Style that’s right up there (Review: China World Summit Wing & Imperial Tours)
I'VE discovered something even better than watching True Blood on my laptop in the bath. Watching True Blood on my laptop in the bath on the 68th floor of Beijing's tallest building.
I'm staying in a grand premier room at China World Summit Wing, Shangri-La's second hotel in the Chinese capital. Opened in late 2010, the 278-room five-star hotel occupies the top 16 floors of the 330-metre-tall China World Tower in the city's central business district, about 15 minutes' drive from Tiananmen Square.
"The art of life at the peak of Beijing" is the hotel's slogan. Even after an explanation from a delightful staff member, I'm not entirely sure what it means but who cares as my gaze is torn from vampire Eric to the exquisite dusty pink view through the huge bathroom window as the sun sets over the mind-bogglingly vast metropolis. (Pollution, I later learn, contributes to the city's famed sunsets. Whatever they're doing, it's working.)
The bathroom also has a rain shower, double vanity, TV installed in the mirror and L'Occitane toiletries. Suites have Bulgari potions and lotions. The 75-square-metre grand premier room is the biggest of three room categories. There are five types of suites above that, including a 296-square-metre presidential suite.
A misty mountain scene above the king bed dominates the bedroom. All over the city, funky "design hotels" have sprung up, featuring edgy art works and futuristic finishes.
This hotel, however, takes a more traditional path with its elegant, understated look, perhaps intended to make high-end business travellers feel at home rather than shamelessly appealing to fashion-forward jet-setters.
The pool, gym and day spa, on the other hand, are knock-your-socks-off gorgeous. Rows of shiny new fitness machines line a light-filled space on the 78th floor. On the other side of the building is the piece de resistance, a 25-metre infinity pool overlooking the city, with comfy lounges and lush plants lending a swanky resort feel.
A lifeguard on duty must have one of the cruisiest jobs in Beijing. The pool is deserted each time I visit. I splash about in a clumsy attempt at swimming laps and each time I pause to catch my breath, which is often, he quietly appears to ensure I haven't drowned.
The relaxation space is more my speed, especially a delightful herbal sauna with pinprick lights in the style of a hamam, and a bunch of fresh ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon and lemon resting over the source of the steam. It feels like being dunked in a warm cauldron of chai.
Blissing out continues at CHI, The Spa. Therapists in six dimly lit, sumptuously decorated treatment rooms offer a range of scrubs, wraps, facials and massages. For a cool 2580 yuan ($400), the Ultimate Indulgence offers a bath or steam shower, milk-and-honey wrap, massage and oxygenating facial.
There are six restaurants or bars at China World Summit Wing, offering fare ranging from Cantonese fine dining to modern Japanese and an "international grill" – complete with Aussie beef – at Grill 79, where breakfast is also served. Offered a choice of Chinese or Western-style breakfasts, I opt for the local selections. The noodle soup and dim sum are fine but not a patch on the flavours and textures of street food I sample outside the hotel.
Dinner is another story, as the high-rise restaurant becomes a buzzy hub for travellers and well-heeled locals, lured by the interesting food and views to the Forbidden City. A ban on smoking in restaurants is enforced here, thankfully, unlike at many other eateries around the city.
The hotel uses Imperial Tours (imperialtours.net) to organise trips for guests and their service is truly five-star. Don't tell vampire Eric, but lunch in a turret on a quiet stretch of the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling rivals any episode of True Blood. Rose petals are scattered on the ground and a chef is on hand to serve the meals at a table – complete with tablecloth and chilled white wine.
Imperial Tours also works with a network of contemporary art experts, who conduct tours through the city's vibrant art districts, 798 and the newer Caochangdi. Trips can be tailored according to guests' level of interest in art.
While we're in the hood, we take in lunch at Green T. House (green-t-house.com), a seriously chic restaurant in a beautiful white space where green tea is incorporated in some form into every dish. Pumpkin soup is served in hollowed-out pumpkins as white birds chirp away in ornate wire cages. This dish is a triumph but some other offerings are so fancy that the presentation overpowers the flavours.
Beijing is exploding in size. Extremes of poverty and wealth are on display at every turn. I spy more luxury cars speeding around the streets in a few days than I would in an entire year in Sydney.
As the city's population rockets towards 20 million, plans have been approved for high-rise towers even taller than the China World Summit Wing. For now, at least, a stay at this hotel leaves me feeling on top of the world.
The writer was a guest of China World Summit Wing.
Where China World Summit Wing at China World Trade Centre, No. 1 Jianguomenwai Avenue, Beijing, China, shangri-la.com.
How much Executive room from 5290 yuan ($823) a night, including breakfast. Grand premier room from 5980 yuan a night, including breakfast.
Top marks Some of the most comfortable pillows I have ever slept on.
Black mark There's a shaver socket but no power points in the bathroom for a hair straightener.
Don't miss A cheeky cocktail on level 80 at Atmosphere, the highest bar in Beijing.
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