A calming Hangzhou hideaway
The Azure Qiantang, A Luxury Collection Hotel makes its intentions clear from the moment you enter the bright and breezy lobby: You are not going to worry about a thing.
Despite a bustling, central location in an emerging part of town, a wonderful sense of calm pervades the property. Luggage whisked efficiently away, you can enjoy the hotel’s grandeur. Cathedral ceilings painted in the hotel’s namesake azure are complemented by copious natural light setting off a careful selection of Chinese ceramics, for which the region is known.
If any destination is deserving of grand statements, it is surely Hangzhou. This is, after all, the city for which none other than Marco Polo had the highest of praise, declaring it “the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.”
Indeed Hangzhou is a city with an undeniable heritage — a home of emperors, not to mention some of the nation’s most revered artists, poets and merchants. It’s a heady combination that Hangzhou has retained to this day — the county’s most prestigious art school is located here as are some of its most dynamic modern companies.
Peer into the cozy lobby lounge to find the sophisticated local highflyers enjoying a sumptuous high tea. Indeed, we’re told that tech giant Alibaba’s CEO, Jack Ma, one of the nation’s most admired entrepreneurs and a son of the city, owns the luxury apartment block next door and is an occasional visitor.
The Zen-like ambiance is echoed in the guest rooms, where the minimalist feel is brought alive by vivid splashes of blue. Gaze out of the floor-to-ceiling windows and the thinking behind the hotel’s name and color scheme immediately click — a vast expanse Hangzhou’s mighty Qiantang River stretches into the distance.
Those looking to enhance the stay should consider one of the lovely Signature Suites that not only boast more than 1,000 square foot of space but also some of the luxury hotel’s best views. Still, there is plenty to draw you away from the windows — the marble-clad bathrooms with generous, standalone tubs surely provide the ultimate conclusion to any long day of meetings.
The in-room espresso makers are a nice touch, but given that you are just minutes away from one of the world’s most famous green tea plantations, Hangzhou’s celebrated Longjing, imbibing anything other than the native drink of choice seems downright criminal.
Feeling peckish? Two delicious but distinct venues provide a conundrum. Those looking to embrace local cuisine should head to Lan Ting on the 23rd floor, where elegant Art Deco touches lend the dining rooms a refined feel. Hangzhou cuisine it renowned for its use of fresh ingredients and there are few better restaurants in which to sample it.
Don’t forget to order the Longjing xiaren, a most delicious example of culinary minimalism in which fresh shrimp are simply sautéed in the local green tea leaved to devastating effect. As you’d expect in such a location, the list of fine teas on offer to diners is just as comprehensive as the selection of imported fine wines.
Those looking for a more international menu should head instead to Panorama on the 22nd floor, where a range of dishes from across the globe awaits. One especially alluring feature is the outdoor terrace overlooking the river.
If there was ever a prime spot from which to enjoy one of Hangzhou’s quirkiest sites this is it: A monthly tidal bore, said to be the largest in the world, sweeps along the Qiantang River. Certainly the spectacle is enjoyed better from this vantage point, cocktail in hand, than from that of the brave few who have taken on this naturally occurring wave on a surfboard.
If you find placid waters more inviting than a dip in the hotel’s palatial pool is likely to be a hit, with its garden views and adjacent whirlpool. Pair a swim here with a vigorous workout with the best hotel fitness room in any Hangzhou hotel, and you may just work up the energy required to leave this cocoon and reenter the modern metropolis on your doorstep.
While Marco Polo’s Hangzhou was undoubtedly as magnificent as he implied, we can’t help but feel he might have been equally impressed by its modern-day incarnation.