Room Service: Pangu, Beijing
Enter the dragon: a stellar Chinese icon
When many hotels are making an effort to downplay extreme luxury by enhancing the "personal experience" rather than laying on the bells and whistles, in China there seems to be a sense that luxury means being bigger, better and more ostentatious than everybody else. So perhaps it's no surprise that one of the capital's most luxurious hotels has its own take on the star-rating system.
The seventh (and sixth) stars of the Pangu "7 Star Hotel" are entirely self-proclaimed, but don't let that put you off this fantastically ambitious hotel. It's a bastion of Chinese design confidence and luxury in the heart of Beijing's Olympic Park, and it was rumoured to have been a favourite among Communist Party officials as an escape from the bustle of the 2008 Games.
Today, the hotel is a little quieter and attracts tourists and businessmen who want to be close to the centre of the mega-city, but with the relative quiet of the Olympic Park on their doorstep. Not that anywhere is ever very quiet in Beijing, a city of 12 million people that makes supposed 24-hour cities such as New York and London feel like sleepy, traffic-free villages in the countryside.
Pangu was designed by C Y Lee – the man behind the stratospheric Taipei 101 tower (briefly the tallest building in the world) – and while it isn't the tallest hotel in the world, it may well be the only one designed in the shape of a dragon, with three vast buildings forming the shape of the most powerful and auspicious creature in the Chinese zodiac. It even gets a vast "Dragon Corridor" colonnade of 66 columns topped with three-metre high dragons' heads, hewn from granite, running along its side. That said, you'd be hard pressed to call it pretty – imposing is the word that springs to mind.
All the architectural grandeur and swagger is matched inside with some wonderfully named restaurants and bars, including the rooftop Happiness Lounge and the Auspicious Garden restaurant which, if you'd rather not sample the Pan-Asian cuisine, offers mounds of fresh lobster and sushi flown in from Japan.
The best place to get a feel for the position of the hotel is in the Happiness Lounge at its top, which gives views across the city but most spectacularly the "Water Cube" aquatic centre and the "Bird's Nest" stadium, which are just across the road. They make the perfect setting for a stroll at dusk around the Olympic Park, which is filled with new restaurants, hawkers and vibrant city hustle.
If the traditional Beijing itinerary of the Forbidden Palace, the courtyard homes of the hutongs, and Tiananmen Square beckons to you, then they are only a short taxi ride away or a trip on the No 10 bus, which runs directly from in front of the hotel. Walking in Beijing's smog and traffic is only for the brave.
Disappointingly, the hotel is in the tail of the Pangu Plaza dragon, while the body and fire-breathing head are reserved for offices and apartments, some of which were reported to have been rented by the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Henry Kissinger.
These are men who know luxury and there's plenty of room for the surging Chinese excess in each of the 234 bedrooms and suites designed by Ricardo Bello Dias. They pull off the combination of traditional Chinese motifs and fabrics with contemporary design touches – including digital fireplaces and Baker furniture – without looking contrived. There are neat touches too, such as American and European plug sockets.
Service is overly subservient and a little nervous, but you won't be left wanting for anything.
It's all very comfortable and the amenities (notably the vast pool and gym) feel fresher than anything from Geneva to Singapore. It's just that the Pangu, perhaps like China generally, feels like it's trying very hard to prove something.
27 Central North, 4th Ring Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China (00 86 10 5906 7777; panguhotel.com)
Doubles start at ¥1,888 (£190), room only.
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