“The great advantage of a hotel,” the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once noted wryly, “is that it is a refuge from home life”. And so the best ones are. It’s not that we want in our hearts to escape for good – we always yearn to return to our loved ones, our kids, the dog or cat. We travel, as the saying goes, in hope rather than expectation.
But when we do sally forth, we want to discover a home-from-home at the other end of a long journey. We want a place that is new, but also recognisable and comfortable. We crave a quiet room where we can lie in the blessed cool, on sheets with a high thread-count, and with goose-down pillows. Perhaps a power-shower in the bathroom with a rainfall setting. A lighting system and telephone setup that you don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to understand. A large writing desk, for those on a work trip. And – a personal thing, this – a minibar containing a very cold bottle of Perrier. For me, it’s a care of no Perrier, no deal.
The Mandarin Oriental in the heart of Shanghai’s Pudong district had a minibar that contained a very cold bottle of Perrier. It fact, it held two. It also had all the other accouterments plus – this was a new one for me – a butler’s service, which basically entailed a small closet secreted by the door. As soon as your dry-cleaning or laundry was ensconced inside, a light went off somewhere in the depths of the building. Up trotted a ‘butler’ (perhaps Jeeves himself?) to whisk away the stained and creased attire. It was back, cleaned and ironed, within a few hours.
Shanghai is a tough place to live in, let along work in or visit. It’s like Hong Kong, in that it’s excessively polluted (much like the rest of China) and steamy. When it’s not hot and humid, it’s cold and humid. You’ll probably have travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles to reach the place, so on arrival you’ll be leg- or bone-weary and/or suffering, as I was, from protracted jetlag. It had set in on arrival in Hong Kong a few days before, and I just couldn’t shake it.
So arriving at the hotel was like a dream. Most Mandarin Oriental hotels are distinctive, and this one is no different. This one is unusual, in that it’s a low-rise building set amid a sea of Manhattan-style skyscrapers, many of which disappear entirely from view once the evening sea fogs descend on the city. It’s also relatively hard for taxi drivers to locate, which is something to bear in mind- when you go, make sure to print out the address in Mandarin, or take along a hotel business card bearing the hotel phone number.
Walking in for the first time, I’m greeted by Angela, the beaming hostess in charge of the Club floors, which also grants the nighthawks among us 24-hour access to the Club lounge. Those looking to stay for longer can opt for one of the apartments, which range from studios to family-sized. The larger ones boast three beds, a seating area complete with sofa, a powder room, and a dining area with a table and a kitchenette. Angela guides me to the fifth floor, which boasts a grand view of the Huapu river as it wends its way slowly through Shanghai, conveying flat-bed ships filled with coal and pig iron from the hinterland to the vast Pacific far beyond. It’s a glorious entrance to a great hotel, and very soon – cold Perrier bottle ahoy! – I’m tucking into and enjoying the amenities, luxuriating in the king size bed, the thick carpeting and floor-to-ceiling windows, and making use of the walk-in shower and wardrobes.
Exhausted after a long trip, I order up some room service. Dinner at Fifty 8 Grill, a French fusion restaurant, or Yong Yi Ting, which specialises in southern Chinese Jiang Nan cuisine, followed perhaps by a cocktail at the classical-and-cool Qi Bar, will have to wait a few hours, I decide. The in-room dining options are solid if not spectacular, and I opt for the salmon and steamed vegetables, with a large glass of chilled Italian pinot grigio. Before too long, I’m snoring like a good ‘un, the sound and fury of Shanghai kept hidden by a thick sheet of glass.
Later, I’m woken by the distant sound of a barge out on the Huapu tootling its horn as it navigates through river traffic. Time, my heavy head tells me, for a massage. This is where the Mandarin Oriental Pudong Shanghai really comes into its own. Any hotel can offer spa treatments, but it takes the very best to offer multiple treatments that promise world-class service on a regular basis. I first make use of the wonderful gym, swimming a few lengths in the vast, room-temperature atrium and then spending a hard half-hour on the cycling machine.
A long steam-and-sauna later and I’m ready for my massage. There are so many options, it seems almost cruel to deny yourself any of the others. The anti-pollution treatment is tempting, as is the jetlag massage – but surely, I think, any good treatment worth its name should help expel all of those travel-related narcoleptic demons from my body. In the end, I plump for the Oriental Essence Massage, one of the hotel’s signature spa therapies. With its mixture of soothing scrubs and deep-tissue massage, it has been designed specifically for the stressed and tired traveler. It was one of those massages that I didn’t want to end: 90 minutes later, like a kid on a roller coaster, I just wanted to go around again.
But life isn’t made that way. So, with a long, last lingering look at the massage table, I tore myself away from the spa room, showered and dragged myself off for a glass of wine at the Qi Bar. Much later on, with sleep final setting in and the jetlag demons exorcised, I rang down from my room and organised a second massage for the following day. That’s what Mandarin Oriental hotels like the one in Shanghai Pudong do you to you: they always leave you wanting more.