ALILA YANGSHUO: ABANDONED BUILDING, VIBRANT HEART

The 2008 Olympic Games and 2010 World Expo resulted in a huge development of international luxury hotels in China, introducing Chinese people to big brands such as Ritz- Carlton, Park Hyatt, Aman, Marriott, and so on. Nearly 10 years on, it seems that 2017 is set to be another big hotel year for China. Old hotels like Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai, Four Seasons Shanghai and Peninsula Beijing are just finishing up their renovations; the nine-year-old Park Hyatt, in the face of competitor Rosewood Beijing, is about to undergo its first huge makeover and will have a bright new face by 2018; and new hotels from St. Regis, W and Banyan Tree, plus some local luxury brands, will open in secondary (and even tertiary) cities in China.

So: what’s the look of the upcoming hotels and resorts? How will they redefine their destinations and where we stay when we visit?

Pool at Alila Yangshuo

A good place to start is Alila Yangshuo, which opened on July 1. With the beautiful Li River flowing through and Karst Mountains as a backdrop, it probably won’t come as a surprise that the hotel is making wellness and healing its selling points.

Renovated from a historic sugar mill, Alila Yangshuo sets a cool and artistic tone. The whole project actually started around 2006, when the owner, Mr. Yang, an art collector as well as a travel enthusiast, decided to transform the abandoned mill into a hotel. A lot of time has been taken to painstakingly restore the original buildings and look for proper suppliers to meet the requirements of both architect and designers. The original look has been preserved as much as possible, right down to propaganda slogans written during President Mao’s era, which have been kept on the multihued brick walls and become a kind of historical graffiti telling the story of the building’s past.

More importantly, this industrial minimalist look is not just another Instagram-ready photo opportunity. When stepping into the well-designed environment, everything feels correct; each part works well with every other part. The talent behind everything is Dong Gong, an architect famous for delivering a traditional Chinese aesthetic in a modern context.

In terms of structure and floorplan, old buildings have certain limitations. Dong decided to take advantage of them by converting the five stand-alone original buildings into a lobby, restaurant, bar, and art gallery, as well as two signature suites. The high ceiling and antique brick walls conjure a visual drama and nostalgic mood. Ju Bing, an interior designer whose works mainly focus on hotels and dining spaces, used modern furniture and art to bring a contemporary touch.

The other hotel rooms are situated in two new buildings. In order to be consistent with the original factory, Dong again used bricks, each carefully carved into distinctive patterns. In daytime, the sunshine will shine through to brighten the space inside, whereas in the evening, lighting positioned through the cut-outs will make the whole building stand out. Besides steel and concrete, Dong used bamboo, which is easily found in Yangshuo, twisted into the shape of karst caves. These huge bamboo caves are embedded into different parts of the building. Even though the exterior has a cinematic, retrospective effect, the interior design of the rooms remains contemporary, with soft fabrics and colours throughout and balconies overlooking the green mountains.

However as we all know, it’s not just about design: engaging locals as well as travellers through an interesting, exciting programme is essential for the hotel’s future success. Stephanie, its cool General Manager, has been mulling over some interesting plans in this arena, including developing rock climbing activities on-site. The mountain across from the hotel rooms will be the best spot to excite outdoorsy travellers as well as locals; whereas visiting the traditional farmers’ market, which only runs twice a month, is another fun activity. Probably the biggest surprise will be the bar: lighting and a stage have been set up, nodding to Yangshuo’s established reputation as a creative hub for foreign backpackers. “Music, beer, performances, craft workshops and even artists-in-residence projects will make Alila Yangshuo another kind of resort,” explains Stephanie. “Somewhere with a resort look and an urban lifestyle core.”

Bar, spa and rock climbing at Alila Yangshuo
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Nancy Huang
Nancy Huang is Features Editor for Condé Nast Traveler China.