Arriving in Beijing for the first time was a disorienting experience. First thing in the morning and fresh off a body clock-busting flight, I wasn't sure if I was ready for breakfast or the bar. But as soon as I was shown to my room at Raffles Beijing Hotel, any good intentions of heading straight to the Forbidden City were undone – a few stolen hours between the sheets seemed like the only option.
The hotel started life in 1900 as the small, French-owned Peking Hotel, later rechristened the more regal-sounding Grand Hotel de Peking. The current monumental Beaux Arts building, with its statuesque colonnaded façade, opened its doors in 1917 and, despite its humble beginnings, has witnessed its fair share of events. The 1930s saw it occupied by the Japanese, while in the 1940s the hotel was taken over by the Kuomintang Army and served as a hostel for American troops.
Just over two years ago, a new chapter in the building's history began when it reopened as Raffles Beijing, following a lengthy overhaul. Restored to its former glory, there are also plenty of contemporary flourishes like the soaring glass atrium festooned with over-sized Chinese lanterns that links the original building with one of the newer guest room wings. There is a highly regarded Amrita Spa, indoor swimming pool, a bar, a lobby lounge and two restaurants – the breakfast buffet alone sorts out any ongoing jet lag issues, with a United Nations panoply of cuisines extending from congee to croissants and dim sum to doughnuts.
Raffles Beijing Hotel, 33 East Chang An Avenue, Beijing, People's Republic of China (00 86 10 652 633 88; beijing.raffles.com).
If you want to be in central Beijing, this is the ideal spot, where East Chang An Avenue meets Wangfujing Street. The hotel is a short walk from historic must-sees like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Time to international airport: Beijing's Capital Airport is about a 40-minute taxi, costing around Y130 (£10) one way.
The majority of the 171 rooms and suites have that favoured international hotel palette of soothing champagne and buttermilk hues, but retain a Chinese flavour. It's an East-meets-West arrangement that's far from the traditional lacquer and fretwork approach; designer trinkets are placed alongside pictures of old Beijing and woven rugs. There are also five grand hotel suites, a presidential suite and nine lavishly decorated personality suites, commemorating former guests like Sun Yat-sen and George Bernard Shaw. At night you can drift off to sleep reading a Beijing Bedtime Story left on your pillow.
Freebies: Daily newspaper, valet service, Amrita spa toiletries, Chinese-style slippers.
Keeping in touch: Satellite TV, direct-dial telephones and a fax or DVD player on request; complimentary in-room Wi-Fi.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at Y1,596 (£158) per night, room only.
I'm not paying that: The Hotel Côté Cour, 70 Yan Tue Hutong (00 86 10 6512 8020; hotelcotecoursl.com) offers stylish doubles in Old Beijing from Y1,295 (£128) including breakfast.Reuse content