Virtuoso Life May 2019 City to Go: Shanghai

City to Go: Shanghai

The Bund. 
The Bund. 
China’s French-inflected megacity is remaking itself, fast and fabulously.

Go For

Shanghai is the proverbial head of China’s dragon, roaring and massive. With a population that tops 24 million, China’s largest cosmopolis rivals any other. The city’s mutable spirit is reflected in ancient temples, the colonial architecture of the Bund and the former French Concession, futuristic skyscrapers in Pudong, and a vibrant art scene that has blossomed in abandoned buildings and manufacturing wastelands. A once-industrial strip of the Huangpu River has been transformed into the Shanghai Corniche, a waterfront park and promenade stretching to the Bund, and the West Bund Culture Corridor. There, the Long Museum showcases part of China’s largest private art collection in a facility built around a revamped coal hopper (that attracts a constant stream of selfie-taking influencers), while the Yuz Museum, founded by another billionaire collector, occupies a converted airplane hangar. The Power Station of Art, China’s first state-run contemporary art museum, is housed in a decommissioned power plant (where Shanghai’s most recent biennale took place). And opening this year are the Centre Pompidou Shanghai, in the West Bund Art Museum, and Tank Shanghai, an arts-and-recreation complex that incorporates giant repurposed oil tanks.
The Power Station of Art. 
The Power Station of Art. 

Drink

Have a cocktail with a view at Sir Elly’s Terrace at The Peninsula Shanghai. From the 14th-floor rooftop bar, you can see the Bund’s art deco sweep, the neon spread of Pudong across the Huangpu River, and most of Shanghai’s almost 1,000 skyscrapers – from the twisty 128-story Shanghai Tower (the world’s second tallest) to the bulbous Oriental Pearl Tower.

In the former French Concession, the basement bar YY is a boho lounge accented with red velvet, wood paneling, and Mao posters, and steeped in stories of modern-day Shanghai and the laowai (expats) who have been coming here for the past two decades.

YY bar. 
YY bar. 

Eat

No one should leave Shanghai without sampling the city’s ubiquitous soup dumplings. Savor the steamed “XLB” (xiao long bao) version at more-than-a-century-old Nanxiang Mantou Dian, the pagoda-like (and most touristy) bao spot by scenic Yuyuan Garden. Local favorite Yang’s Fry-Dumpling serves them fried (sheng jian bao) in an upscale mall in the trendy Jing’an district. Pro tip: Hold the broth-filled bao (bun) with chopsticks over a wide Chinese spoon, nibble a hole in its side, and slurp the goodness from within.

For an upscale experience, go luxe just off the Bund at Bao Li Xuan in the new Bulgari Hotel Shanghai, where the dim sum dumplings are steamed, fried, or baked.

Dumplings at Nanxiang Mantou Dian.
Dumplings at Nanxiang Mantou Dian.

Shop

City-block-size Tianzifang in the former French Concession is a maze of longtang (alleyways) and shikumen (traditional “stone gate” houses) lined with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and street-snack vendors. Have your name engraved on a jade chop, pick up a vintage Buddhist singing bowl and mala beads, or buy a pair of Feiyue, the beloved Shanghainese sneakers created in the 1920s and used for martial arts practice (the name means “flying forward”).

Wander the M50 art district, a network of galleries and studios amid artists’ graffiti in a onetime textile mill by Suzhou Creek, just north of Jing’an. ShanghART, a pioneer in the Shanghai contemporary art landscape, showcases big-name Chinese artists, but work by emerging local talent and artisans (from photography and furniture to clothing and leather goods) also fills the many nooks and crannies here.
Feiyue sneakers.
Feiyue sneakers.

Stay

Capella Shanghai Jian Ye Li enfolds guests in a heritage shikumen block in the former French Concession, where French expats and then hundreds of Shanghainese families lived in the 1930s-era stone-gate townhouses. Its 55 villa suites showcase a mix of classic French and chinoiserie design, and the hotel has a boulangerie and comptoir by three-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire.

Amanyangyun, on the city’s outskirts, features Ming and Qing dynasty houses transplanted from inland China, along with 1,000-year-old camphor trees, to save them from destruction when a dam was built. This old-meets-new sanctuary with 13 villas and 24 suites offers calligraphy lessons, tea ceremonies, and incense-making classes.

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