The new hotel from the Italian jewellery brand is a tranquil oasis set in Shanghai’s frantic heart, says Chris Allsop
Muscling into the crowded luxury hotel market colonising the banks of the Huangpu River, Bulgari’s sixth hotel comes hot on the heels of its Beijing and Dubai iterations. As I arrive at the foot of this gilded monolith, lined up on my right are five vividly hued Maseratis. Yes, the Italians have, after eight years of construction, finally arrived.
Removed from the jostle of Pudong, the Bulgari is sited opposite the colonial sweep of the Bund on a riverside, mixed-use revitalisation project called the Suhe Creek project. The Bulgari complex comprises three modern skyscrapers – two of which house private residences – and a tiny piece of Shanghai history in the restored Chamber of Commerce. It’s all set within manicured Italian gardens that are an oasis of tranquillity amid the Shanghai furore.
Entering ‘La Lobby’, I’m instantly enveloped in the understated confidence of a brand which, Bulgari’s executive VP and hotel mastermind Silvio Ursini would inform me with a smile, is always priced the highest in any specific market (renting the 400 square metre Bulgari Suite – the largest hotel suite in the city – will put you back $15,000 per night). Black marble tile, leather-clad reception desks (with a Bulgari wall clock modelled after the pink-gold Octo watch), and fine bronze mesh reaching to the ceiling adds a warm shimmer to the walls. Glamourous monochrome photographs of classic cinema stars assert the brand’s essential intertwining with the exclusive glamour of cinema; in the obsidian twilight of the lift a film plays on a small television showing more modern starlets, their famous necks enrobed in dazzling Bulgari jewellery.
With the rooms starting on the 40th floor and wrapping around the corners of the building, the views across Shanghai’s never-ending cityscape are tremendous. Light from the windows skims across the Tuscan Calacatta marble of the desk and coffee table and sinks into the dark oak flooring. Overall the room is light and straightforward – stylish living quarters that don’t try too hard (branding on the cashmere blanket, the water bottles, and the jewellery advertisements masquerading as wall art are on hand to remind you why). There’s a walk-in wardrobe, a fine selection of booze including an inviting bottle of Nonino Grappa Lo Chardonnay, and deft Chinese accents such as elegant silk and velvet bedhead panelling (sadly, despite it being part of the Marriott group, there is no bejewelled Book of Mormon in the bedside table).
The glam minimalism continues in the bathroom, with creamy travertine marble on the walls offset by onyx heated floor tiles and black marble sinks. There’s a skyline view from my tub, and a rain shower almost as generous as the monsoon that catches me by surprise when I’m out later touring the city.
And then there’s the toilet. What is it about technology that gets Italians so overheated? Staying at the Armani Hotel in Milan, my stay was marred by the faff of having to use the iPad to control all the room’s amenities (one light defeated me and remained on all night). It’s nothing so awful here, and the Japanese Toto Washlet with its pre-warmed seat and jolly array of anus bathing options are rather reassuring. But it has an overlong sensor so even if you’re not on the way to the loo, it automatically rears up and begins hissing in readiness.
Hardly a deal-breaker, and any anxiety caused by the Toto Washlet’s enthusiasm for your bowel movements can be eased away in the wonderful spa with its dazzling pools. If shopping therapy is your preferred method of relaxation, there’s a secret door to the Bulgari on-site boutique. Prefer to comfort eat? This hotel houses the only Il Cioccolato, its on-site artisan chocolate shop, producing ‘chocolate gems’ with more-ish fillings like gorgonzola and orange. The Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai hotels are also the only three in the chain with a Niko Romito-curated Il Restaurant serving up re-interpreted Italian classics. Of course, there’s also a fine-dining Chinese restaurant – Bao Li Xuan – housed in the neo-classical Chamber of Commerce.
This building also houses a glamorous ballroom, which was the venue for one of the Shanghai Film Festival’s glitzy parties during the period I was there. Attending the party was an odd experience as I didn’t recognise the stars that the other guests were massing around. Fortunately the omnipresence of Bulgari branding reassured me that I was exactly where I should be.
Chris Allsop is freelancer for Spear’s