Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

Four Seasons Hotel

Brand new in 2005, this 399-room waterfront property has a gargantuan, decadent spa (try a ginger-lemongrass soak to ease your jet lag), and spacious rooms and suites (the smallest of which are about 500 square feet). Room décor tends toward clean-lined, modern minimalism, with Asian-infused touches like lacquered-wood tables and silk cushions and throws in some of the rooms. All have 42-inch plasma-screen TV's, and luxurious bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and walk-in showers with rainfall showerheads. Of the on-site dining options, two are excellent: Lung King Heen, serving innovative Cantonese cuisine, and the elegant Japanese Inagiku, where chef Shinji Morihara prepares some of the city's finest kaiseki and teppanyaki . One of the property's real showstoppers is the rooftop deck, where twin swimming pools overlook the harbor.

Insider Tip: If traveling light, take the airport express train, which is a 24-minute whiz to downtown, as opposed to an hour by limo or taxi. The station is a five-minute, escalator-assisted walk from the hotel lobby.

Room to Book: Harbor-view rooms, as opposed to city-facing options (the latter looks over lots of skyscrapers — not such a novelty if you've come from New York or Chicago).

Island Shangri-La

One of three hotels attached to the posh Pacific Place shopping mall (on the edge of Central where it segues into Wan Chai), the soaring, 56-story Shangri-La has the city's highest-altitude lodgings. Most of the 565 spacious rooms, spread between the 39th-55th floors, have enormous windows that capitalize on the views over the Victoria Harbour and the Kowloon skyline beyond; all are outfitted with elegant mahogany furniture, crystal chandeliers, lacquered Chinese cabinets concealing flat-screen TVs, and silky fabrics in tones of cream, gold, and burnt orange. The marble baths have bidets, magnifying mirrors, and scales (best avoided after indulging in chef Frederic Chabbert's fabulous French cuisine at the top-floor Restaurant Petrus). Business travelers can take advantage of the free hourly shuttle between the hotel and the nearby Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre; hedonists will appreciate the plant-surrounded, 28-meter outdoor pool (heated during the winter) — and, of course, the ritzy shops just an elevator ride away. The extremely solicitous staffers, trained by the U.K. Guild of Professional English Butlers, jump through hoops to cater to guests' whims.

Insider Tip: The 16-story silk mural in the lobby atrium — titled The Great Motherland of China — is the largest Chinese landscape painting in the world.

Room to Book: Room numbers ending in 01 through 16 on floors 48-55 overlook the harbor.

Mandarin Oriental

A stem-to-stern renovation completed in 2006 (to the tune of $150 million) renewed the luster of this legendary property — a decades-long favorite of visiting dignitaries like Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger. Many of the 502 rooms have been enlarged (by enclosing the balconies in glass); high-tech amenities like iPod docking stations, Wi-Fi, and touch-screen lighting and temperature control have also been added. The décor's been updated, too, with plush velvety fabrics, wood wall panels, and colorfully glazed Asian ceramics. Though there's a spa on three floors with Chinese herbal steam rooms, bathing beauties may be perfectly content to languish in their own airy marble bathrooms, kitted out with Hermès toiletries. The real choice comes in the form of 10 different restaurants and bars. Our favorites: Man Wah , with its classic Cantonese cuisine, and the sophisticated French-influenced Pierre, helmed by chef Pierre Gagnaire.

Insider Tip: Gents should absolutely pop into the old-fashioned barbershop for a wet shave using badger-hair brushes.

Room to Book: Anything above the ninth floor that faces north will give you fabulous views across Victoria Harbour to the mountains of Kowloon. For a splurge, book the bold, mod, red-white-and-black Lichfield suite, named after the royal photographer who shot both Princess Diana's wedding photos and the Mandarin Oriental's "I'm a fan" celebrity ad campaign.

The Langham Hotel

Italianate grandeur is the aesthetic of choice at this Kowloon property, set a few blocks away from the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront (with its Star Ferry dock and hulking Harbour Plaza shopping center). The lobby is over-the-top ornate, with a high domed ceiling, Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, and inlaid marble floors that evoke a luxe Tuscan estate. Of the 495 rooms, the 270 Grand Rooms have been gorgeously and recently renovated, with leather-paneled walls and vintage black-and-white phtography; slick glass, chrome, and cherry wood furniture; and opulent baths with deep soaking tubs, elegant wall sconces, and piles of fluffy white towels. All have bedside controls for lights, temperature, drapes, and door chimes (the last can be disabled with a "Do Not Disturb" switch). There's a state-of-the-art fitness center, open around the clock, and a lovely rooftop pool, surrounded by mosaic tile and flowering bougainvillea (very popular during warm weather months — plan to stake out your chaise lounge early).

Insider Tip: Splurge on a dinner of Cantonese crab at the lavish onsite T'ang Court restaurant.

Room to Book: As usual, rooms on the Langham Club floors (11-16) include lots of bells and whistles, like breakfast and cocktails in the private club lounge, free limo transport to and from the airport, and access to a private boardroom for business meetings.

The Peninsula

Since 1928, this Hong Kong institution has defined the luxury hotel experience, and although certain kinds of travelers (especially lovers of sleek, high-tech minimalism) may find the Peninsula too old-world, there's no denying it's a serious class act. The fleet of 14 customized Rolls-Royce limousines is just the first clue to the hotel's glamour factor; then there's the lobby, where the bellboys sport immaculate white pillbox hats and uniforms, a string quartet plays classical music, and a queue forms daily to partake of the afternoon high tea. A grand staircase leads to the mezzanine level, and tucked-away elevators whisk guests to the 300 guest rooms — all decorated in formal English-country-manor style, with gleaming dark wood furniture, brocade fabrics, and Chinese ceramics and wall art. On the top floor is the Philippe Starck-designed Felix restaurant, which still packs them in more than a decade after its opening; here, captains of industry can be found tucking into Tasmanian salmon and Boston lobster.

Insider Tip: Ask barman Johnny Chung at The Bar how Clark Gable showed him how to mix a screwdriver back in 1953, when he was filming Soldier of Fortune (after mistakenly thinking the movie star was in need of the Phillips-head variety).

Room to Book: A corner suite, where you can drink in the sheer-glass view of Victoria Harbour from your soaking tub. If money's no object, go for the renowned Marco Polo suite on the sixth floor — which comes with its own Rolls-Royce Phantom and driver.