Shanghai is mainland China’s most cosmopolitan city and during the month of June the International Film Festival, which started June 15 and runs through June 23, adds an extra element of excitement to the area with events that engage the film-loving public. As the Eastern financial center's cultural offerings and luxurious hospitality options grow, the tree-lined streets of the French concession and the bustling water-walk known as the Bund with its celebrity chef restaurants, luxury hotels and revitalized Art Deco facades and the artisanal shops that weave through its alleyways provide a surprise around every corner.
However, there are a few things that are certain: Shanghai is huge, the traffic is intense and the humidity is sweltering, so come well prepared for weather and conditions of all kinds. Choose a hotel wisely, as service varies greatly. Rely on the concierge as a passport to the city and to provide taxi instructions written in Mandarin, and watch out for soon-to-be married couples posing for wedding photos in the streetscapes, donning elaborate sequined tuxedos and red gowns -- a practice that is especially popular around the Bund this time of year.
While in town for the festival, check out these seven things..
Stay at The Peninsula
There is no better introduction to Shanghai than being picked up at Pudong International Airport in a Wi-Fi and VOIP-enabled custom Rolls Royce Phantom, a service that is available to all guests of The Peninsula. The personalized attention offered from there on is unparalleled. General manager Joseph W.Y. Chong sets the elegant vibe for the entire staff, which at every turn makes you feel as if you are truly home away from home. The hotel opened in 2009 and was the first new construction on the Bund in more than 50 years.
The hotel's culinary finery starts with breakfast -- a small but varied menu with an interesting selection of both Western and Eastern favorites. Try the Shanghai crepe for a real treat of roasted duck wrapped in a light blanket of egg. After a long day of meetings, head up to Sir Elly’s Terrace for a cocktail and a magnificent view of the harbor. When its time for dinner, take the modern French route at Sir Elly’s dining room (favorites include cold crab ravioli and Wagyu beef with mushrooms and bone marrow) or stroll down the traditional Cantonese path at Yi Long Court, where Chef Dicky To impressively caters to a packed main dining room and six private dining suites with specialty dishes such as black cod sliced with bacon and coddled winter melon stuffed with Jin Hue ham. When you're done with dinner but not ready to stop imbibing, descend to Salon de Ning, a cocktail bar with four “salons” that invites you to see how an Shanghainese lady of the ’20s and ’30s might have lived. There’s even one room that is completely upside down. And even better, a snarling King Kong guards the door, as a band takes requests 'til the wee hours. That is a day well spent at The Peninsula.
On May 25, The Peninsula Shanghai unveiled a special short film directed by Jean-Claude Thibaut and Antony Crook and produced by Ridley Scott. This project is part of the “Peninsula Moments” global brand campaign, where one short film per property is released each month. A collection of still and moving photography, the film tells the story of the destination and the special memories created by those who work there. One such experience the staff has been known to arrange for VIP guests is a walking tour of the Bund and beyond with historian Peter Hibbard, the author of “Beyond Hospitality, the History of the Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited,” which tells the story of the brand from its first hotel, the Astor House in Shanghai in the 1850s. Homecoming indeed. (32 Zhongshan East1st Rd., Huangpu; peninsula.com.)
Buy shoes from Suzhou Cobblers
It is well known that any type of luxury item can be found in Shanghai, whether real or fake. The Chinese counterfeit market thrives as a response to a 15 percent sales tax on all store-bought goods. There is an up-and-coming group of Chinese designers crafting and selling innovative hand-made clothing and accessories from small storefronts around the Bund. Meet Huang Mengqi -- "Denise" to her friends -- who in 1998 couldn’t find a quality pair of Chinese slippers, like the kind her grandmother wore, so she decided to make them herself. The all-silk shoes come in two styles (flats and heels) and are hand-sewn. Style names reflect the playful mood of the brand: Mandarin Duck, Green Tea, Calligraphy, Good Morning, Plum Flower and Propaganda. Denise also makes bags and other small goods. Custom orders available. (17 Fuzhou Rd., Huangpu; suzhou-cobblers.com.)
Meet Sandy Yoon
Inside the kitchen at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Mercato (his only Italian concept), located near the Bund and a multilevel dining, nightlife, shopping and cultural destination, chef Sandy Yoon takes charge. At 26 years old, the Virginia native is one of a handful of females at the helm of fine-dining restaurants in Shanghai. At Mercato, the wood-burning pizza oven stands front and center, complemented by craft cocktails including an interesting list of infused champagnes. The spicy salami, broccolini and house-made ricotta pizza is just about the tastiest thing ever made. All the cheese at Mercato (with the exception of the ricotta) is sourced from a local, Korean-born cheesemonger. If you aren’t in the mood to eat at one of TOTB’s nine dining and bar concepts, shop off the hunger at the MCM boutique on the ground level or peruse the latest exhibition at the Shanghai Gallery of Art, also located on the third level. (3 Zhongshan East 1st Rd., Huangpu; threeonthebund.com.)
Go Super Modern
In contrast to the 1920s and ’30s-era buildings on the Bund, Shanghai is a city with an eccentrically modern slant. The Maglev train is the fastest in the world, accelerating to speeds of 268 mph (smtdc.com/en/). The Waterhouse at South Bund is a boutique hotel in an abandoned waterfront building reinterpreting a cave into a minimalist’s dream, designed by star Shanghainese architects Neri & Hu (1-3 Maojiayuan Rd., Huangpu; waterhouseshanghai.com). And French “madman” chef Paul Pairet uses restaurants Ultraviolet (an immerse and interactive dining experience with a six month waiting list for one of 10 seats; 18 The Bund, Shanghai 200070; uvbypp.cc) and Mr & Mrs Bund (18 Zhongshan East 1st Rd., Huangpu; mmbund.com) to shock-and-awe foodies from around the world. His aromatic citrus shrimp in a jar is one stand-out on a menu that can only be described as an epic culinary tome. For thoroughly modern visuals, visit Rockbund, a museum with an ever-changing exhibition space, introducing Shanghai to the best contemporary pieces from around the world, located just behind The Peninsula Hotel (20 Huqiu Rd., Huangpu; rockbundartmuseum.org).
Drink Some Tea … or Something Stronger
Whether it's tea time or cocktail time, its always one or the other in Shanghai. Spend the day exploring the former French Concession. Get lost in its narrow streets, observing the grandiose architecture of the bygone era when Shanghai was an enclave for wealthy British, French and American dignitaries. Preserving this heritage is Song Fang Maison de The (19 Fuzhou Ln.,Shanghai, 200002; songfangtea.com), whose proprietor Florence Samson shares her passion for tea and Chinese culture at this shop and lounge. There are hundreds of types to enjoy, and all are served from a signature blue tea set, guarded by a Chinoiserie mitt to preserve the heat. When it's cocktail time, head to the Waldorf Astoria (88 Sichuan Middle Rd., Huangpu) and light up a cigar at its infamous Long Bar. Formerly known as the Shanghai Club and dating back to 1910, the building that now holds Asia’s first Waldorf Astoria hotel was also home to an elaborate 111-foot long bar. Today, the hotel group has recreated the elegance of the era when Shanghai was known as the Paris of the East with a bar and lounge that is an ideal place to close a big deal.
Get a Spa Treatment at the newly opened Mandarin Oriental Pudong
Located across the river and 10 minutes by car from the Bund, the Mandarin Oriental (its second hotel in China) is positioned in the city’s financial district, next to Shanghai’s most prominent landmark, the Oriental Pearl tower. The hotel is most significant for four reasons. It is the first in the fleet to unveil the Mandarin Oriental Club Lounge, which provides guests with services like private check-in, butler service, dedicated concierge service and round-the-clock refreshments. Next, it has an extensive art collection of more than 4,000 pieces curated by the Art Front Gallery. Following that, it has the largest and most expensive Presidential Suite in Shanghai, measuring 788 meters, and every room, from standard to deluxe to the 210 executive apartments, has the most advanced technology that can be found in a hotel today. And finally, its state-of-the-art spa has 13 treatment rooms, each offering a steam shower and relaxation zone. After being pampered, cuddle up in a fortune cookie-shaped pillow in the co-ed tea room while sipping a ginger-infused elixir. Later on indulge in one of six dining and lounge concepts, including Richard Ekkebus’ Fifty 8-degree grill and native-son Tony Lu’s restaurant Yong Yi Ting, which embraces Shangainese culinary style. This is a much different experience than you will find on the Bund but an enjoyable respite from its frenetic pace. (111 Pudong South Rd., Pudong; mandarinoriental.com.)
Take a break at the Amanfayun in Hangzhou
A 45-minute jaunt from Shanghai’s Hongqiao train station transports travelers a universe away, culturally. One of two Aman resorts in China, the Amanfayun is located adjacent to the Lingyin (with the largest wooden Buddha statute on the mainland) and Yongfu temples in Hangzhou, one of the seven ancient capitals of China. Each of the 47 dwellings within Amanfayun is different and great care was taken to maintain the architectural integrity of a traditional Chinese village, while elevating it to the height of luxury. Hike around the property and encounter a hidden garden of Buddhas elaborately carved into rock, dating back hundreds of years. After working up an appetite, choose from one of five restaurants: the Steam House serves up traditional dim sum; the Hangzhou House gives a taste of the local cuisine; the Western Restaurant brings you back to meat and potatoes; the Tea House offers a tasting menu that changes daily (channeling regional roots, as its known for its tea fields); and the Vegetarian House features local monks cooking an ever-changing exotic all-vegetarian menu. Beyond the dining options, the spa is also divided into different experiences. All guests are invited to use the pool and gym facilities and to take part in a traditional Chinese water ritual in the bathhouse. As part of the spa services, there is a reflexology lounge that wipes away all the cares of the big city and offers a varied list of other Eastern treatments. (22 Fayun Lane, West Lake Street, Hangzhou; amanresorts.com.)