The lowdown The reception of the Shangri-La’s grandly named China World Summit Wing is suitably plush, but it's the view that'll really knock your socks off. On the 64th floor of the 330-metre high China World Tower, a lift whisks you up there so fast you don't notice you’ve arrived until your ears pop. By the check-in desk, floor-to-ceiling glass windows give panoramic views of the Beijing skyline. It’s so high that hundreds of feet below the bumper-to-bumper traffic along the Jianguomen highway looks like a trail of tiny mechanical ants, and when the city is wrapped in a blanket of smog, neighbouring skyscrapers loom out through the haze like urban mountain peaks. The hotel even casts Beijing’s iconic CCTV building (or 'the trousers' as locals call it) into shadow. Stacked up above the reception are 16 floors of rooms, on top of which lie a further two floors of luxurious spa, gym and a VERY swish indoor infinity pool. On the 80th floor is the hotel’s bar and Beijing hotspot, Atmosphere, where you can sip a raspberry cosmopolitan (recommended), cast your gaze out over the lit-up city and pretend you're a Bond villain. Little wonder the hotel attracts some real-life power players. At the time of our stay the Latvian Prime Minister was upstairs in the mahogany-lined, bullet proof Presidential Suite.
The rooms You can normally tell the difference between a good hotel and a very good hotel by how carefully thought-out the rooms are. This one scores top marks for thinking of absolutely everything. From the TV screen behind your bathroom mirror (so you won't miss a second of a show even while brushing your teeth) to the hold-alls in your wardrobe if you fancy a trip to the pool but don't want to take your wheelie suitcase/handbag. There's even a fully stocked stationery drawer in case you need to knock together a last minute presentation. Despite the fact that you're in a high rise, the shape of the rooms mean they don't feel identikit and boxy - plus nothing beats waking up, pushing a button by your bed and watching the electric blinds slowly wind up to reveal that breathtaking view.
Eating and drinking The main hotel restaurant, Grill 79, does experimental Western cuisine - think melt in your mouth Wagyu beef and popcorn crème brulée - but obviously it'd be criminal not to try something a little more local. On the first leg of our trip at the Shangri-La Hotel in Xi’an (more on that later), we were treated to a traditional Chinese breakfast: peanut soup, chilli noodles, a rice-based porridge called Congee and carrot juice (a small shock to the system at 8am) as well as dinner at the Tian Xiang Ge restaurant, with a specially prepared menu of local dishes, featuring plenty of thick delicious soups and white fish. If you fancy dumplings, you can pop out to Defechang - one of the best dumpling houses in the region - and the hotel also boasts an excellent Thai restaurant, Siam Garden Terrace.
Out and about in Beijing, we stopped off at the brand new Lost Heaven (23 Qian Men Dong Da Jie; tel 010 8516 2698) for a lunch of Yunnan folk cuisine, served with traditional tea, or if you fancy something a little more European, Temple (23 Shatan North Street; tel 010 8400 2232) - housed in a converted 600-year old temple - does a four course lunch for 178RMB (around £18), which is a steal considering the place is run by the people who used to do Bar Boulud.
What to do We were lucky enough to tick off two of China’s most iconic landmarks: The Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors. The latter is to the east of Xi’an in the Shaanxi province; we took a one-hour flight from Beijing and stayed a few nights at the Shangri-La’s Hotel in Xi’an, more of a traditional five-star experience than its high-rise Beijing counterpart. A farmer digging a well in 1974 discovered the Terracotta Warriors; he’s spent the last 40-odd years since sitting in the souvenir shop signing books (it’s not entirely clear how pleased he is about this). When you see the three football pitch-sized pits of individually crafted, 2,000-year-old, life sized pottery soldiers, you realise exactly why it’s considered an eighth wonder of the world. And then, of course, there’s the other wonder, The Great Wall of China, which we visited at the Mutianyu section, where the ancient structure snakes impressively across the surrounding hills. Also, there’s a fun toboggan slide you can take on the way back down the hill (way better than the chair lift).
Back in Beijing, we recommend you ditch haggling for fake designer handbags and head for a shopping jaunt down Beijing’s Hutongs, where lots of boutiques showcasing cool new Chinese designers are popping up. Meanwhile, culture vultures can head to art district 798 and walk around the multiple galleries housed in converted factories. If you want a guided tour, we recommend booking in with American ex-pat Megan Connolly of ChART (chartcontemporary.com).
The details A double room at Shangri-La Hotel, Xian starts from 1,242 RMB (approx £122) per room per night, room only including tax.
A double room at China World Summit Wing starts from 2,645 RMB (approx £261) per room per night, room only including tax.
To book, visit shangri-la.com or call 0800 028 3337
By Lucy Pavia