Secluded behind reclaimed grey brick walls, Shanghai’s The PuLi Hotel and Spa is a serene retreat in one of the world’s most exciting cities. Pared-back contemporary design teamed with seductive oriental accents, handsome dining and drinking dens, a tempting tea-themed spa and a host of cutting-edge extras make this a must for savvy travellers.
Noon; check-in, 2pm, but both are flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from £171.12 (CNY1,513), including tax at 16.6 per cent.
Rates include minibar soft drinks and WiFi. Breakfast is not included.
The hotel provides service befitting its luxurious rooms and suites, with round-the-clock guest service specialists at you beck and call, should you require it.
At the hotel
Slinky spa with gym, sauna, steam room and spa baths, library, gardens, WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock and Bose speakers, minibar, Nespresso coffee machine. In rooms, you’ll have a TV, free WiFi, a Bose sound system with docking station, a Nespresso coffee machine, a safe and a minibar.
Our favourite rooms
Although not the biggest abodes, we love the corner Grand Studios, which have expansive views of the park and city from the king-size bed, living area and bath tub. There’s also a lovely window seat with a tea set at the ready. All of these polished pads are filled with an astute mix of modern dark wood furniture, Han Dynasty statues and incense holders, slender lamps and sliding silk screens. Tech-heads will love the home cinema system.
The slender 25m infinity pool is tiled with slate and teal mosaic and flanked by a row of oversized day-beds. Lofty picture windows look out over the park.
Ur Spa is on the third floor and has views over Jing’An Park. Organic unguents – many infused with jasmine, sandalwood and agarwood – are used in treatments, which range from flash facials to full-day pampering sessions. Choose from hydrating facials, exfoliating scrubs, revitalising wraps and knot-banishing massages. Get holiday-glowing skin with a Diamond body scrub, soothe away jetlag with a soft brushing Tranquility Pro-Sleep massage, or treat yourself to the signature essential oil massage with reflexology. Achieve toasty tranquility in the steam room and sauna, then soak away any remaining stress in the spa bath. The gym has top-drawer trappings too.
A yoga kit for dawn t’ai chi sessions in Jing’An Park, Mrs Smith’s Shanghai Tang cheongsam and Mr Smith’s Alfred Dunhill blazer for after-dark assignations.
This hotel is better suited to couples – leave the children at home.
Book a table by the wall of windows for romantic views over Jing’An Park.
Smartly styled and elegantly understated – just like the surroundings.
Spread through three interconnecting dark-wood pavilions overlooking Jing'An park, the hotel's Phénix restaurant is all rich hardwoods, eastern objets d'art, handspun rattan and silk upholstering. Chef Pierrick Maire presents a fresh and seasonal French-inspired menu with selections of charcuterie, oysters, vegetarian dishes and seafood, enhanced by a strong French wine list and classic cocktails. Breakfast here in the restaurant, in your room, or order it to go.
Running the length of the lobby, the 32-metre sunken Long Bar boasts Shanghai’s most extensive by-the-glass wine list. Nab a spot on the cushioned day-beds or perch at the bar and take in the grandeur and bustle of the hotel lobby while you sip the signature Sichuan Spice cocktail – it has a real kick.
The kitchen serves until 10pm and the Long Bar mixes drinks until 1am.
Available around the clock, offering breakfast, light bites, main courses and sweet treats.
The hotel sits amid Shanghai's vivid hustle and bustle, close to famed shopping stretch West Nanjing Road.
Shanghai is the only city in China with two international airports but you’re likely to arrive in Pudong (www.shanghaiairport.com). Don’t pay more than 200RMB for the 40-minute cab ride into town.
The Maglev (magnetic suspension) train is an exhilarating way to enter Shanghai from the airport… even if it only hits its top speed of 400km/h for a few seconds. The Maglev will have you at Longyang Road Station in 20 minutes. From there, switch to the subway system, which is crowded but thankfully air-conditioned in summer.
Don’t hire a car unless you’re feeling daring: the concept of giving way doesn’t exist. Road signs are in Chinese and English. The Chinese drive on the right hand side of the road – most of the time, and valet parking is available at the hotel.
A Huangpu River Cruise is a great way to take in Shanghai’s space age architecture.
Worth getting out of bed for
Jump out of bed at the crack of dawn to join Shanghai’s senior citizens as they gather in neighbouring Jing’An Park each morning to practice their t’ai chi routines. No matter the weather, Shanghai’s urban parks are hotbeds of activity, including sword dancing, opera singing and intense games of Chinese checkers.
It’s a short stroll to Din Tai Fung at the Shanghai Centre (+86 21 6289 9182), where the city’s famed soup dumplings – xiao long bao – are a must-try. For upscale Shanghainese, a quick taxi ride will deliver you to Fu 1088 (+86 21 5239 7878), a 1930s-style heritage mansion where butlers serve you in private dining rooms.
For late-night fun, try cocktail lounge El Coctel (+86 21 6433 6511); heaving New York-style loft The Apartment (+86 21 6437 9478); or live jazz venue JZ Club (+86 21 6431 0269) – all of which are located on the corner of Yongfu and Fuxing Lu, about a five-minute cab ride from the hotel.
I have a confession. Don't read this review for what to see and do in Shanghai. After an eventful year, the other Mr Smith and I are not full of grand sightseeing plans to start with. Succumbing to the magnetic charms of the PuLi Hotel and Spa, it’s a fait accompli: we barely leave the hotel at all.
The personable PuLi is one of those places that states its viewpoint from the outset. Pulling off the main road, under the bamboo-lined porte-cochère, and into the discreetly understated (yet assuredly sophisticated) lobby, we know we are all on the same page: here is the adult, sensuous calm needed to counter-balance our exertions.
This is a destination for the quietly confident. Seated at the 32-metre-long, dark-timber bar that doubles as reception, we are rubbing shoulders with global executives, Italian film-producers and international style-makers, all over a heady local cocktail of gin, elderflower and jasmine tea. Gazing through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the reflection pool and bamboo-filled courtyard outside, things get even better. The words everyone wants to hear when checking-in are spoken: we’ve been upgraded to a suite. Fabulous.
A candy-box of choices awaits in our room, sorry, suite. Do you start with an espresso from the handy machine or crack open the complimentary Côtes du Rhône? Bathe in the alcove bath tub overlooking a sliver of Shanghai or wash away jet-lag with the rainshower? Recline in the lounge or sprawl on the raised bed beyond the silk and glass sliding screens? Both of these spaces have sweeping city views, but with a thread-count this high, the vista outside may be the last thing on your mind. Let's just say the abundance of indulgent options at the PuLi is sufficient excuse to put off exploring the full range of Shanghai’s urban treats. There are simply too many reasons to stay in.
The next day, it’s spa time. Having left the other Mr Smith in the suite to work his way through the myriad of untested opportunities for lazing, lounging or lying down while eating, drinking or reading, I take myself off for a shamelessly indulgent two-hour massage. An entire floor dedicated to replenishing the body beckons at the PuLi’s Anantara-run spa. Here the experience is perhaps most seductive, as door after door slides away as you approach, to reveal chamber after chamber promising relaxation. Decked out with soothing limestone, concealed lighting and bamboo screens, rooms are arranged in a row to unveil a journey through sauna to steam and ultimately to the infinity lap pool, overlooking the private garden. One of the most mesmerising things about the PuLi is that, like a good burlesque dancer, it knows how much to reveal... and when. The design and attitude is such that there is always a hint of mystery, of something enticing to discover around the next corner. For quite a large hotel, it also has an amazing ability to feel exclusive, even private; which is just fine with us.
One of those cliched movie moments involving closing lift doors and surprised glances occurs when we do finally both venture out, as we recognise a passing member of staff as a friend of a friend from Australia. Having left the position of maitre’d at one of Melbourne’s finest restaurants, it turns out he is now head of food and beverage at the PuLi. All of which bodes very well for the restaurant we have yet to sample. When we do make our way to the sleek restaurant for dinner, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The next evening, we arrange to meet an old friend who has recently set-up the Shanghai office of a Danish architectural practice. Just a few streets from the elegant intimacies of the PuLi are the animated, tree-lined avenues of Shanghai's French Concession. In a city that bustles by day, we’re surprised to find that by night a network of secretive bars and restaurants awaits (such as the enigmatic concrete bunker that is Peoples 7, which required a sleuth's, or at least a knowledgeable concierge's, intuition to unearth.
However, before we set out, Mr Smith and I once again find ourselves at the lobby’s Long Bar, and it is from this vantage point that you can best appreciate the PuLi’s charms. Sitting here in one of the most handsome and engaging bars I’ve ever been in, the refined, non-conformist attitude of the hotel is perfectly encapsulated. The attention to detail at the PuLi makes you feel like you are in trusted hands and are part of something truly special, something essential: a hotel crafted from natural materials, designed and built to last. It has a way of pre-empting your needs; from the bath-side position of the button to control the window shades to the bottles of fresh water sitting on the day-beds beside the pool. Everything is just where you want it to be.
And at that moment in the Long Bar, there is nowhere else I would rather be to let the pressures of the year drain away. Mr Smith by my side, a martini in hand and a suggestively illuminated room full of people exchanging glances and sharing conversations. And, as always with the PuLi, a hint of something mysterious still to come.