Shanghai captures the imagination of many visitors looking for a sense of its Jazz Age history through heritage buildings. In recent decades, the city’s ubiquitous shikumen style lane houses have been ruthlessly bulldozed and now only the French Concession district retains a significant amount of historical Shanghainese buildings sadly. It’s been easy for years to find high end dining in early twentieth century Shanghainese buildings, like the excellent Fu 1051. But there has been little on offer when it comes to somewhere to sleep. Some offer accommodation but there has been a gap in the market for a high end shikumen experience. The recently opened Capella outpost in the French Concession does a wonderful job of filling that gap.
Capella Shanghai, Jian Ye Li
Address: 480 West Jianguo Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai 200031.
Phone: +86 (0)21 5466 6688
The hotel concept is a sort of home from home. Based in a series of 1930s shikumen built by La Compagne Foncière et Immobiliere de Chine, spread over several contiguous lanes, each hotel accommodation is in fact its own terraced red brick house. The complete Jian Ye Li estate features twenty two rows of shikumen lanes.
There are a couple of nods to modernity, such as electronic keycards. But the overall effect is indeed of being in an old school lane house, fortunately with better insulation and heating.
The hotel features one-, two- and three-bedroom villas. In the one-room villa in which I stayed (207), a traditional wooden door opened onto a small courtyard with a fruit tree, table and chair. That led into a spacious lounge area, including a desk and comfortable seats.
At the back off the stairs was a toilet, conveniently separate to the main bathroom. A central staircase wound up the centre of the house. Half a floor up was the bedroom and closet, followed further up by a lounging room with television and free minibar.
The bathroom was on the next level up.
Up a steep set of stairs at the top was a rooftop again with outdoor seating.
The bed was very comfortable and afforded a beautiful night’s sleep.
The bathroom comes with Acqua di Parma toiletries, and was comfortable enough though felt a little more modern in style than the rest of the accommodation. A nice touch in the bedroom was a tub of traditional Shanghainese snow cream moisturiser. Elsewhere, there were nods to the Shanghainese and French components of the building’s heritage, from White Rabbit candies to Parisian photography.
The interior décor of the villas and also the public areas of the hotels has nods to Shanghai but it feels a little more south east Asian in tone than purely Chinese. That lends a welcome soft warmth throughout, especially in the lounge and bedroom. The villa, as in the wider hotel, had an abundant amount of fresh flowers. This helped to create a fresh, refined feeling.
The hotel boasts the first restaurant in the mainland by French chef Pierre Gagnaire, with an adjacent bar. The Gagnaire connection extends to a separate bakery at street level.
The restaurant is still gearing up to some extent, though my breakfast there was delicious. A simple but well-curated offering of buffet items included French cheeses, hams and indeed champagne.
The a la carte menu included both European, Chinese and other Asian options. Meanwhile, the bar area has a very pleasing feel combining the warmth of pre-war Shanghainese styling with a contemporary sensibility.
The restaurant has an airy, cosy feeling with spacious eaves adding to its pleasant aesthetic.
The structure of the hotel means that there are a limited number of common areas, although as many guests would probably spend their time in their villa as a sort of private home for a day that may be fine. In the lobby building there is a library area, with refreshments, reading materials and a very small business centre.
There is also a spa and a fitness centre.
The hotel is centrally located for the French concession, but because of its semi-secluded nature as a standalone set of lanes, it feels quiet and calm compared to the bustle of Shanghai outside.
Before arrival, a concierge contacts guests to ask if they have specific requests. Overall, during my stay at least, I found the service to be thoughtful but discreet.
The hotel offers villas for short stays, such as I had. It also offers houses especially for longer term stays, which may suit executives or other people visiting Shanghai for weeks or months at a time and looking for a well-curated interpretation of classical Shanghai without its inconveniences.
This is a beautiful reimagining of Shanghainese shikumen living which allows one to experience lane style living in stylish luxury. The price is pitched at a luxury level, but it is certainly a lovely place to stay. It would also make a striking place to have a meeting or event.
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Capella Shanghai provided the room during this stay. All content and opinions expressed are true and original to the author.