The way we holiday has massively changed over the years, resulting in more people not purely looking to sit on a beach with a book for a week, nor looking to constantly be on their feet, exploring a new city, cuisine and culture. Prior to the pandemic our travels took us to the city of Shanghai – one of Asia’s most vibrant and exciting spots.
Shanghai, which literally translates to mean ‘City on the Sea’, this massive metropolis has many sides to its multifaceted personality. Having been a small fishing village until 1842, Shanghai is now China’s most cosmopolitan city, home to some 25 million people (and growing!) people, apparently including 160,000 millionaires and a couple of dozen billionaires. The beating heart of the Eastern state, Shanghai is a playground for everyone – from big business and flash brands to wheeler dealers, tourists and small shop owners, you can find every walk of life here. With so much to be explored, it’s important to spread out your stay in Shanghai, giving yourself an opportunity to immerse in the hustle and bustle, as well as the culture and heritage.
Our favourite area is Downtown – with its quiet tree-lined avenues, the area is home to some of Shanghai’s coolest art galleries, stylish shops and artsy cafes. Situated in Downtown Shanghai without being far from the hustle and bustle of the Bund and beyond, The Middle House Hotel is our favourite hip hideaway. Located in the bustling Jing’an District of Shanghai and the city’s trendy Nanjing West Road, The Middle House is the newest addition to Swire Hotels’ renowned The House Collective, offering 111 luxuriously designed guest rooms and 102 serviced residences. Enlisting Italian designer and architect Piero Lissoni to bring his signature mix of bold lines and clean silhouettes into every detail; The Middle House offers many unique features – from the excellently executed dining options and the expansive terrace at Café Gray to the tranquil swimming pool and fantastic staff, the hotel has it all.
All rooms have the same chic yet serene palette, fitted with the latest amenities, swish bathrooms and ample light. Our favourite, the Studio 90, also offers amazing 180-degree views of the city. The oval bathtub, Bamford amenities, Native Union x La Boite Bluetooth speakers and walk-in wardrobe are also highlights. Fitness fans can take advantage of the in-room Lululemon yoga matts, whilst business individuals can make use of the excellent wifi connection and complimentary in-room Maxi Bar.
The two towers have been designed to blend two cultures and styles and Piero has seamlessly fused Chinese and European together, choosing the best of both cultures. The approach extends to the three eateries too: there’s a raved-about Chinese restaurant, an Italian and an international all-day café, serving signatures from around the globe. The newly opened Chinese, suitable named Sui Tang Li is the shining star of The Middle House’s roster, providing a cozy and intimate dining space. The interior design interprets traditional Chinese elements with a simplistic modern take, featuring a screen wall inlaid with green glazed tiles, paired with an amber-coloured glass show kitchen, creating a sophisticated yet unpretentious ambience. The menu is composed of creative and stylishly presented Chinese dishes influenced by Shanghainese, Sichuan and Cantonese cuisines. Think small bites that are big on flavour and satisfaction, suitable for sharing at a casual weekday lunch or dinner. The spicy shrimp wonton were a solid 10 whilst the tofu, mushroom and prawn wraps offered the very best sort of surprise. Breakfast at the Hong Kong hotspot, Café Gray Deluxe Shanghai is also a delight. It’s the perfect spot to grab breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. In between meals, enjoy a light bite in the bar and lounge, or a sunset cocktail on the spacious terrace which overlooks the fashionable Nanjing West Road vicinity – what’s more, it offers 50% off bubbles between 5pm and 8pm daily. One of my favourite elements of The Middle House however was the MI XUN spa – the perfect antidote to chaotic city life. Spread through 2,600 sqm, here you will find an energising array of features, from the heated indoor swimming pool to 24-hour gym facilities, wellness studio and spa treatments. Founded by Laurent Boillot, President and CEO of Guerlain and developed by LVMH Research in France, MI XUN at The Middle House is the first hotel spa in China to offer the boutique CHA LING treatments, focusing on skincare treatments using combined techniques of traditional Chinese medicine to re-harmonise energy flows and detoxify the skin. Though the language barrier is very apparent, the skill and care from the therapists were clearly noticed. As if that wasn’t enough to persuade you, the smiling staff are bright and professional, granting every request like a genie with the click of a button.
Although the inner city of Shanghai moves at a frenetic pace, there are still a few places where you can escape the smog and learn something new about Chinese history and culture. Amanyangyun, China’s fourth Aman resort provides a truly luxurious and tranquil escape from the buzz of nearby city life, located just outside of Shanghai’s Downtown district (approx. 1 hour by car).
Steeped in history, Amanyangyun is built from fifty Ming and Qing-dynasty dwellings relocated from China’s Jiangxi province. So much more than a hotel, it’s a feat of architectural and ecological conservation, and a place where remnants of Old China can be seen frozen in time. Here, it’s all about embracing a simple way of life amid ethereal camphor trees, skillfully blended with 21st century comforts like a lakeside farm-to-table Italian restaurant, and a stunning spa and wellness centre. Typical Aman minimalism also abounds in the choice of everything that makes up the hotel, from the building materials that include black stone and Namu wood, to the rooms decorated in a restful, earthy colour palette, the experience is simply one of a kind.
We recommend immersing yourself in all that the property has to offer, from advanced holistic wellness facilities to the Nan Shu Fang cultural complex. Aman Spa, at 2840 sqm is one of the largest in the Aman collection, and the serene space draws its inspiration from the resort’s name ‘Yang Yun’ which means ‘nourishing cloud’. Chose from specially developed spa journeys and treatments that combine the ancient healing practices of traditional Chinese medicine with pioneering 21st century wellbeing technology, allowing for a fully reinvigorating experience. The Nan Shu Fang cultural complex is a spiritual powerhouse and the most architecturally impressive of the antique buildings to have made the journey. A wonderfully zen space, while away the hours here learning, contemplating and practicing traditional Chinese crafts such as calligraphy and tea tasting.
Stunningly modern and simple in their décor, Amanyangyun is home to five restaurants and bars that are reflective of the local environment and culinary concept behind each. Signature restaurant Lazu, is a Chinese that pays homage to the Jiangxi province that was once home to the resort’s camphor tress and antique villas. Serving a combination of traditional dishes typically associated to the region and Cantonese classics, consider sampling from the array of inventive tofu-based dishes that make use of the region’s vast soya plantations.
At Nama, located next to the lake, uncomplicated Japanese dishes using the finest and freshest locally available ingredients fill the menu. The sushi and sashimi are outstanding, and are best when paired with Aman’s own premium sake. Finish your evening with a stop at The Bar, where expertly crafted cocktails can be enjoyed whilst listening to a live jazz soundtrack in front of an antique fireplace.
One of the boldest conservation projects in Chinese history and with all of the luxurious trappings that one would expect at an Aman resort, be sure to add this gem of a soul-easing sanctuary to your Shanghai itinerary.
October 2021 travel update: On March 15, 2021, restrictions were eased for a select number of travelers from 23 countries. All travelers must present two negative tests — PCR and antibody tests — taken within 48 hours of travel.
For the newly qualified entrants, entry depends on having received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines at least 14 days prior to entry. They must apply for a visa in advance, and show their proof of vaccination on arrival, as well as the negative tests.
Life is largely back to normal, but things can change fast in China — regional lockdowns have been imposed every time there are new outbreaks of the virus.