Heads on Beds: Beijing Raffles

Not only is Raffles the best place to stay in Beijing, it’s also a hotel rich in history

Built in 1917, during China’s republican experiment, this hotel was situated within the territory of the French Legation and known as Le Grand Hotel de Peking. The original Art Deco design was not carried out in its entirety, leaving the building and facade lopsided, but Le Grand immediately established itself as the city’s premiere hotel by dint of its luxury and proximity to the Forbidden City. That ubiquitous tourist George Bernard Shaw was a guest in the 1930s, as was Field Marshall Montgomery, a great supporter of Mao Zedong, in the 1940s. When Mao took power in 1949 he celebrated in style at Le Grand.

Under Communism the hotel was handed over to the ministry of tourism, which still owns it. The ministry built a number of new larger hotel buildings on either side of Le Grand and the whole interlinked complex, taking up the length of an entire city block, became known as The Grand Hotel Beijing. In 2005 the old central block was closed for refurbishment as a historic and luxury destination hotel. Beijing Tourism Group looked for a partner that could bring the right level of kudos and expertise to such a project and finally got into bed with Raffles, the upmarket chain that grew out of the phenomenal success of Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.

After massive renovation, the Beijing Raffles opened in 2006 and the building once again quickly established itself as the hotel of choice for celebrities and politicians. The quality of service is very good indeed, though it still has some distance to go before catching up with its alma mater in Singapore. The staff are friendly and efficient but their level of English is variable. Nevertheless, if you can afford it, this is the place to stay in Beijing.

Track It Down

Raffles is situated on East Chang an Avenue, which leads to Tian An Men Square and the Forbidden City. This is the most prestigious and central location in Beijing.

A taxi from the airport will cost 100 CNY (£.7.25). Journey time 30 minutes if traffic is good.

It can take an hour in bad traffic and even longer if the airport expressway has been closed off for the arrival or departure of some visiting dignitary. (Beijing takes VIPs extremely seriously.) You will quickly get used to being stopped going down roads or into sights because a government guest or senior party member is passing through.

Raffles will send a car and a bellhop to meet you at the airport. This service costs 400 CNY (£29) if you are met in an Audi and 800 CNY (£58) if you request a BMW. It’s well worth ordering the transfer, particularly if you’re arriving after an overnight flight, as the bellhops in their red coats and pillbox hats really look after you well.

Check-in

All the guest relations staff speak English and Mandarin Chinese. Check-in is in the beautiful marble lobby. VIPs are escorted immediately to their rooms for in-room check-in. The hotel decides who qualifies for this service.

Room to manoeuvre

There are 171 rooms and suites in total, with VIPs tending to stay in the presidential, “personality” or “grand hotel” suites. It is not uncommon to be asked to use another lift because someone with a fear of assassination is about to come down.

Original artwork lines the walls. In the opinion of Singaporean designer Grace Soh: “A hotel’s major product is its rooms.” Grace has worked hard here to create a look that is grand but comfortable.

Towelling robes are disappointingly skimpy by western standards, but the delicious-smelling bathroom products are by Amrita Spa. The bathroom sinks drain in a leisurely fashion, but you get used to that.

Get connected

Guest rooms are graced with a large wall-mounted televisions (42in and 37in) which have access to 48 channels, including CNN, BBC and CCTV, the local English Channel. DVD players available on request but they only play Region 6.

Each room is equipped with a two-line Teledex Hotel Phone featuring voicemail and speaker. In-room WiFi is provided free of charge as are ASDL cables. The internet connection is variable, but the hotel has recently changed the server in an attempt to improve this.

There is a hotel business centre offering laptops and computers, high-speed broadband connection, print and fax machines, and word-processing services.

Fitness regime

The Amrita fitness centre and pool is located on the second floor of the new extension immediately behind Raffles. It is open under supervision 6am-11pm but the manager says it can be opened at other times for those with chronic jet lag.

There is also an indoor tennis court, a squash court and rooms for bowling and table tennis, as well as a comprehensive weights area and running machines with individual televisions.

Raid the minibar

Best advice is don’t. A small can of Tsingtao beer costs 60 CNY (£4.35) and a 375ml bottle of Penfolds white or red 250 CNY (£18). Worse, the red is kept in the fridge!

Much better to go down to the Writer’s Bar on the ground floor where a beer is only 55 CNY (£3.90) and you can listen to live music as you check out the photos of previous Raffles guests, including Mao Zedong, Zhou en Lai and Ho Chi Minh. There are also a few cocktails worth trying. The legendary gin-based Singapore Sling (invented at Raffles Singapore) costs 80 CNY (£5.80) as does the local vodka-based Peking Sling. The bar is open daily 12noon till 12midnight.

Breakfast News

Sadly the only newspaper you’ll be offered over breakfast is the English-language China Daily (aka Pravda) which devotes page after page to its campaign against the Dalai Lama. It would be nice to think that once the international situation has calmed the hotel will allow in the International Herald Tribune.

Breakfast itself is a buffet held in the East 33 restaurant (6.30am-10.30am). The food (both international and Chinese) is uniformly excellent. The sushi rolls are highly recommended. The coffee disappoints - best stick to the tea which does not. Service is extremely attentive; your napkin will be refolded while you are up at the buffet.

Breakfast is included in the tariff. Breakfast in your room is charged at 118 CNY (£8.50).

East 33 is also open for lunch and dinner. The seafood supper on Friday and Saturday nights at 299 CNY (£22) is excellent value as “unlimited wine” is included. When you consider that a glass of Chablis in the hotel’s Sino-Franco restaurant, Jaan, will set you back 150 yuan (£11) this is a bargain. Moreover, if you look carefully there’s a promotional voucher in your room offering you 99 CNY (£7.15) off the price if presented on arrival.

Jaan is opposite the Writer’s Bar, the two separated by the hotel’s original dance floor from 1925 where the great Zhou en Lai is said to have tangoed. It’s waiter service and expensive a la carte, however, the two-course set menu is very good value at 199 CNY (£14.40). A basic bottle of Burgundy to go with the meal will set you back 500 CNY (£36).

Rack rates

Rooms start at 4,100 CNY (£297) per night, but you’ll also have to pay a 15 per cent “room charge” bringing the total to 4,715 (£341). Suites go up to 90,000 CNY (£7,495 with room charge) per night.

The address

Raffles Bejing Hotel, 33 East Chang an Avenue, Beijing 100004, People’s Republic of China (00 86 10 65 26 33 88; beijing.raffles.com).

Suggested Topics
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker