Affordable luxury at Sofitel Chengdu Taihe

What do you get when you combine the French art of living well with Chengdu’s already laid-back Epicurean vibe?

The answer is the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe, 262 rooms and suites in the heart of Chengdu. I make this pretty property my base for exploring all that Chengdu has to offer, conveniently just a 7-minute walk to the nearest metro station. Tianfu Square with its giant statue of Chairman Mao and the trendy retail space of Taikoo Li are just a few stops away to the north, while the Tibetan Quarter and the touristy shopping street of Jin Li lined with Qing Dynasty-style shophouses are just a few minutes’ ride by taxi. A vibrant nightlife scene is also within just a few minutes’ walk along the river to Jiuyanqiao Bar Street, just next to the 400-year-old Jiuyan Bridge, home to scores of colorfully lit bars, pubs and restaurants.

La Brasserie Restaurant

La Brasserie Restaurant

Embracing Chengdu’s leisurely pace of life, I wake up early and walk along the Funan River just in front of the hotel. Once known as the JinJiang or “Brocade River” after one of ancient Chengdu’s most famous exports, nowadays it acts like a sparkling green necklace around the neck of Chengdu as it winds its way through the city. While there’s no longer any boat traffic on the river, its riverwalk is ideal for an early morning jog, past graceful practitioners of Tai Chi. I head in for a hearty buffet breakfast at La Brasserie where a feast of Western and Chinese favorites awaits. In a nod to local cuisine, the chef at the noodle station calls out to diners hawker-style, enticing them to try a bowl of soup, and it’s impossible to resist his humor and enthusiasm.

Prestige Suite

Prestige Suite

After a full day of exploring the fascinating markets and neighborhoods of the city, it’s a pleasure to come home to the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe, walking through the grand lobby swathed in marble and bookended by gurgling fountains, all in an art deco chic aesthetic. Lilies, bird of paradise, and even palm trees bring some of the outside in, giving the space a tropical, natural vibe. Upstairs, my suite overlooking the river provides some much needed respite from all of the day’s walking as I sprawl out on the plush sofa in the living room and catch up on the day’s news.

One of my favorite routines is heading up to the Sofitel Lounge for a late afternoon snack and multiple cups of cappuccino served up by the smiling staff. The spacious lounge, done up in tones of brown and gold, is a great place to watch the riverscape below while nibbling on French macarons, little petit fours, and savory croissant sandwiches.

One misty morning, I delay heading out and go up for a swim instead in the heated indoor pool bathed in natural light thanks to a vaulted skylight. I notice the neat row of treadmills in the nearby gym looking out over the river from floor-to- ceiling windows and it’s almost inspiring enough for me to put on my sneakers.

Later, I invite a local foodie back to the hotel to learn more about Chengdu’s amazing food scene. We meet for afternoon tea in Le Rendezvous, a swank lounge tucked discreetly off the main lobby. The clusters of oversized armchairs in amongst large pieces of artwork create cozy pockets of space where we talk about chilies and peppercorns and all things Chengdu while munching on delectable French desserts.

Tianfu Xuan Restaurant

Tianfu Xuan Restaurant

“Chengdu is all about a relaxed life style,” says General Manager Ricky Tang over dinner at Tianfu Xuan, Sofitel’s contemporary Chinese restaurant. “People play mahjong in the park, drink tea, and go walking by the river.” This region has long been known as China’s “Land of Milk and Honey” for its excellent produce which is on full display this evening, including a dish of stir-fried asparagus with mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, and a chicken soup flavored with abalone and mushrooms from the mountains around Chengdu, perfect on a chilly autumn evening. The fiery chilies and mouth-numbing peppercorns that Sichuan cuisine is known for are found in the mapo tofu, where the tofu serves as a vehicle to deliver the potent sauce made of chilies and Pi’xian fermented bean paste, as well as the excellent spicy beef with peppercorns and macadamia nuts, the chunks of beef flash-fried so as to be crispy on the outside but melt-in- your-mouth tender inside.

Sated in mind and body, I crawl into the signature Sofitel MyBed for a heavenly night’s sleep, ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Sofitel Chengdu Taihe at Night

The Sofitel Chengdu Taihe offers affordable luxury in the heart of Chengdu. Select from 162 rooms and 100 suites, all boasting French elegance like Lanvin bath amenities but with a subtle Chinese touch. Facilities include three restaurants, heated indoor swimming pool, 9-room Touch SPA with dry sauna, and more. For more information or to reserve, email: sofiteltaihe@sofitelchengdu.com or visit www.sofitel.com.

Images Provided by Sofitel Chengdu Taihe