The Luxe Life in Shanghai

Luxury never goes out of style at the brand-new Peninsula Shanghai 

By: By Gary Bowerman

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In an uncertain world, some things are reliably comforting — especially at the end of a long journey. Pulling up outside the new Peninsula Shanghai, I saw a white-suited bellboy tending to a 1934 British racing-green Rolls-Royce Phantom II parked outside the main entrance. Later, I discovered that only three models were made that year, and The Peninsula hotels in Hong Kong and Tokyo own the other two. Despite these constrained financial times, luxury, it seems, never goes out of style.

Guestrooms, of which there are 235, are luxurious and technologically advanced. // (C) 2010 Peninsula Hotels

Guestrooms, of which there are 235, are luxurious and technologically advanced. // (c) 2010 Peninsula Hotels

The Peninsula Shanghai — the ninth property in Peninsula Hotels’ global portfolio — is the first new building on the famous riverside Bund in more than 60 years. It also marks the return of parent company, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited, to the city of its roots.

In the first half of the 20th century, the company owned and operated four of Shanghai’s most celebrated hotels: The Kalee, Majestic, Palace and Astor House, but it left mainland China following Mao Zedong’s 1949 Communist Revolution. The long-awaited, soft-opening return to Shanghai finally took place last fall with a grand-opening gala taking place last month. Already, The Peninsula Shanghai’s guestbook includes some star names, including fashion guru Karl Lagerfield, who opened Shanghai’s flagship Chanel Boutique, which is located at the front of the hotel.

Stepping into the celadon-tinted lobby, I felt as though the luxury hotelier never went away. A string quartet was playing from a minstrels’ gallery overlooking the colonnaded lobby lounge. My arrival also coincided with The Peninsula’s famous afternoon tea, and silver platters of sandwiches, pastries and porcelain teapots sat atop
tables around the room. The bellboy took my luggage, and I stood for a few moments, breathing in the sounds of those string musicians. It was a magical welcome.

The hotel has 235 guestrooms (including 44 suites), and a Deluxe Room ranges from 581 to 721 square feet in size, divided into three distinct elements: a bedroom, a bathroom and a walk-in dressing room. There are two in-room color schemes — celadon green or cerulean blue — and mine (room number 717) was the latter. The in-room technology was clearly designed to match the property’s timeless art-deco styling, fusing together the Shanghai of yesteryear and tomorrow. There’s a 46-inch, wall-hung television screen, complimentary Wi-Fi, an iPod-docking station, a Nespresso coffee maker and a 1,000-station Internet radio. In the bathroom, the flick of a switch introduces sexy, spa-style lighting and music, while the in-bath telephone filters out the sound of the water.

Though the room decor and amenities were undoubtedly top class, my immediate focus gravitated toward the floor-to-ceiling windows, which look directly across the Huangpu River to the soaring glass-and-chrome skyline of Pudong. This signature Shanghai view is sensational, especially when the late-afternoon sun drops and the cranberry “pearls” of the Oriental Pearl Tower are reflected onto the river’s surface as scores of barges sail in and out of port.

Later, as the multicolored neon imagery started taking effect, Pudong’s skytowers really came alive, lighting up the entire curve of the river. A good spot to view nighttime Pudong is from the 13th-floor circular bar at Sir Elly’s Restaurant — named after The Peninsula Hotels’ founding father, Sir Elias Kadourie. Once summer comes, the restaurant’s vast outdoor terrace should be a popular al fresco dining spot to sample the exquisite cooking of French chef Arnaud Berthelier, who previously worked with such revered chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Gray Kunz and Christian Constant.

Chinese cuisine is offered at the hotel’s most elegant restaurant, Yi Long Court. Modeled after the residence of a 1930’s Shanghainese nobleman, with mahogany floors, plush velvet and leather sofas and noticeable art-deco motifs and styling, Yi Long Court serves the authentic Cantonese cuisine of the Michelin-starred executive chef Tang Chi Keung. At lunchtime, Yi Long Court is a power-dining dim sum restaurant but, at night, the atmosphere is much more romantic and relaxed — and the food is superb. For after-dinner drinks, the Compass Bar features a striking model of the Shenking 2 steamer that plied the Huangpu River during the 1930s, plus wall-to-wall maritime memorabilia.

For a more relaxed way to end the day, the Peninsula Spa by Espa is open until 11 p.m. It offers both Ayurvedic- and Chinese-influenced treatments plus a sky-lit swimming pool and a cream-colored marble terrace deck that seems to have come straight from the set of “The Great Gatsby.” Now, how about that for reliable luxury?

The Peninsula Shanghai

Rack rates for a Superior Room begin at approximately $470.
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