From ancient towns to futuristic cities

A vast country with a long history, China is a land of contrasts. Megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai are constantly moving towards the future. Yet among the skyscrapers stand imperial (and everyday) landmarks from centuries ago. And out in the countryside, many age-old traditions continue, seemingly untouched by time. So will it be neon lights, or paper lanterns? Fast-flowing streets or tranquil canals? From our boutique hotels, China past and present is yours to discover.

BEIJING

Beijing has been the beating heart of China for almost a thousand years. In fact, the Forbidden City at its core was believed to be the centre of the universe in ancient Chinese thought. The magnificent former home to the emperor and his court still astounds today – but our hotel nearby has rather more humble origins…

North of the City’s walls, the grand boulevards give way to narrow lanes lined with grey-stone, tile-topped walls. These are the hutongs – a historic district where many traditional courtyard houses still stand. Artisans and merchants once dwelled here, and local Beijingers see the hutongs as symbols of down-to-earth life and culture. And at Cours et Pavilions, you can stay in a courtyard house that’s been given a luxury update.

Building the future

The Temple of the Sun in Chaoyang district is the picture of a traditional place of worship, with grand gateways, peaceful lakes and gardens and towering pagodas. Yet beyond it, the skyline rises and the pace of life speeds up. Chaoyang is somewhere to shop by day and party by night – and take in some of the city’s cutting-edge culture. Don’t miss 798 Art Zone, a series of former 1950s factories turned cavernous gallery spaces.

Chaoyang is also home to inventive architecture, such as the glass pyramid Parkview Green, which houses a designer mall and art centre. When you’re laden down with shopping bags, simply zip up to Hotel Eclat Beijing, a sleek retreat set in the heights of the development.

Hotel Eclat Beijing, China

FUJIAN PROVINCE

Fujian in southeast China is a hive of traditional culture. Mountains separate local districts, meaning everything from the food and language to music can differ over surprisingly short distances.

If there’s one thing that brings the province together, it’s tea. Fujian is where many famous tea varieties were first grown, processed and brewed. Anxi, a Fujian county of endless green terraces and natural hot springs, lays claim to being China’s tea capital, and is where one of the country’s top 10 teas, Tieguanyin, is produced. Experience an authentic tea ceremony (or even bathe in energising green tea leaves) at Elite Spring Villas, a boutique resort built around a zen concept.

SHANGHAI AND AROUND

With its soaring skyline and 24-hour lifestyle, Shanghai is China at its most thrilling, frenetic and futuristic. Yet it’s also somewhere that conjures up the glamour and mystique of times past – not least because of its striking collection of art deco buildings.

Unsurprisingly, Shanghai’s appetite for growth is making it a must-visit luxury destination. The centre now hosts a sparkling collection of Michelin-starred restaurants. Chief among them with three stars is T’ang Court, which puts a gourmet twist on traditional Cantonese dishes and dim sum. As you explore this part of Shanghai, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself on Nanjing Road (West) – the city’s main thoroughfare and shopping hotspot. New designer malls are springing up here, including the HKRI – which will also include a luxury design hotel, The Sukhothai Shanghai.

A glimpse of the past

Zhenze Waterside House Hotel, China

Some of the most popular day trips from Shanghai are to visit the ancient water towns that surround it. With historic houses built right to the water’s edge and high, arching bridges, they seem like brush paintings brought to life. Some, such as picturesque Zhouzhuang, have become very crowded with visitors. So to appreciate these historic towns in all the glory, it pays to go off the beaten track, and take your time. For example in Zhenze, you can stay in the peaceful Zhenze Waterside House Hotel, which pairs Shanghai art deco interiors with cultural experiences that open up the history of the 900-year-old town. Take tours of the waterways and Buddhist temples. Then enjoy a home-cooked meal accompanied by a performance of Pingtan poetry – an art form that dates back hundreds of years.