By John O’Ceallaigh
Rocco Forte Hotels this week opens Villa Igiea, and beautiful as the renovated 19th-century seafront palazzo in Palermo looks, I’m more interested in the group’s forthcoming The Westbund Hotel in Shanghai. It’s a notable departure for an Italian-English company that has until now only opened hotels in heritage properties or renovated buildings in Europe. This time round, the hotel will be an entirely new construction on the uppermost 38th to 52nd floors of a multi-use Shanghai skyscraper overlooking the Huangpu riverfront.
Expected to launch in December, the 219-key property has been designed by Olga Polizzi in collaboration with Inge Moore of Muza Lab. Moore in recent years collaborated with Polizzi on the refurb of Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London and has also overseen works at The Alpina Gstaad (one of my favourite Swiss hotels); the recently updated Finolhu resort in the Maldives and the Belmond Andean Explorer train in Peru.
Polizzi’s signature Anglo-Italian aesthetic has been modified slightly for Rocco Forte Hotels’ first property in Asia. Here there’ll be plenty of chinoiserie, calligraphy, ceramics and local art (guests left intrigued by the collection should make time to admire the diverse artworks on display at the superb Shanghai Museum, one of my favourite attractions in the city).
I like the sound of the dining options, too. Predictably there’s an Italian restaurant and a Chinese restaurant (serving “authentic Cantonese cuisine with a modern twist”), but that’s no bad thing, and a tea room will serve British-style afternoon tea in a setting inspired by the wood-panelled Drawing Room at Brown’s Hotel. The rooftop bar will be one of the highest in the area, and should provide impressive views of the West Bund. That said, I feel the property is too far away from the most developed and futuristic stretch of the Huangpu River to rival the views I marvelled at when drinking at the rooftop bars at the Peninsula Shanghai and Bulgari Shanghai hotels on previous visits. Getting international visitors down to this newly established district is likely to be one of the challenges the property faces.
That said, those that do make the journey might be inclined simply to linger there. Set in an expanse that was once the old Longhua Airport, the hotel stands in the centre of what is to become a new cultural, educational and leisure centre for the city. While those attractions will take some time to bed in, the hotel will open with extensive on-site leisure facilities including a two-storey spa and a sky-high infinity pool. Bedrooms, meanwhile, will be among the largest in the city and stretch up to a 270sq metre presidential suite.
Rates for The Westbund Hotel Shanghai have yet to be confirmed.