By chance, I came across the Shenzhen Airlines logo from afar. It was attached to a white building some way in the distance. At the entrance it became apparent this was no airline office, but a hotel! With the concierge and staff dressed like air hostesses and the place, a virtual palace decorated with all manner of aviation memorabilia. There was no doubt, this was no ordinary 5 star, but a plane enthusiasts heaven and destination in its own right! Happily I would return there a few days later…
Like a dream sequence in an art film, two glass doors open before me. They’re held by two Asian beauties garnished in beige stewardess uniforms who greet me and hand gesture towards reception. The reason for all of this grandiloquence is that the Shenzhenair; HQ in a crown of hotels scattered like jewels across China, is owned by its namesake airline. I’m fortunate to be among its wonderful décor right after Chinese New Year so it still has oriental dragons and ‘good luck’ peach tree decorating the central lobby area. The hotel calls itself ‘your first class cabin on land’ and ‘the best city hotel for air travellers in Shenzhen.’ I’d be tempted to further accentuate it’s the best air themed hotel anywhere, I’ve certainly not seen anything like it before. It is, as the promo literature says, a ‘pioneer’ in bridging the glamorous world of hotels with that of air culture, particularly the golden age of flying; in my mind a pretty good combination.
Therefore this house of the present past is fantastic not only for aviation enthusiasts but also nostalgia freaks. The lobby area alone is enough to send most avian types into a sense of dizzy pleasure. There’s the Wright (Brothers) bar, the kind of place that you’d expect to see travel writers like Somerset Maugham or Paul Theroux floating their imaginations and if not for its silence the yellow lit realm would also make a great jazz café. However, that I later find is reserved for the Red Roof bar at the summit of this extraordinary place some 27 floors up (it’s playing samba, then Norah Jones when I drop by). The Red Roof also has a fabulous garden area in which I take a brief moment to gaze across at Hong Kong and the Bay. Back in the lobby below is the hotel’s own travel agent; beautifully kitted out like a Shenzhen Airlines aircraft interior with seats, windows and overhead luggage lockers, no detail is left to chance. There is also a selection of magazines to read while you wait for your tickets or shuttle connection serving both Shenzhen and Hong Kong airports.
And of nostalgia? Well, as hinted at above, the hotel has more than a passing hint of yesteryear about it. If film makers are seeking a location for a movie similar to Catch Me If You Can – the Shenzhenair is a near perfect fit. On my floor alone is a mural showcasing several aviation pioneers, magnificent men and their flying machines including one of the earliest 747s (it first flew in 1969), while local firm Hong Tao’s lighting perfectly evokes the feel of Pan Am’s America of the 50s or 60s or perhaps a Lufthansa office at Berlin’s iconic Tempelhof Airport with its musky amber hue and silver metal spear, almost like an art-deco Olympic flame. Again, attention to detail is paramount with not only wall art dedicated to flying and aviation (French hot air balloon inventors, Chinese wooden birds) but carpet patterned with propeller blades. Even the hotel welcome cards exude a sixties reminder with the dutiful air hostess taking care of her passenger in-flight or at the airport lounge. This however does not mean the hotel is steeped entirely in the past. Far from it, there is the now industry standard flat screen TV’s, free wi-fi internet and in my room, one of 420, a lovely glass oval desk on which to work.
For the health conscious or sports minded among you, the hotel can more than accommodate your requirements with a gym, swimming pool, massage spa and sauna. If that isn’t enough there are a plethora of sports facilities nearby. Enough to drain the energy of Djokovich, Nadal and Federer combined! This brings me to the business end of the hotel – sleep. Never before have I been confronted by a Pillow Menu. But here it was before me. Here’s a general overview. You can chose from Buckwheat, Baby, Pressure Relieving and Seven-hole Pillows. Pretty impressive isn’t it. I have no idea what mine were but they did the job as I was away faster than the 09.10 to Hangzhou.
Sadly the breakfast buffet does not take place in the Wright bar (though in reality that’s better suited to late night jazz than bright and breezy breakfasts) but in the pale and considering the hotels creativity, somewhat unimaginatively titled Café A. It feels a little like eating in the afterlife or another film set with its angelic lighting and crisp white walls. It’s the only place I’m prevented from taking pictures. The food is OK, but the service is a little flustered in a beguiling Chinese way. The staff mean well but the layout is tricky with the plates hidden from view beneath the food selection on offer and some are unable to tell me which flavour of yoghurt is which – I correctly assume the pink is Strawberry. The yoghurt is called Classy Kiss and like the café, it’s light and airy. The Strawberry is slight and does not overpower the overall taste the way some western equivalents do. Elsewhere there are breads, deep fried dough sticks, petite burgers and potato coupled with red onion and minute cuttings of bacon. These are western pickings but eastern palates are sated by noodles, dumplings and other exotic offerings around the corner. Despite the modest clumsiness, the hotel is still a winner. In fact my only regret on leaving is that one day in the house of nostalgic modernity is not enough and was over too soon. As you can see I’m smitten. Prepare to be dazzled by the charm and charisma of the Shenzhenair International Hotel.