I noticed the phenomenon many years ago while on yet another business trip when I was working a traditional 9-5 job. I was in a nice destination, but thanks to meetings or conference sessions I never saw it. No, instead I was trapped inside meeting rooms that could have been anywhere. There was no individuality, nothing connecting it with that amazing destination I never actually got to experience. I think many of us can relate to this, sometimes hotels remove us from destinations instead of connecting us with them. That’s why when I visit a property that so expertly intertwines a remarkable luxury hospitality experience with the city or region it calls home, I have to mention it. That was exactly what I experienced while visiting the Ritz Carlton Chengdu in one of China’s most interesting cities.
It was my first time not only in Chengdu, but also Mainland China and I frankly didn’t know what to expect. I knew the cities were large, but sitting in the back seat of the car as I was whisked to the Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu nothing prepared me for the immense scale that can only be found in China. Pulling up to the glittering Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu, the first luxury hotel in Southwest China, I was excited but uncertain. Luckily any hesitation I had instantly vanished as I was welcomed into the warm enclave of the Ritz-Carlton, perched high above the city. It was those views that I noticed first as I walked into my spacious suite. The hotel calls the 28th to the 41st floors home, guaranteeing all guests stunning views of the city that seems to stretch out forever. The rooms themselves are modern and refined, exactly what I expect from any Ritz-Carlton property, but with fun moments of flair. Whether it was the telescope in my bedroom, or remote-controlled everything, the room was as inviting a space as any I’ve enjoyed in a long time.
The hotel is a lot more than just the guest rooms of course, and immediately upon arrival I took advantage of one of those amenities – the spa. Since I was in a suite, I had a personal butler at my disposal who quickly managed to secure a reservation for me to enjoy time to decompress after a long day of travel. With treatments inspired by the Silk Road, I spent an hour or so being pampered with a special massage and detox ritual developed just for the Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu. To say I was in a state of bliss would be a massive understatement, but it was only the beginning to what was not just a nice stay, but one that was meaningful.
Connecting with Chengdu
Chengdu is a special place and as I learned while exploring the region, there’s a lot to draw visitors to this sprawling city. China is very much a food-obsessed country, but even within China Chengdu has a special reputation for its unique cuisine. Influenced over the centuries by traders from around the world, Chengdu enjoys flavors and spices not found in other Chinese cities. It also has a fierce reputation for spice and heat, this is the birthplace of Sichuan cuisine after all. It’s through the regional food specialties where the Ritz-Carlton particularly excels in fusing the hotel with the surrounding community, which I discovered while enjoying dinner at one of their restaurants – Li Xuan. Walking into the space, I knew right away that this wasn’t going to be an average dining experience. Antique sconces and lights adorn the walls and even the ceiling itself is a throwback to a different time and place. That’s exactly the point though in this restaurant that offers a unique fusion of classic Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine. It was also my first introduction to the spicy but flavorful dishes of the region and after enjoying one of the best meals I’ve been offered in a long time, I knew that it was the perfect culinary primer.
The food isn’t the only way that the Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu connects its guests with the city and region, although it certainly is an important aspect. Staff also aid guests in planning a perfect afternoon or even multi-day itinerary seeing the best of the area, and for me that meant a trip to see the famous pandas, a symbol of the city that the Ritz-Carlton has thoroughly and warmly embraced. It’s impossible to avoid mentions of pandas anywhere you go, and visiting one of the nearby panda research centers is an easy and remarkable experience. The hotel is also convenient to many of the sights within the city as well, including the famous Wide and Narrow Alleys that played an important role in my own Chengdu experience. The oldest part of town, today it’s the best place to enjoy dinner, grab a snack, do some shopping or just enjoying strolling amongst the ancient buildings. But this is also the place where the Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu went above and beyond to ensure my time in Chengdu wasn’t just nice, but memorable.
I was staying at the hotel working in cooperation with Cathay Pacific Airways to share what my ideal experience in China would look like. The Ritz-Carlton was a great partner in this effort and at every location, the staff were instrumental in making sure I had everything I needed in order to make the most out of my brief time in the country. While in Chengdu, I learned about the city’s famous hot-pot meal and desperately wanted to try it for myself. Asking the Ladies & Gentlemen for a recommendation, I expected to be shown a map and directions, but that’s not what happened. No, instead several staff members took time out of their lives to join me, to teach me the proper ways to eat and enjoy a hot pot meal and to point out many other local favorite bites I would never have found otherwise. They didn’t have to do this. They could’ve advised me to instead eat only at the hotel or just given me directions to the restaurant and hope for the best. Instead they took time away from their families so that I could experience something that defines their city. They sincerely wanted me to learn about Chengdu and to understand why food is at the heart of local culture. That’s real human kindness, it’s not fabricated and that simple act of hospitality made me forever fall in love with the city. This didn’t only happen because they knew I was a visiting journalist. Spending a lot of time talking with them, they let me know that going above and beyond is expected at the hotel, to do more than just point out items on a map but to make sure their guests have remarkable experiences in the city the love so much. That’s special, that’s service and ultimately, that’s what luxury travel is all about.
I write a lot about luxury hotels in nearly every corner of the planet. Many times, those hotels lack a certain level of personality, of individuality that sets that apart. That certainly wasn’t the case for me at the Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu where my experience was just that, an experience. It wasn’t just spending two nights in a hotel room, enjoying the Club Lounge or grabbing a quick drink at the lobby bar. No, instead the hotel is designed to provide all of its guests with something different, something unique and that is what sets them apart from everyone else. Although the Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu was the first luxury hotel in the region, there of course more popping up all of the time. But the Ritz Carlton Chengdu isn’t like the rest, they infuse the high levels of service and quality found at all Ritz-Carlton properties with the unique sensibilities and even flavors of the city it calls home. Ultimately that’s what any of us want when we travel, be it for business or leisure. We want to feel like we’re traveling, experiencing something new and different and not locked in those windowless conference rooms that were the bane of my former professional life.