You tend to lose count of all the luxury hotels fanning out along the Huangpu River. Few are as storied as the Waldorf (2 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road), however, a hopelessly elegant throwback to the last time the city was flooded with money (i.e. the 1930s). Back then the Shanghai Club occupied this spot on the magnificent historic riverfront boulevard dubbed the Bund, and the city’s elite waved their cigarette holders around the 11-metre raw-mahogany Long Bar. The bar was restored piece by piece, and two years ago relaunched with a menu including the “Shanghai Waldorf,” the classic salad topped with a chunk of crabmeat.
CN and Sears have nothing on the newfangled Asian towers, of which Shanghai’s World Financial Center (100 Century Avenue) is second tallest (and counting). Locals call it the “bottle opener,” and $23 gets you access to three observation decks on the 94th, 97th and 100th floors. Or you can scrap the fee and the queue and head instead to the 91st-floor bar – tallest in the world according to folks who measure these things – and snag yourself a vertiginous seat by the window. Drinks cost in the low teens and nuts come gratis.
Achy muscles are a non-issue in Shanghai, where there’s a burly masseuse for every complaint. Dagu Road is fairly nondescript but for the fact that it counts more than a dozen spas of varying quality over just two blocks. The legendary Taipan Foot Massage (370 Dagu Road) spawned all those imitators with its winning formula: private rooms furnished with La-Z-Boy loungers, flat-screen TVs and a menu of free snacks, juices and teas. The drill is to come with a friend and a DVD and settle in for a 90-minutes leg, foot and shoulder rub while you watch and nibble.
Dim sum is the tapas of South China, though in Shanghai you can get it, and good, on every other block. But why pound the pavement when you can take an elevator 55 storeys up and nosh on superlative char siu bao (barbecued pork bun) while watching helicopters land on the rooftop pads of lesser buildings. Canton (88 Century Ave.), part of the Grand Hyatt in the palatial Jin Mao Tower, has 360-degree views of the city and a sexy lacquer-and-gilt decor that might inspire you to take your dessert up to a room. For the quality on your plate, they could be charging a whole lot more.
Many an expat has experienced the regal convenience of being shuttled from work to gym to restaurant in a chauffeured car, but if you’re not versed in the spendthrift practices of foreign bankers you probably don’t know that you can have your own for a (relative) steal. Outfits such as ShangCar.com rent wheels by the day, week or month from around $87 a day for a 2012 Passat and a driver of saintly patience. This will come in handy for fleeing the heavy city smog for Anji’s bamboo forest or Hangzhou’s West Lake.
Or go for broke
The dazzling new Four Seasons Pudong occupies 11 floors of the 55-storey 21st Century Tower (locally called the “jewel box”), in the core of Shanghai’s Lujiazhui financial zone. No hotel project in China better captures the striving spirit of the age – globalization, trade and mirth.
At the opening bash earlier this month, cocktail servers decked out in metal hoop skirts pased out champagne flutes with poise. The bejewelled set feasted on tea-smoked duck and savoury chive dumplings created by executive chef Weimar Gomez. The hotel’s lush decor, featuring opulent semi-precious gems and peacock feathers in minimalist patterns, had flashbulbs popping.
Art-filled interiors evoke the city’s golden age of the 1930s. The 187 rooms and suites are each accented with fresh flowers, Lorenzo Villoresi bath products from Italy, an Illy coffee machine and a bar with all the fixings needed to make the hotel’s signature cocktails. Book one of the Deluxe Pearl View rooms for the clearest views of Pudong’s whimsical urban landscape.
Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, 210 Century Avenue, Shanghai; 86-21-2036-8880; fourseasons.com. Rooms from $480. – Si Si Penaloza