NO MATTER WHICH way you look at it, the drive from Beijing’s international airport into the city’s central business district is not one of the world’s most glamorous journeys. The wide, grey highway is lined with endless rows of boxy, Soviet-style apartment blocks and the occasional out-of-place skyscraper. Traffic jams seem to be an unfortunately permanent fixture and bored drivers angrily honk their horns as they crawl from standstill to standstill.
And yet, miraculously, the Rosewood Beijing has managed to turn even this dreary drive into a plush introduction to the Chinese capital. The hotel’s famously attentive service begins as soon as I walk through immigration, when a driver meets me, quickly guides me through the crowds and leads me into the leather-clad luxury of a waiting Range Rover, which starts with a purr before setting out on to the dreaded road. But with bottles of water, snacks and even small tubes of post-flight moisturiser all within easy reach of my sumptuous seat, Beijing’s infamous gridlock suddenly seems much less of a concern.
This attention to detail will be familiar to anyone who has stayed at the Rosewood’s other properties around the world. Always known for its impeccable service, the brand’s reputation has reached even greater heights since it was bought by Hong Kong-based New World Hospitality last year, which has since rebranded itself as the Rosewood Hotel Group. This is the first Rosewood in Asia, though properties in Phnom Penh and Phuket are slated to open next year, followed by hotels in Bali, Bangkok and Guangzhou the year after that.
Pulling off one of Beijing’s ring roads and into the hotel’s driveway is a pleasant surprise, not because of the imposing height of the 53-storey building (of which the Rosewood occupies the lower 22 floors) but because of the sheer amount of greenery that surrounds the entrance. All around there are tall trees, rows of bushes and beds of verdant grass, as well as two enormous pots of mixed foliage that sit either side of the main door. Immediately the hotel feels comfortably cocooned from the chaos outside.
Melbourne-based designers BAR Studio and Thai architects PLandscape are the minds behind this almost resort-like calm, which continues in the soaring, three-storey-high lobby. Decorated in a neutral palette of bronze and cream, the space is glossy and polished without feeling too glitzy. The entranceway itself is dominated by a vast contemporary painting of a classically Chinese mountain scene, the first of many works of art that decorate the lobby and, as I later discover, much of the rest of the property.
In fact, the short journey to my room is completely dominated by art. The lift that whisks me upstairs is clad in large, inky watercolours that are reminiscent of ancient Chinese scroll paintings. The corridors are also lined by shelves housing small Chinese sculptures, both traditional and contemporary, as well objects such as calligraphy brushes and coffee-table books with titles like Chinese Ceramics and A World History of Art.
My room is just as impressive as these arty, spacious communal areas. Measuring more than 500 square feet in area and perched high up on the 20th floor, this Premier Room has an L-shaped living and sleeping area that wraps around a large bathroom. From the door I can see a walk-in-wardrobe, a full-sized desk, a sofa, a coffee table, a booze cabinet and an armchair, and just around the corner is a king-sized bed. Some more sculptures and knick-knacks are neatly arranged on various shelves around the room, and bedtime reading is provided in the form of Henry Kissinger’s seminal book On China and the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. But the room’s most striking feature may well be the olive-green leather day bed that sits next to the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling window, from which I can comfortably sit and look out over the city.
To have a view is a rare thing in Beijing. Air pollution aside, the capital is so sprawling that its famous attractions are rarely within sight of one another, and much of the distance between them is filled with unremarkable residential areas. But seeing as the Rosewood is positioned in the heart of the fashionable Chaoyang district (and considering that I’m on one of the highest floors), I can spot a fair number of Beijing’s best-known modern buildings from the window seat. To my left is the cylindrical China Daily tower, which first made headlines because of its rather phallic appearance, while directly across the road from Rosewood is the contorted, Rem Koolhaasdesigned CCTV Headquarters, which always looks perilously close to toppling over because of its gravity-defying design. The view may not be of the picturesque Forbidden City or Beijing’s famous hutongs (those tourist attractions are about a 20-minute drive away), but it’s an impressive sight nevertheless.
I can even admire the sprawling cityscape from my bathroom, through a slit of glass in the shower cubicle that looks out over the bed and through the window. But if you’d rather maintain your privacy than ponder the futuristic architecture of the CCTV building, then there’s a blind that descends at the touch of a button to screen the powerful rain shower from the rest of the room. Or simply sink into the adjacent bathtub and out of sight out of prying eyes.
For guests looking for even greater indulgence, the hotel’s spa is just a quick elevator ride away. With its dark wood floors, soft lighting and charming staff talking in hushed whispers, the spa is everything you would expect from such an upmarket urban retreat. It’s also home to one of the hotel’s standout features: the pool. Covered by an enormous glass canopy and surrounded by tropical plants, the pool is an inviting prospect at any time of day – even for nonswimmers, who can lounge on one of the many poolside sunbeds or cabanas. At 25 metres long and 10 metres wide, it’s also big enough to accommodate both serious lap swimmers and more leisurely paddlers.
After a few laps (or a particularly strenuous spa treatment), the hotel’s five restaurants may well seem a tempting prospect. The two most worth trying are Country Kitchen, a restaurant that specialises in northern Chinese food, and Red Bowl, which may well be the capital’s classiest hot-pot hangout. Country Kitchen is where to go for local classics such as Peking duck, Mongolian leg of lamb and crispy prawns that have been simmered in tomato sauce. But it’s Red Bowl that’s the real standout – the restaurant is stylish, yes, and the food is delicious, but the whole concept of a chic hot-pot restaurant is also a fun and contemporary take on a Chinese tradition. And that’s what this hotel is all about.