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After watching the Spring Festival fireworks to welcome China’s Lunar New Year, I sat in a hotel lounge overlooking the Huangpu River in Shanghai. The Oriental Pearl Tower was illuminated in auspicious red, and the Shanghai World Financial Centre was bathed in golden Chinese characters spelling “Happy New Year.”
And so began the Year of the Horse, which promises to be another busy 12 months as established hotel companies spread their wings to new cities and destinations, and brands less familiar to China launch new projects in Beijing.
The Chinese capital will remain a popular destination for international visitors, and some impressive new hotels will enhance its appeal. After welcoming Waldorf Astoria to the Bund in Shanghai, Hilton will bring its Waldorf Astoria brand to Jinyu Hutong in March, just a short walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Also scheduled for spring is the 283-room Rosewood Beijing, which is located in the downtown Chaoyang District opposite the iconic CCTV Tower. It will be the first property in China for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
Starwood’s W brand, which made its China debut last year in Guangzhou, will open W Beijing in downtown Jianguomennei in late June. Shanghai will have to wait a little longer — the W Shanghai is set to open beside the Huangpu River in mid-2015, while Changsha will welcome its first W hotel in Spring 2015.
A new destination to watch this fall is Yanqi Lake, which is framed by mountains near the Great Wall of China and is the setting for one of 2014’s most anticipated tourism projects. A one-hour drive from Beijing, it will become home to Kempinski Yanqi Lake, a circular 306-room hotel on the lakeshore, nicknamed “The Sunrise,” and 12 boutique hotels on an offshore island. The vast resort will also feature a State Guest House for visiting VIPs, a spa, 14 restaurants and bars, a yacht marina, an 18-hole golf course and a conference center.
Travelers to Shanghai this year can look forward to some fun new added-value tour options. Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai, which opened along the river in Pudong in 2013, now offers 30-minute guided tours of the riverside and Pudong’s key sights on a battery-powered Segway. Across the river, The Peninsula Shanghai on the Bund recently launched tours of Shanghai in a Mini Cooper S Clubman car and sunset cruises on the Huangpu River for up to 10 people onboard a Princess 54 yacht.
Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan Province, is another destination to watch in 2014. Chengdu is famous throughout China for its spicy hot pot cuisine and for the Giant Panda Sanctuary and Research Centre, which is home to more than 80 doe-eyed giant pandas. Chengdu is one of China’s fastest developing cities, and is the gateway to the beautiful Sichuan mountain landscapes. Last October saw the opening of The Ritz-Carlton Chengdu, offering 353 rooms and overlooking central Tianfu Square. In May, the 279-room St. Regis Chengdu will open in the city’s business district.
The magnificent Jiuzhaigou Valley, which is becoming a popular travel destination, is a short flight north from Chengdu. Jiuzhaigou derives its name from the nine Tibetan villages that reside in three intersecting valleys in the Minshan Mountains. Jiuzhaigou National Park was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and offers spectacular alpine scenery year-round. Its limestone karsts, glaciers, waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes look particularly photogenic when covered in winter snow.