Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008

Grand Hyatt

This enormous, curved glass tower just a stone's throw from the shops of Wangfujing has a lot going for it: super-solicitous service; excellent in-house dining and entertainment; and the most outrageously over-the-top indoor "urban resort" in the city — the 4,921-square-foot Club Oasis, where a vast, waterfall-fed swimming pool is surrounded by Vegas-style stone columns, spa treatment rooms, and an overhead "virtual sky" that changes color through the day. The 825 rooms and suites, while not especially exciting (or especially Chinese), are spacious and comfortable, with lots of blond wood, glass and chrome, and cushy fabrics. Most have bathrooms with marble soaking tubs as well as walk-in showers. Of the hotel's seven dining and drinking options, the traditional, northern Chinese Made in China restaurant is notable for its fabulous Peking duck; the Redmoon lounge has inventive cocktails and live music. More Continentally inclined guests can opt for afternoon tea at the genteel Fountain Lounge or sample decadent cakes and pastries at the Patisserie.

Insider Tip: Go for a pre-breakfast stroll around nearby Zhongshan Park, where a colorful cast of tai chi practitioners, swordplay aficionados, and even ballroom dancers gathers starting at dawn.

Room to Book: North-facing rooms on the 16th, 17th, and 18th floors have sweeping views across the city. Deluxe rooms, which are 600 square feet each and have small sitting areas, are basically mini-suites.


Over-the-top opulence reigns at this vaunted, century-old hotel — which is, appropriately, closer than any other to Beijing's singularly grand Forbidden City. The Raffles' arched ceilings are dizzily high, its plush corridors wide enough to drive a small car through, and its 171 guest rooms amply sized (even the most modest standard options start at 500 square feet). The décor is unapologetically overstated, fusing classical European elements (gleaming antique repros, ornate brass lamps, chintz and brocade upholstery) with traditional Chinese accents (richly colored rugs, carved wood folding screens). Suites are named after luminaries who have stayed here over the years, like Charles de Gaulle and George Bernard Shaw. Of the four on-site dining options, Jaan (serving traditional French cuisine) and La Vie (a posh lobby lounge offering afternoon high tea) are the swankiest.

Insider Tip: If you're meeting friends here, receive them in the second-floor drawing room, open to all guests; its decadent décor and spacious balcony make a dazzling first impression.

Room to Book: All south-facing rooms in the main building offer a spectacular view of Chang An Avenue, the main east-west thoroughfare that leads to Tiananmen Square.

Ritz-Carlton, Financial Street, Beijing

One of the Ritz-Carlton's new-look hotels, this funky, modern Financial Street outpost bears no traces of the chain's signature country-estate grandeur. Instead, an airy, clean-lined aesthetic prevails, lending the 253 guest rooms and suites an almost W-esque feel, with muted color schemes of cream and dove gray, angular light fixtures, bold black-and-white wall photographs, and gleaming marble-and-chrome baths. Clever design touches abound: the Chinese character for "comfort" is embroidered on the crisp white duvets; remote-controls for the flat-screen TV's are housed inside miniature cheongsam-style dresses; and each room's entryway is decorated with glass animal sculptures — bats, horses, ducks, and the mythical bixies — to ensure good feng shui. The hotel's common areas are equally cool; in the lobby lounge, walls are adorned with 60,000 sculpted resin bamboo leaves, as well as specially commissioned paintings by famous local artist Bo Yun. And the enormous indoor pool (part of a 15,000-square-foot spa complex) has a giant movie screen at one end where classic black-and-white movies are shown.

Insider Tip: Take afternoon tea in the lobby lounge, where 88 different brews are offered. (Our pick: green Longjing tea from the lake city of Hangzhou, long favored by Chinese leaders and visiting heads of state.)

Room to Book: Eastern-facing corner suites have views over the Forbidden City rooftops.

St. Regis

Beijing's toniest hotel became even tonier in 2008, thanks to a $27 million refurbishment. Although the property had already cocooned guests in sumptuous colonial style (with glittering chandeliers, gleaming wood, potted palms, and an army of staffers jumping to attend to every request), the new renovations by New York–based Alexandra Champalimaud & Associates have upped the luxury factor even more. Now many of St.Regis' 156 guest rooms and 102 suites have plush fabrics in tones of copper and gold, lacquered wood cabinetry, large flat-screen TV's (in the marble bathrooms as well as the bedrooms), personal DVD players, and Japanese bidet-style toilets. Little perks like complimentary clothes-pressing upon arrival, fresh flowers in every room, and the signature St. Regis round-the-clock butler service make even standard-room guests feel like VIP's. The hotel's common areas include an immaculate 24-hour fitness center, a stunning glass-enclosed indoor swimming pool, an eight-lane bowling alley, a spa, and even a rooftop putting range for golf-lovers.

Insider Tip: The hotel's myriad dining and drinking options could keep a foodie happy for a week; but Westerners who like brunch should definitely make a point of hitting the Garden Court on Sunday morning.

Room to Book: East-facing rooms have a view toward lovely Ritan Park. Unit 1808, a Diplomat Deluxe guest room, also allows a glimpse of the striking new CCTV Tower.

The Peninsula

The opulence that greeted guests when the Pen opened almost two decades ago — the sweeping Busby Berkeley–style marble staircase and luxury boutiques — still exists, but a 2004 renovation brought a sleek modernity to all 525 of its rooms. The spiffed-up guest quarters are now sleekly modern, with cream-upholstered pine and mahogany furnishings, and lots of high-tech extras: 42-inch plasma-screen TV's, Wi-Fi, and touch-screen temperature and lighting controls. The hotel's guests, too, have evolved; alongside the well-heeled foreign guests are an increasing number of stylishly dressed Beijingers who toss their Porsche keys to the doormen before gliding off for cocktails or afternoon tea. The hotel is set right in the luxury-shopping enclave of Wangfujing, with a plethora of treatments at the ESPA spa waiting for you on your return.

Insider Tip: To erase any lingering jet lag, try the ESPA's Freedom of Life–Oriental Life Dance treatment, which includes a fresh ginger foot buff, an Indian scalp massage, and a hot-stone body massage.

Room to Book: Duplexes are rare in Beijing hotels, and the Peninsula's are top-notch. Suite 1448 has especially pretty city views north toward Jingshan Park.