In Depth

InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland review: a glamorous Bond villain’s ideal lair

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Juan Trippe was the founder behind Pan American Airways, one of the most famous airlines in US aviation history. He also developed the InterContinental Hotels Group, operating an extensive and growing network of unique hotels and resorts in stunning locations around the world.

This culmination of knowledge for transporting people to and from destinations and offering them enjoyable places to stay once there, formed the solid foundations in ensuring Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts journeyed to the forefront of the luxury hospitality industry - and remains there.

In January, the company celebrated their latest project joining the portfolio, with the official opening of InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland, the 200th hotel for the brand worldwide and the world’s first underground hotel.

A long-abandoned former quarry in the Sheshan Mountain Range in Southwestern Shanghai seems an unlikely location for a new luxury hotel. But, 12 years, many technical challenges and £300 million later, the InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland certainly emphasises China’s proclivity for experimental architecture. It’s little wonder that when the hotel opened in November last year, it had over 7,000 local Shanghainese at the gates trying to sneak a peek of a project that the construction team spent seven years working out its safety, and the following five years carrying out the work.

To gain a sense of the architectural complexities of this wildly uncompromising canvas, I wander along the walkway that’s built into the cliff face to a viewing platform and look across the pit and the lake below. I’m surrounded by rugged cliffs and trickling waterfalls and green hills stretching off into the distance. Front-on is the beast itself. The revolutionary cascading 18-story steel-glass James Bond villain-type lair sits masterfully nestled within the scarped slopes - like a secret base - and it’s almost entirely subterranean with two floors above ground and 16 below, including two floors underwater.

The main man himself, architect Martin Jochman, known for the sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab skyscraper in Dubai, dedicated over a decade of his life to turning this abandoned land into an art form, conjuring vibrancy and glamour from the Earth’s surface like a magician. He wanted the ‘groundscraper’ hotel to represent the natural environment, courtesy of the three elements that had inspired the design - water, cliffs and the surrounding hills – that is, nature itself.

Glass-fronted lifts are reminiscent of a waterfall; the grass hill-shaped dome is for installation and maximises the sun benefits, reducing the effects of the north winds; and the building’s profile follows the cliff’s silhouette. The whole site has been specially designed using feng shui, and from above the hotel, its shape replicates the interlocked yin and yang symbol. 

Step inside the gleaming glass for an adventure into the centre of the Earth. The journey starts as you go down. Reception boasts a digital water curtain that displays a plethora of images and an abundance of immaculately coiffured staff are positioned at every turn to guide you in the right direction – and in this place you’re likely to need it. 

The 336 bedrooms are differentiated by mineral colour schemes and the duplex suites come with 24/7 butler service, an outdoor terrace and an underwater world lounge where thousands of fish, stingrays and baby sharks merrily swim by in the in-room aquarium filled with specially imported saltwater.

Not only can you sleep with the fish, you can eat with them too, courtesy of the underwater restaurant and its panoramic viewing theatre. Inspired by a crystal cave with hanging lights reminiscent of shells and fish and illuminated water reflections dancing across the ceiling, dinner at Mr Fisher is a seductive and magical affair, consisting of mermaids clutching tridents, sequined to the max in alluring costumes in a kaleidoscope of shimmering hues.

Channelling my inner Ariel, I had a chat with one of them while she was laid out on a table, swishing her tail. I confess I was rather hoping the mermaid clan were underwater performers in disguise and would later surprise us during dinner by taking a swim inside the aquarium – but alas, no. Dishes served here are fish-focused, naturally: salmon gravlax with caviar, ginger and clam soup, baby squid and pan-fried halibut, washed down with bottles of Perriet-Jouet.

There are other superb restaurants and bar offerings too. Cai Feng Lou Chinese Restaurant offers dishes from the Zhejiang and Guangdong Province and in a nod to the hotel’s location, The Quarry Bar is your late-night watering hole. Nurse the hangover the next day at the natural-beauty focused spa with signature massage treatments drawing on the location with sweet-smelling oils and herbal poultices. Ask for Jane, who was utterly excellent.

Elsewhere there are magnificent light and water shows full of imagination every evening at 7.30pm, along with 50 lit-up drones zipping here there and everywhere and a Chinese chap in traditional fisherman’s attire undertaking a little boat trip around the lake at 5.30pm. Other adventures include rock climbing, kayaking and braving the glass-floor skywalk. All in all, it’s a bizarre but charming arrangement of entertainment - as is the hotel. It’s a refuge away from the hustle and bustle of metropolis Shanghai in an unusual and fantasy world, transforming beauty on what would have been a blot on the landscape.

Martin Jochman answers his own question: “why build this hotel? Why not?”

For more information or to book, visit www.intercontinental.com

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