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A night of Chinese history

China's restored hotels enable travellers to experience the country's heritage in luxurious ways

An antique villa at Amanyangyun.
An antique villa at Amanyangyun.


This ambitious, decade-long restoration project started with one Chinese entrepreneur’s desire to save 50 Ming and Qing dynasty houses, 300-500 years old, that were threatened by the construction of a new dam in the Jiangxi province. The houses were taken apart stone by stone, each piece of wood neatly labelled and stored in a warehouse until they could be reconstructed in a new location. The relocation also included nearly 10,000 camphor trees that locals believe have individual spirits. Some of the trees were 100ft-high and weighed up to 50 tons. Entrepreneur Ma Dadong teamed up with Aman Resorts to restore 26 villas as hotel suites and private residences. Reservations are open for the hotel, which launches in January.

The Murray, Hong Kong

Opened in January, The Murray injects new life into an old city landmark, the Murray Building that was opened in 1969 and won many awards at the time for its pioneering design. Located on Cotton Tree Drive, the 27-storey building housed offices of the Hong Kong government until it was auctioned off for redevelopment in 2011. Murray was the tallest government building of its time, designed so that its windows avoided excessive direct sunlight, making it more energy efficient. Keeping the framework of the building intact, its interiors have been redesigned to suit a luxury hotel, with 336 suites and rooms.

A suite at the Capella Shanghai.

Capella Shanghai, Jian Ye Li

Shanghai is known for its shikumen lane houses, built in an architectural style that was popular from the 1860s-1930s and combined Western and Chinese elements. In recent decades, the old lane houses have been rapidly demolished and reconstructed, giving way to modern constructions. That’s what makes the November launch of Capella’s new hotel in Shanghai important. Located in the city’s French Concession area, the hotel is built in a cluster of 55 restored two-storey lane houses originally constructed in the 1920s. Jian Ye Li estate is one of the last few remaining neighbourhoods of its kind in the city, and the hotel celebrates this heritage with its part-Asian, part-French décor.

The pool at Alila, Yangshuo.

Alila Yangshuo

This 117-room hotel that made its debut in July is located in a former sugar mill in the town of Yangshuo, a popular getaway in the Guangxi region known for its Karst mountains. Many of the 1960s’ mill buildings have been kept intact, repurposed as a restaurant and bar. The latter specializes in serving, not surprisingly, rum-based cocktails made at the in-house distillery. The sugar theme extends beyond the names of the restaurant and bar to a tour of the former mill and experience of the sugar-making process.

Temple Dongjingyuan

Though not as new as the other hotels on this list, The Temple Hotel is noteworthy. The centrepiece of this 3,500sq. m. cultural space with eight luxury rooms, event spaces and conference rooms, an art gallery, a restaurant, and a courtyard full of installations and sculptures, is Zhizhusi, or the Temple of Wisdom. Though the temple was marred by fire, careful restoration uncovered some of the original paintings that covered the ceiling’s 180 wooden panels. Located close to the Imperial Palace, the hotel showcases contemporary Chinese and international art. Its furniture includes pieces by Indian designer Sandeep Sangaru, whose work featured recently in a Christie’s auction.

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