Banyan Tree, as a brand, is more associated with sophisticated far-flung resorts than city-based hotels. But that's changing with the luxury chain set to open two new hotels in Kuala Lumpur, with existing, well-established urban outposts in Bangkok and here at the 130-room, 12-storey Banyan Tree Shanghai on the Bund.
This self-styled urban retreat could more accurately be described as "Banyan Tree Shanghai Bund View" since the Bund, to which we've become familiar, namely the collection of grand waterfront colonial-era buildings spread before the Huangpu River, feels a little distant through a layer of Shanghai haze. But the hotel's biggest strength is not so much its proximity (or not) to the Bund but the views of the Pudong skyline dominated by the wonderfully eccentric and architecturally-misguided 468-metre high Oriental Pearl Tower television and radio tower, opened in 1994. If you're arriving or departing the city by air you'll arrive on this side of town, namely at the Shanghai International Airport with Banyan Tree Shanghai on the Bund offering a signature London-style gold cab for transfers.
One of the hotel's most striking features is its spectacular rooftop bar, TOPS, with unrivalled views of the Pudong skyline (and, yes, the bulbous and pulsating Oriental Pearl), particularly at night, when Shanghai puts on a skyscraper-led light show to rival that of Hong Kong.
Luxurious rooms at Banyan Tree properties are one of the brand's strengths. My capacious Panorama Bund Retreat king room measures just less than 70 square metres with no room at the hotel less than 60 metres. Inside the large, marble-clad bathroom there's a Jacuzzi-style tub strategically positioned by the window so you can soak up both the bath's soothing waters as well as those knockout city and river views.
Sacrilege it may well be in a city with such a reputation for fine cuisine, on this short visit and with threatening rain rendering TOPS, I surrender to order room service and sit back and enjoy the evening unfolding skyline view. Aside from TOPS, the hotel also includes various other bars and lounges as well as the upscale Ming Yuan serving Cantonese dishes. But if you're staying here longer than I am, don't miss the distinctive local Shanghainese regional cuisine that awaits you in the vast city beyond the hotel. A favourite destination for both Chinese and western restaurants and cafes is Xintiandi, a slick, Hong Kong-designed dining and retail precinct consisting of beautifully restored shikumen traditional houses close to Shanghai's original and shrinking Chinatown area.
Aside from a visit to Shanghai Museum of ancient Chinese art, the historic French Concession district and, of course, the mandatory stroll or meal along the Bund, below the hotel is an ambitious and recently opened riverfront pedestrian walkway. At a whopping 45 kilometres in length, the pathway is suitable for jogging and cycling as well as walking with its route encompassing many of Shanghai's historic and contemporary attractions.
Banyan Tree on the Bund is a good alternative to Shanghai's more formal five-stars and comes with luxurious, oversized rooms with unbeatable views of the Pudong skyline. The scratchy welcome and service could do with a polish but it's easy to forget that China's tourism industry, as rapidly evolving as it may be, is still in its relative formative stages.
Doubles start from CNY1,900 $385) per night, excluding taxes and fees. 19 Gong Ping Road, Hong Kou District, Shanghai, People's Republic of China. Phone +86 21 25091188. See banyantree.com
Head to the TOPS rooftop bar or just leave your room curtains parted from dusk to fully appreciate the spectacular views of the Pudong skyline directly across the Huangpu River.
Not uncommonly in China, the hotel's at times faltering staff can lack confidence, possibly due to language difficulties, which tends to undercut the hotel's five-star status.