In China’s cities, everything is noisy. Horns beep constantly, people play games on their phones at loud volumes and without earphones, the sound of construction work is ubiquitous, and shop speakers blare out promotions on repeat. Noise pollution is everywhere, all day and all night. So arriving at the InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland Hotel, you quickly notice – it’s peaceful.
The long-awaited development, also known as the Quarry Hotel, sits in an abandoned mine in the Sheshan Mountain Range about an hour from Shanghai. Conceived by Atkins for Chinese developer Shimao Group back in 2006 and completed by JADE+QA Architects, the US$300m (€265.5m, £229.m) resort finally opened in November 2018. The huge 337-room hotel pushes construction to its limits as it hugs the cliff and delves into the rocky basin – 16 of the 18 floors are below ground level and two are submerged in water.
The approach to the lobby is deceptive. The tip of the silver building arches just above the ground behind a white sculpture, giving nothing away. It’s not until you enter the glass elevator that it becomes clear you’re on the top floor, and though you push the button for the 11th floor, the elevator is going down.
Far from the sounds of traffic, it’s peaceful and tranquil, but there’s plenty to do. Even though I stayed on a Sunday, guests included lots of families and couples. Billed as a leisure complex, guests can take a dip in the futuristic-designed pool, try kayaking and paddleboarding on the lake at the bottom of the quarry or, for the more adventurous, scale the cliff face in a rock climbing session.
What’s on offer?
Early afternoon, I eschewed bungee jumping for a treatment at the hotel’s An Spa. The intimate spa, located on the 13th floor, has two double and two single treatment rooms with a changing area, sauna and steamroom towards the back. Chatting with spa manager Zhu Ruizhi, I wondered if the size of the spa was adequate, considering the size of the hotel. She says it hasn’t posed a problem with guest bookings. “So far our clients have been very happy. It’s not really about the volume of spa visitors as the average spend per client is around CNY2,000 (US$291, €259, £233), so we may have fewer clients but they spend more money on luxury treatments.”
Arriving for my appointment, I was warmly greeted by the receptionist who sat me in a lounge-style waiting room and swiftly served a Japanese green tea while I took in the great views of the quarry and enjoyed watching the paddleboarders in the distance. Zhu says the scope of the spa’s 20-plus treatments – which range from a sleep inducing, deep breathing massage to Chinese and Japanese modalities – is a particular selling point. The 60-minute, CNY880 (US$128, €114, £102) Meridians Massage and CNY780 (US$113, €101, £91) Tui-Na focus on unblocking the flow of qi to increase joint lubrication, increase circulation, and boost immunity. While Thémaé, a tea-based product line, reflects the Asian-inspired offer, she says. Japanese green tea, Chinese white tea, Taiwanese oolong tea, and Indian black tea used in Thémaé treatments have antioxidants that regenerate skin cells and stimulate the circulation. Essentials oils from Hinkoi, Japan – sandalwood, sakura and yuzu – are also used in other services.
The steamroom and sauna were a nice way to relax pre-treatment and extra comfort came from the fresh, fluffy towels and yukata robe. I was struck by how neat and tidy everything was.
After about 30 minutes my therapist, Stella, led me to a serenely-decorated treatment room with large windows giving way to the view of copper-coloured rock and blue-green water below. She had prepared a foot ritual and washed my feet gently in warm milky-pink water. We chatted for a while. Stella made polite conversation about what I’d done that day and was happy to answer questions about her own background. A Chinese masseuse, she had moved to Shanghai from Sichuan Province. She was a very personable and easy to talk to, which made me feel comfortable immediately. Her English was great – and she’d pretty much taught herself.
Stella is one of four therapists who have been handpicked to match the clientele, which includes mostly hotel guests but also day visitors from Songjiang, one of Shanghai’s rich satellite towns. Zhu says: “All our therapists must have at least one year’s experience working in a five-star hotel spa, be familiar with the treatments, be attentive to detail, love what they do, and have a warm heart.”
I’d chosen a 60-minute aromatherapy massage, priced at CNY1,100 (US$160, €142, £128), which was customised with sakura – an oil I was drawn to because its cherry blossom scent smelled the nicest. I’d requested a firm massage and pointed out my shoulders and upper back as problem areas, though I must admit, I did not expect much personalisation. However, I was impressed again. Stella worked expertly and methodically using a combination of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai techniques. Firm pressure was sustained throughout and she paid special attention to knots in my shoulders and back. Her 16 years’ experience was evident. She intermittently checked whether the pressure was too strong or the room was the right temperature. I especially enjoyed the attention she paid to my calves and my head and scalp. Afterwards, my body was left feeling completely niggle-free and my state of mind completely peaceful.
If I’m honest, the spa doesn’t have the wow factor of the main hotel. But in many ways the elegant and serene offer, quietly cocooned inside the building, and the focus on expert treatments and brilliant service, is all you really need to really get away from it all, soaking up every second of peace and quiet possible before returning to reality.