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There are fantastic modern hotels and restaurants in China, but when it comes to our spas, most look too much like something out of the old French Concession—dark and smoky, a series of little rooms. Though I believe strongly in traditional Chinese therapies, I’ve always wished they could be enjoyed in more stylish settings. So when a friend, let’s call him the Coolest Musician on the Planet (he swore me to secrecy), visited Shanghai last fall and wanted a massage, I wondered if there was a spa here cool enough to please him.
I picked the new Shile Boutique Lifestyle Center in the Pudong District, a sort of club-cum-spa that everybody is talking about. Right away, I knew this place was different. After our two-and-a-half-hour session, we compared notes over a perfect lunch of organic rice and vegetables in the chic restaurant. The massage was traditional Chinese, a light, repetitive punching action (very different from the Japanese pressure-point practice or the long-stroke Swedish). My friend wasn’t sure he liked all the pummeling, but neither of us could argue with the results.
Or with the design. I would say this is the best-looking spa in China, even if they prefer to call it a "lifestyle center." Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, famous for creating the old Palladium discothèque in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, kept everything simple and clean— all white walls and straight lines. The interiors, done by Taiwanese designer Faye Lin and Shanghai partners Vera Chu and Ray Chou, are slightly more traditional, with bamboo and dark woods. That’s what we love most about Shile: It looks completely 21st century, but its core philosophy is based on the tenth-century Guide to Longevity by Song dynasty scholar Chen Zhi. He believed there were ten pleasures in life: reading, conversation, resting, sitting in sunshine, sipping wine, plowing the earth, enjoying music, painting and writing calligraphy, exercise, and taking a walk.
Shile is constructed so guests can partake in all of these. There is a study with a library and an area for meditation, and the restaurant where we ate serves classic Chinese dishes using local ingredients. The Bo Bo Jiu lounge is quickly becoming the place to meet for a drink. We found it hard to leave. With luxury apartments soon going up on the property, a lucky few won’t have to.
The Shile Boutique Lifestyle Center is at 1 Lane 599, near the intersection of Fang Dian and Jin Xiu roads (86-21/5033-9113; jjtshile.com).