Christine Leech checks into an innovative art hotel in China's most exciting city
Christine Leech checks into an innovative art hotel in China’s most exciting city
Why’s it hot? With spectacular views of Shanghai’s futuristic skyscraping skyline, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel is a unique concept mixing hotel rooms and live/work spaces for artists. International artists are invited to take up residency for three to six months, creating artworks inspired by their time and experiences in China’s largest city. They are asked to leave a piece of art as a gift at the end of their stay and these are displayed around this historic hotel. Artists also regularly host Open Studios during their stay so you could get a chance to rub shoulders with the next Damien Hirst.
Shanghai surprise: the Peace suite at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel
What’s it got? Set on the Bund, Shanghai’s historic waterfront, the six-storey hotel was built in 1908 as the Palace Hotel. It still has much of its Edwardian grandeur with sweeping oak staircases and large revolving doors. There are just three rooms and four suites to choose from with upbeat names such as Happiness, Prosperity and Good Fortune. All are individually decorated and blend traditional Chinese craftsmanship and materials with the latest in modern technology. Hand-painted wallpapers and beautiful Chinese elm floors are expertly mixed with hidden sound-systems, blinds operated with the touch of a button and quite possibly the best concealed mini-bar in hotel history. (Tip one: the contents are complimentary, which may be why it is so well hidden. Tip two: in my case I had to find the part of the wall where the picture rail doesn’t quite join up properly…) The beautiful Shook! restaurant on the 5th floor and the roof terrace and bar on the 6th are both open to non-residents, so even if you don’t stay here make sure you pop in for a sundowner and watch the magical skyline light up.
Numbers game: an installation by a resident artist at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel
Wow factor: Artists currently in residence are from Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Australia. You can see some of the ‘traces’ left by previous artists in the hotel’s online Virtual Museum and learn more by downloading an iTunes app on the hotel. Once checked in, an overflowing fruit bowl and plates of cookies, truffles and macaroons are awaiting you upon arrival. In the morning a delicious breakfast is delivered to your room and the butler service is on hand 24/7. The bathrooms are generously filled with Molton Brown goodies and the hotel is quiet and peaceful, a perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle outside.
Need to know: The hotel is ideally placed for sightseeing. Being on the Bund makes it easy to take a ferry across the Huangpu River to Pudong Park and the 1,535ft Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower (orientalpearltower.com). A trip up to its viewing platform offers incredible views, or stop off for a spot of lunch in the revolving restaurant. A 20 minute walk from the hotel down the popular pedestrianised shopping street of East Nanjing Road – where big name international and Asian brands rub shoulders with souvenir shops – will lead you to the calming oasis of the People’s Park. This is where you will see old friends gathered together to play traditional card and board games, businessmen practicing their lunchtime tai chi and groups of retired ladies working out their latest dance routines be it ballroom, Latin or disco. It is also where you may be approached by well-dressed, well-spoken students who want to befriend you and then take you to a local tea house. Don’t go – it’s a scam. (The students are in cahoots with the tea house which will treat you to an elaborate Tea Ceremony and you will then be charged a large sum for the privilege. Oh, the lessons we learn for you, dear reader!)
Next to the People’s Park is the People’s Square with the impressive buildings of the Grand Theatre and Shanghai Museum (shanghaimuseum.net). This is a great place to spend a few hours learning about the city’s rich and varied history. If you are looking for a little less skyscraper and a little more traditional Chinese architecture make your way to the Yuyuan Gardens. Download ‘The Old City – Hidden Secrets Tour in Shanghai’ app (gpsmycity.com) for a self-guided two-hour walk around the area. This takes you to some of the more interesting and less touristy parts of the old city including temples, markets and gardens.
Bright lights: the Shanghai skyline at night © Christine Leech
The Xintiandi area (shanghaixintiandi.com) is a series of pedestrianised streets home to plenty of interesting cafes, bars, shops and galleries. Nearby Dongtai Lu Antique Market (in Xizang Nan Lu) is a great place to try your hand at bartering for vintage pieces and mementos. Visit Tianzifang (tianzifang.com) in the French Concession to hang out with Shanghai’s cool fashionista crowd. Spend time poking around the small boutiques to buy handcrafted souvenirs and pieces from China’s burgeoning young designer scene. If you are after a real bargain and love a bit of brightly coloured Asian homeware visit Daiso on B1/F, 900 Huaihai Zhong Lu, (nearest metro Shanxi Rd). This is essentially a pound shop and full of cute stationery, kitchen paraphernalia, beauty products and knick-knacks, all designed in Japan’s quirky style.
Food in Shanghai is varied and plentiful. From street stalls to upmarket restaurants there is something for everyone. Be sure to sample some of the city’s signature xiaolongbao – small steamed dumplings filled with a warming soup. Supermodel Lui Wen always visits restaurant Din Tai Fung when in town as they arguably have the best. Visit the Xintiandi or Super Brand Mall branches (168 Lujiazui West Rd) to try some. If you are after a glamorous night out look no further than Bar Rouge (bar-rouge-shanghai.com). Next door to the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, this party continues till dawn and the open air Sky Lounge is full of beautiful people drinking and dancing. Best of all, you can slip away next door and be in your bed within ten minutes.
Made in China: the Wondrous room at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel
Tips: Crossing the road in Shanghai is a little bit like playing Frogger… The cars and bikes (so, so many bikes!) won’t actually run you over but they won’t stop for you either. Once you’ve got the hang of crossing roads, the streets are safe to walk around and you will see a lot more of the real Shanghai this way than from the back of a car or cab. If you do want to take a cab somewhere be aware drivers speak little to no English, so always carry a card with your hotel address written on it in Mandarin to show the driver. The Swatch Art Peace Hotel will provide you with a map of the local area and also a handy little card with several of the most popular attractions written in Mandarin (and English) on it.
Book now: British Airways (ba.com) flies direct to Shanghai from London Heathrow, from £712 return. The Joyful, Cheerful or Wondrous rooms at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel (swatchartpeacehotel.com) cost from £305 with breakfast. Suites start at £742 including breakfast and airport transfers. Visas are required (chinese-embassy.org.uk) – allow at least two weeks before travelling to get this sorted, or use an agent such as mandarinvisa.com.
Info: Shanghai (£13.99; Rough Guides) is a detailed guide, and see timeoutshanghai.com. There is a tourist information centre directly opposite the hotel so make that your first point of call. For a sneak preview of the incredible Shanghai skyline and crazy traffic watch the James Bond movie Skyfall.