Experience this right royal treat
Updated: 2011-04-26 07:57
By Wu Wencong (China Daily)
Clockwise from top left: The bed with cloud shapes at Beijing Shichahai Sandalwood Hotel was valued at 170 million yuan; Antiques collections sealed under a glass floor in the basement; The hotel has only 10 guestrooms, all decorated in an old Chinese way; A piece of sandalwood decoration in the lobby depicts the four seasons. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily
Former residence of Qing Dynasty nobleman offers hotel guests insights into the life and times of an old imperial capital
For many visitors to Beijing, staying in a former residence of the royal family or a famous nobleman would be the ultimate experience.
Beijing was home to 24 of China's emperors and their courtiers, but with the Forbidden City and many other historic residences now either tourist hotspots or undergoing preservation work, the opportunities for such a royal treat are limited. One of the best places to experience such a rare delight is the Beijing Shichahai Sandalwood Hotel.
Situated close to the picturesque Drum Tower, the buildings that house the hotel were once part of a residence owned by Suo Ni, one of the most famous chancellors in Chinese history and a key figure of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Although almost 400 years have passed since Suo Ni lived in these buildings, the interior shows few signs of the wear and tear of the passing centuries.
If anything, it is even more extravagant, with its 10 guest rooms boasting about 20 pieces of sandalwood furniture worth tens of millions of yuan.
Native only to South Asia, sandalwood takes decades to grow and is one of the world's rarest timbers. It has a higher density than water and, unlike most timbers which float, sandalwood sinks. Only 10 percent of trees grow thick enough to be used, while the rest end up hollow and useless.
The most expensive piece of furniture at the hotel is the double bed with shapes of auspicious clouds carved all over it. The bed was valued at 170 million yuan in 2007. It is made of red sanders, the more expensive of the two types of sandalwood.
Aside from the exquisite furniture, the hotel offers many other features that are worth exploring.
The design of the two-story guesthouse was based on that of a large courtyard house. On top of it is a large glass shield that lets the warm spring sunshine in but keeps Beijing's annoying dust winds out.
In the bedroom of the largest suite, which covers more than 100 square meters, the bathroom also has a glass ceiling. There cannot be many better ways to rest after a day spent exploring Beijing in winter than to soak in the hot tub right under the ceiling, sipping a glass of wine and watching the snow falling onto the glass, gradually blocking your view.
Apart from the sandalwood items, the furniture and decorations in the hotel are mostly antiques. The folding screen in the lobby, the famous paintings on the wall, the vat in the basement and even a suitcase in one of the guestrooms are part of the hotel owner's collections of antiques.
But the best part of this collection is sealed under a piece of glass flooring in the basement.
Under the cover is an area of about 1 cubic meter, where pieces of carved stone walls and porcelain bottles, all genuine antiques, are scattered.
The hotel's staff members said because the nearby houses all once belonged to Suo Ni, almost everywhere in the neighborhood antiques can easily be dug out from only a meter under the ground. But this is prohibited by law.
The hotel owner came up with the idea of the glass floor, which allows guests to see the antique treasures without illegally digging them out and moving them.
Guests at the hotel can learn how to do calligraphy, make Chinese dumplings, play diabolo and Chinese chess, and do other traditional activities. Lessons are given by hotel staff members and are free.
"It is a unique place where a tourist can encounter Chinese traditions and culture, something that chain hotels lack," reads one 2009 entry in the guestbook left by an Italian tourist called Roberto, whose family spent Christmas at the hotel.
So, if standard hotels cannot give salt to your visit to Beijing, the Shichahai Sandalwood Hotel will.
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