China's Best Boutique Hotels / by Thomas O'Malley

I wrote this piece for the launch issue (December 2012) of Higher View Magazine, for China Eastern Airlines. A year (and a bit) is too long to expect a round-up of China's best boutique hotels to remain the same. For starters, here are two boutique hotels I've discovered since that would certainly have made the cut:

The Temple Hotel, Beijing

I wrote a 'first-look' review of this property here, part luxury heritage hotel, part contemporary art piece, part living archeology. Here's a taste:

"Over 600 years in the making, The Temple Hotel Beijing is at long last rolling out the red welcome mat. A beguiling combination of boutique luxury and ancient temple architecture, is this Beijing’s most exciting hotel opening, like, ever? Read on and find out."

Pig's Heaven Inn, Annhui

Nestled in a heritage village within range of Yellow Mountain, this was a more recently discovery I made when researching the Anhui chapter for the Fodor's 8th Edition China Guidebook. Here's my book entry:

"Wake to the crowing of roosters in this 400-year-old stone house on the fringes of Xidi, a village an hour's drive from Tunxi. Opened by a Shanghai artist who scoured the surrounding villages for curios, it's a rare chance to experience ancient village life—without giving up air-conditioning and Internet access, of course. The staff prepares tasty home-style meals for lunch and dinner using whatever's in season. A driver is on hand for local tours, airport pick-ups, and trips to Huangshan, making this a good base for exploring the area. A second, larger location is a 10-minute drive away."

The other point about the Boutique Hotel article is that only six of the ten venues I wrote up made it into the final piece. So in the interests of posterity and to give those four other venues their dues, here they are:

The Orchid, Beijing

For an upmarket hotel, The Orchid is refreshingly down-to-earth. Billed as a ‘hostel for grown-ups’, communal breakfasts and weekly wine tastings on the garden terrace (free for guests) promote a convivial bonhomie, but you can always retire to the Zen-like surrounds of one of ten guest rooms, furnished with goose-down beds, rainforest showers and Apple TVs, some with cute private gardens and terrace space. The owners are fully clued-up on their thriving hutong neighbourhood, providing killer tips on local restaurants to aid your culinary explorations.

65 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing, Rooms from 700 RMB

Grace Beijing

If contemporary art is your bag, this bijou bolthole sits within Beijing’s 798 Art District, ensconced by world-class galleries, art shops and style-conscious cafes. 30 guest rooms, from boxy singles to spacious suites, come with lofty ceilings, original Bauhaus windows (that open), luxury linen and lots of arty prints. Grace’s trademark service is VIP all the way: champagne at check-in, champagne at breakfast … you’ll do well to stay upright. So line your stomach with some of the terrific modern European fare at Yi House Bistro - they have a great two-course lunch deal, too.

Jiuxianqiao Road, 2 Hao Yuan, 798 Yishu Qu, Beijing, Rooms from 900 RMB

The Brickyard, Beijing

Beyond the chestnut orchards skirting this eco-conscious retreat, the Great Wall crowns the jagged peaks of precipitous mountains. It’s a glorious panorama you’ll rise early for, especially as curtains don’t figure in the Brickyard’s contemporary room design. Fashioned from a derelict glazed tile factory, the former kilns house the reception; nearby 18 newly built glass-fronted guest rooms with outdoor patios line up in awe of the ‘Mutianyu’ section of Wall. Delightfully manicured grounds enclose a pool, spa and al fresco yoga yard; all you need to work off the organic sausages and homemade blueberry muffins at breakfast.

Yingbeigou Village, Huairou District, Beijing, Rooms from 1,200 RMB

Homa Chateau Guilin 

*Since time of writing this place has been taken over by Club Med and it looks pretty impressive*

This glossy design hotel refuses to be outshone by its natural surroundings. The hotel structure juts from the earth like an abstract sculpture, managing to be both harmonious and at odds with the mountainous karst landscape around it. Although some distance from the touristy centres of Guilin and Yangshuo, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied, with pools, guided hikes, boat trips and other excursions. Guests can choose to dine privately and al fresco at a number of lavishly back dropped beauty spots, or even in a candlelit limestone cave. Guest rooms are bulbous and arty, with comfy nooks and confounding angles. It’s all rather special.

Yuzi Paradise, Dabu Town, Yanshan District, Guilin, Guangxi Province, Rooms from 2,000 RMB