The on-site Willow Stream spa at Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai // © 2017 Fairmont Peace Hotel
Feature image (above): The writer stayed in a one-bedroom suite. // © 2017 Fairmont Peace Hotel
They say history never repeats itself, but it sure can linger in wonderful ways. Such is the case with Shanghai’s Fairmont Peace Hotel, a 270-room testament to the city’s 20th-century belle-epoque style located smack-dab in one of China’s future-forward metropolises.
In fact, the property’s in-house Peace Museum contains many relics and materials related to the property’s rich, storied past and its litany of important guests, which have included film icon Charlie Chaplin, U.S. Army general George Marshall, journalist Bernard Shaw and playwright Noel Coward, who reportedly completed his play “Private Lives” on-site.
With its grand period architecture and art deco detail, the hotel has also served as a location for more than 40 movies, including Steven Spielberg’s 1987 World War II drama, “Empire of the Sun.” There are posters of some of the movies filmed here displayed in the lobby’s hallways.
Dating back to 1929, the 11-floor building occupies a prime location on The Bund, a bustling, scenic waterfront district along Huangpu River and across from the futuristic Pudong district. After checking into my Signature Riverview Suite, I savored a fantastic view of The Bund’s hustle and bustle (it’s a favorite setting for wedding photos, so grooms and brides are a near-daily sighting) and Pudong’s iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower and twisty Shanghai Tower, which pulses with colorful light shows at night.
Despite its heritage, there’s nothing crusty or musty about Fairmont Peace Hotel, which was closed between 2007 and 2010 to undergo a thorough, three-year renovation that saw the installation of modern tech and fresh decor. My room featured a subtle, contemporary color palette, a Bose stereo and a grey-vein marble bathroom with Le Labo Rose 31 products. The enhancements also allowed for a resurgence of the property’s original floor plan and design schematics that had long been hidden and obscured. Those include a Grand Lobby and octagonal stained-glass atrium that had, for years, been covered by gypsum board — it’s a stunner. I also got a peek at a couple of the hotel’s ornate, themed Nine Nations Suites, which evoke India, Japan, Europe and other exotic locales through their architecture and design.
A complimentary Fairmont Peace Hotel History Tour is offered twice daily (reservations are required) and spotlights the span of the hotel’s history, from its founding in 1929 as Cathay Hotel by British tycoon and hotelier Sir Victor Sassoon to its renaming as Peace Hotel in 1956 and the most recent rebranding and reopening as a Fairmont in 2010.
Exhausted from my figurative walk through history, I visited the hotel’s Willow Stream Spa for a little pampering and contemplated having the concierge arrange for a tailor to come to my room for a suit fitting (the price for a suite can be approximately $300).
As with all of Fairmont’s Willow Stream spas, a sense of locality is embraced through the spa’s exclusive treatments. In Shanghai’s case, those include Chinese healing therapies: The 90-minute Bamboo Fusion Massage puts heated bamboo and medicinal herbs to use, while the Chinese Remedy package (either 90 minutes or two hours) incorporates pressure-point foot massage.
Hungry after my pampering, I savored a lunch at Dragon Phoenix restaurant, one of the property’s five venues. Serving Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine in an upbeat pastel and gold-laced setting, the restaurant features the city’s beloved specialty, “xiao long bao” (steamed soup dumplings), plus tasty seafood, noodle and pork dishes. I also enjoyed a lovely Western salad, panini and cake at Victor’s Cafe — after several days of regional Chinese cuisine, I craved comfort fare — and polished my visit off with a final taste of Shanghai yesteryear at The Jazz Bar come evening.
In fact, barring the presence of those grabbing photos and videos with their smartphones, I genuinely felt transported to the 1930s while watching the hotel’s famed six-piece Old Jazz Band, whose members’ average age is 82. The subject of Uli Gaulke’s 2013 documentary, “As Time Goes By,” the group performs nightly at 6:30 p.m. and represents a charming affair indeed. The crowd seemed truly engaged by their saxophone-forward rendition of “Somewhere Under the Rainbow.” As was I.