’s surface.

The Grand Hotel Beijing has an incredible location overlooking the Forbidden City and a short stroll from Tiananmen Square.

Rooms were renovated recently and the beds all have silken canopies. Next month the Grand Hyatt Beijing will open a new bar, Red Moon, and a new restaurant, Made In China.

To celebrate, travel agents can stay at the hotel for $60 a night as part of a Hyatt International promotion, which is available through the end of September. All of the hotel’s 531 guest rooms and suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Beijing’s historic districts. The concierge here is glad to help joggers map out running routes to and around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

The hotel also is very close to the Wanfujing shopping district. This street, a few blocks east of Tiananmen Square and mostly given over to pedestrians, usually is filled with shoppers looking for the latest Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Nike and other international brands.

Among those familiar labels are some homegrown brands of cashmere sweaters, down jackets and silk pajamas that are real bargains.