On a visit to the ecological island of Chongming, near Shanghai, my group visited Dao Zhong Dao, a stunning concept hotel and restaurant.
CHONGMING, THE ECO ISLAND OF SHANGHAI
After a late arrival on a flight from the U.S. to Shanghai, I awoke the next morning to an enticing email invitation to Chongming Island. My friend, French architect Jean-Pierre Heim, wanted me to join a group visiting his hotel project there.
The alluvial island, also called Eco-Island, formed from silt and rock, is in the Yangtze River Delta and had long been on my must-see list.
But Heim’s group was leaving in only two hours! I abandoned my plan to spend a few days recovering from jet lag and was soon out the door.
Among Chongming Island’s forestland is the Dongping National Forest Park, the largest man-planted forest in eastern China and the biggest forest park in Shanghai.
The island is home to the Dongtan Wetlands, designated a “Wetlands of International Importance” by the United Nations Convention on Wetlands in 2002.
Dongtan provides habitat for migratory birds and is a National Natural Reserve of Birds.
Chongming also features lush green farmland and residential areas.
Our group met at the Ritz-Carlton (1990), designed by famed American architect John C. Portman, Jr. and one of the first modern hotels in Shanghai built by a foreigner.
Jean-Pierre Heim had invited 80 of us—friends, clients, fellow architects, expats, colleagues, and businesspeople—to see the grand opening of his Dao Zhong Dao hotel on Chongming Island.
SHANGHAI YANGTZE RIVER TUNNEL & BRIDGE
We began our journey through the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel Bridge, at 15.8 miles (25.4 km) the longest bridge and tunnel in China. Before its completion in 2009, only a ferry connected Chongming to the mainland.
Though it cost more than 12 billion yuan ($1.8 billion), the bridge-tunnel is expected to boost incomes in Chongming, one of Shanghai’s poorest areas, and to encourage tourism and investment.
The tunnel portion of the Yangtze River Tunnel Bridge runs for 5.5 miles from Changxing Island toward Chongming Island.
The central span of the 10.3-mile bridge portion is the longest cable-stayed span in Shanghai and the tenth longest in the world. The view from the bridge, over the East China Sea, is spectacular.
On the way, we passed wind farms lining the coast. The enormous windmills didn’t infringe on the beauty of the landscape, since they were like pieces of contemporary sculpture.
MY FIRST VIEW OF CHONGMING
Chongming, located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, is a rural, agrarian area, home to natural parks and wetlands filled with migratory birds. Just a two-hour car ride from Shanghai, it’s considered a restful getaway spot ideal for a weekend visit or conference.
Since I had read that it was meant to be a nature preserve, I was surprised by the extent of development: business parks, characterless suburban housing, and charmless farmers’ homes.
In addition to Heim’s hotel, a sprawling Hyatt Regency recently opened on the island. It has embraced the island’s ecological focus by incorporating organic foods into its menus and offering outdoor activities such as tours of nearby farms and bicycle rides.
I was impressed with the traffic organization: separate lanes for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians to improve safety. I wish we had this in the U.S.
The generic Mediterranean-style housing is what you see around the world, but to me it was especially reminiscent of suburban southern California.
Fortunately, despite all the new construction, you can still see vestiges of the old way of life on the island.
DAO ZHONG DAO HOTEL
Our bus turned into a beautiful first-class development: a feng shui-influenced landscape featuring a lake, trees, rocks, and bridges.
Within the development, we arrived at Dao Zhong Dao, a concept hotel and restaurant. The name is cleverly symbolic: zhong means “center.”
A stylized sculpture of the hotel’s logo in red, a lucky color to the Chinese, stands between the hotel and restaurant buildings.
We were welcomed by Jean-Pierre Heim (right), the French architect who designed the project, and hotel proprietor Jianpei Shi.
Other hotel guests arrived in style, among them this young lady with her Ferrari. China, now second only to the U.S. as a luxury car market, is poised to take the top spot in 2016, according to professional data analysts PwC.
We gathered around the al fresco bar to socialize before heading to the casual buffet lunch in a banquet room overlooking the lake.
Jianpei Shi expressed his delight with the project and the area, which offers fresh air and organic produce. A wine connoisseur, he is searching for a chateau to buy in Bordeaux, as many of his friends are doing.
“We can breathe the sea air here,” said Heim as he welcomed the visitors. He acknowledged the contribution of his daughter Carolyn’s work on the hotel project. “Her feminine perspective added a softening touch.”
Jeanne Lawrence, Jean-Pierre Heim, and Carolyn Heim.
Renato Nucci, Janet Shi, and Jianpei Shi.
Hotel manager Mr. Ni and owner Jianpei Shi.
Kee Club’s Sisi Lu and her friend Maggie, an event planner.
Jianpei Shi, Janet Shi, Jeanne Lawrence, Jean-Pierre Heim, and Monique Heim.
Jean-Pierre Heim with friends.
We enjoyed a buffet lunch in the airy dining room.
After lunch, Mr. Heim and owner Jianpei Shi took us on a tour of the contemporary Dao Zhong Dao hotel.
I highly recommend the resort as a paradise-like refuge from crowded Shanghai, whether you go for a pleasure trip or for a business meeting.
The dramatic entrance is highlighted with a gazebo-like structure lit from within, allowing subtle streams of light through a pattern of circular holes.
Round gates are found in many traditional Chinese gardens.
Elegant accordion glass columns are a highlight of the lobby.
The furnishings were designed exclusively for the stylish hotel, which is decorated in a palette of shades of white.
We toured nine chic luxury bedroom suites, all open, light, and bright, with uncluttered white walls, large modern baths, and every amenity imaginable.
Each suite offered a private terrace and a small lap pool with views of the lake and abundant landscaping.
Amenities for every season include the indoor hot tub and the outdoor lap pool.
The stunning Presidential Suite was the size of an apartment, with the best views of the lake, a large living room, and a separate bedroom.
If I stayed overnight in a suite, I feared I’d never want to leave the serene and restful atmosphere to return to the hubbub of Shanghai.
Jean-Pierre Heim (center), Jackie Lifiang Fosun (right), and friend.
Jianpei Shi with more guests.
VISIT TO SHOU’AN TEMPLE ON CHONGMING ISLAND
Heim had also organized a tour of the nearby ancient Buddhist Shou’An Temple, built more than 700 years ago during the Song Dynasty. It was expanded over the centuries, throughout the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.
After years of neglect, in 1983 the local government restored the Shou’An Temple. Returned to magnificence, it draws a large number of pilgrims each year. The Jade Buddha Tower, another addition to the complex, was completed in 2000.
Our group at the temple.
Jeanne Lawrence among the temple pavilions, whose poetic names include Buddha Praying Hall, Thousand-Buddha Cabinet, Repenting Cabinet, Jade Lotus Pond, and Moon Garden.
The temple complex is visually stunning thanks to brightly colored decorative glazed tiles, carved doors, and columns.
In China, the use of incense (xiang) is integral to a variety of cultural activities. At Buddhist temples, it’s burned to purify the surroundings and clear out any bad spirits. It also serves as an offering to ancestors or deities.
We partied late into the night, when buses returned us to Shanghai. I never made it to several other Chongming Island attractions—the Dongping National Forest Park, Dongtan Wetland, and Yingdong Fishing Village, where guests can go fishing and locals will cook the catch. So I’ll just have to return!
SHANGHAI YACHT CLUB
Jean-Pierre Heim, who has offices in France and Mykonos as well as in China, is one of many expats who’s involved in numerous projects here. This year, he completed a renovation of the Shanghai Yacht Club, located on the shore of the Huangpu River in Pudong (the financial district), and he’s currently designing the Beijing Yacht Club.
The Shanghai Yacht Club’s complete renovation included the addition of a bar lounge, restaurant, terrace, and façade improvements.
The Club’s new outdoor dining room offers sweeping views of the harbor.
A rendering of the future Jules Verne-inspired Beijing Yacht Club.
“THE FRENCH WILL NEVER FORGET” D-DAY COMMEMORATION
Despite his busy schedule, Heim managed to fly to Manhattan on June 6 to take part in the ceremonies put on by The French Will Never Forget (TFWNF) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. It honored French and American soldiers who lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy.
TFWNF’s goal is to strengthen the friendship between America and France, which dates back to France’s supporting the American Revolution and being the first country to recognize the U.S. as an independent nation.
TFWNF co-founders made a statement expressing France’s wish to show its appreciation to America, its “oldest friend and ally,” for helping the country regain its freedom in World War II.
A gift from France to the United States in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was the perfect backdrop for the ceremonies.
The band of the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard, established in 1771 and the oldest military organization in continuous existence in the U.S., played at the event.
Helicopters released a million red rose petals over the Statue of Liberty.
A group of 130 French and American children carried enormous U.S. and French flags onto the scene.
As the children unfurled the flags, both the American and the French national anthems were played.
As a salute to American and French veterans, a New York firefighter boat sprayed streams of red, white, and blue water.
In keeping with the spirit of Franco-American bonding, American Susan Nagel, Frenchwoman Nancy Du Tertre, American Jeanne Lawrence, and Parisian Laurence de Gramont watched the ceremony together.
The American color guard.
Officers of the French naval frigate Lafayette.
Mr. and Mrs. Kukurudz of Citizen Events, who orchestrated the event, with TFWNF co-founders Jean-Pierre Heim, Paul Bensabat, Christian Millet, and a volunteer.
The skyline view from Liberty Island, in which, appropriately, the recently opened One World Trade Center “Freedom Tower” figures prominently.
As we left, the rose petals drifting down the Hudson River reminded us of the sacrifices of so many.
Photos by Jeanne Lawrence, Jean-Pierre Heim, Ron Contarsy, Shanghai Chongming Government, and Wikimedia Commons.
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.