No. 32 The Bund, 32 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, Shanghai; peninsula.com; 86-21-2327-2888. Rooms from $625 a night. No eco-rating.
APeninsula hotel is like that frustrating friend who, no matter how hard you look, has no flaws. Not one. You could say the luxury chain favours quality over quantity, given that it has fewer properties in the world than you have fingers. Its latest creation occupies a prime spot on Shanghai's Bund - the first new building to be constructed there in 60 years. The Peninsula Shanghai overlooks the gardens of the former British consulate and has commanding views of the city's hyper-developed Pudong district, the Huangpu River and the Yangtze in the distance. As rusty boats, the symbols of old China, slide inland or out to sea, the Peninsula stands majestically above the shoreline, representing all that new China has to offer, a place where luxury and history intersect to create a spectacular sleepover experience.
The architects, builders and designers collaborated to create an awe-inspiring space that pays tribute to the Shanghai of the 1920s and 1930s. You could call it art deco redux. The exotic woods, black lacquer shelving, ornate glass and metalwork, blindingly polished chrome, and marble are all there, but they're now living in harmony alongside the Peninsula's high-tech touches. The consistent, overarching theme of glamour and grandeur can be found everywhere, starting with the light-filled lobby, with its contrast of cream-coloured walls and dark marble floors. A giant mirror adds depth and height, a fireplace provides a sense of warmth, and a striking chandelier offers a stylish touch, hanging overhead like an elegant flower. The hallways to the rooms are lined with thick wool carpets, and vases and sculptures are nestled into the walls here and there. Art, in fact, is all over the Peninsula: From abstract takes on Chinese calligraphy to installations that showcase brightly coloured plastic discs of various sizes, there's no shortage of things to gaze at. Try to get a peek at the full-size replica of a Loening Air Yacht in the Rosamonde Aviation Lounge, a venue on the 14th floor that pays tribute to early days of air travel in China.
The Peninsula's 235 guestrooms and suites range in size from 580 to 4,300 square feet, offering different levels of luxury, comfort and technological convenience. Want to lower the blinds from bed? Just press a button. Need to make a phone call or put on the privacy sign when you're soaking and watching TV in the opulent bathtub? You can do that too. Feel free to dial international numbers so you can boast to friends and family about your surroundings - the Peninsula has VOIP service so long-distance discussions won't cost you a dime. The rooms also have iPod docks, 42-inch plasma TVs, Nespresso machines and Internet radio with hundreds of channels to choose from (although the service can be spotty). And don't forget the Peninsula's signature "nail dryer," the can't-do-without for women who would rather be painting the town red than watching polish dry. If you plan to stay in, be sure to book a room overlooking the Huangpu River so you can watch Pudong light up and stare at the still-futuristic-looking Pearl of the Orient.
The 25-metre pool is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the Peninsula Shanghai. While most hotels opt for 15 or 18 metres, this one shows you why size matters. The vine-like tiling design, again art-deco inspired, shines brilliantly under the gaping oval glass ceiling that soaks the pool with light. When the weather's nice, doors can be opened to an outdoor terrace. But if lounging by the pool or in the hot tub isn't relaxing enough, consider booking an appointment at the spa, where you'll face the difficult decision of choosing between the Instant Brightener Facial, the Pitta Pacifier, the Kapha Stimulator, or a host of other offerings. I booked an Ayurvedic treatment, and allow me to share some simple advice: Don't underestimate the power of a small-framed Chinese massage therapist. After spending 80 minutes with Leila Liu I was more relaxed than I had been in months, albeit a little bit bruised and tender. Make sure you go early so you can relax and munch on snacks in the special waiting rooms. When you're not in the spa or splashing around in the pool, you can check out the designer boutique smorgasbord on the main level. Chanel, Prada, Armani, Ralph Lauren - the gang's all there and ready to max out your credit card.
The service is fast, friendly and genuine. Just ask the retired woman from New York who was stuck in the hallway because her key wasn't working. One phone call and two minutes was all it took for a cheery employee to arrive to help her get back into her room, explaining kindly that she wasn't the first one who'd had that kind of problem (perhaps the front desk had found out about my minute-long struggle to get into room 716 - I was in 719… oops). Another notable service at the Peninsula Shanghai is its fleet of high-end cars - Rolls-Royces and BMW limos - which guests can hire for a ride around town or a trip to the airport.
Forgive the tired old cliché, but the pancakes were light and fluffy. They, along with the bananas and small jug of syrup, made the in-room dining experience, well, an experience. As for lunch and dinner, Yi Long Court serves delicious Cantonese dishes and boasts an impressive wine list. It's designed in the style of a Chinese nobleman's house from the 1930s, and also has six private rooms, including one where you can watch the action in the kitchen while you eat. If you go, make sure you pick a busy night. I don't know about you, but having six servers hanging around waiting for you to drop your chopsticks is slightly off-putting. Guests who want a better view, and Western-style food, should head up to Sir Elly's.
If you can afford to stay at the Peninsula Shanghai, book a few nights. If you can't, save up and spoil yourself - a sleepover here is definitely worth the investment. Just remember you're there to see the city's sights or you might not leave until check out. Consider yourself warned.
Special to The Globe and Mail