Wuhan: City centre

30 Apr 2016 by Tamsin Cocks
As first impressions go, the Wanda Reign Wuhan’s “Imperial Welcome” service is definitely memorable. Two tuxedo-clad chauffeurs greeted me at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in a sleek black Bentley replete with seat massagers, wifi and a jazz playlist. The smooth drive to the city centre took just 30 minutes, thanks to ring roads that provide congestion-free passage. The luxury arrival set a high standard – but the city continued to impress. Divided by the Yangtze and Han rivers, Wuhan has long been an important inland port for both Chinese and foreign merchants, and thus boasts stunning colonial architecture as well as amazing modern sculptural edifices, creating a unique urban landscape. Hundreds of surrounding lakes provide natural beauty, while 3,500 years of history present plenty of cultural interest. Modern commercial areas, shopping hotspots and various entertainment outlets also prove that this city continues to thrive today. From a business point of view, the capital of Hubei province is the largest city in central China with more than 10 million people. Traditional industries include massive automobile and steel enterprises, attracting the likes of Dongfeng Motor Corporation, China’s third largest automaker, along with major international outfits including Honda, Nissan, Renault and Citroen. In fact the city benefits from international investment in diverse areas, with a disproportionately high level of French companies concentrating their efforts on the central Chinese city, from retail giants Carrefour to insurance firm AXA. Branching out from traditional manufacturing, Wuhan has developed a number of special economic zones, scientific and technology parks, research institutes and enterprise incubators. Wuhan University and other leading education institutes have helped to develop the city’s drive into new technological spheres, with strong capabilities emerging in the telecommunications, optic-electronics and bio-engineering industries. Ironically, environmental sustainability is also one of Wuhan’s emerging industries, although the thick blanket of smog that pervaded during my visit was perhaps not the best mascot for this. Getting there Wuhan Tianhe International Airport is the 13th busiest in China, serving 23 international destinations including Seoul, Paris, Tokyo and San Francisco, plus more than 50 domestic locations. A new runway is scheduled to open in June that will accommodate A380s, and a third terminal is expected to open this year. One advantage for international travellers is that Wuhan offers a 72-hour visa-free transit, perfect for those on a short business stopover. Being centrally located within China also makes Wuhan a natural transportation crossroads and major transit hub, with dozens of arterial railways and highways linking east to west and north to south. What to do East Lake Scenic Park is one of the most famous sites of natural beauty, with picturesque parks, botanical gardens and hikes. Visiting in March, I was lucky to catch the brief flowering period of the cherry blossom (sakura) trees more commonly associated with Japan. Boat cruises of the area are available, but the pollution made that a decidedly unappealing option. The highly recommended Hubei Provincial Museum might be a better option. For more commercial tastes, head to the Wuhan Central Cultural District. Han Street, one of the newest offerings, is a haven for affordable fashion. Stretching 1,500 metres from one end to the other, it’s one of the longest shopping streets in China, elegantly designed, and dedicated to major global high-street brands such as H&M, Pull & Bear, Zara, Gap, Muji, M&S and Uniqlo. If shopping isn’t your thing, the area still has plenty to offer from a selection of eateries, to arcades and attractions like Madame Tussauds and the 3D-photo “Alive Museum”. The area stays open till 10pm, with a few nightclubs at the end for those who aren’t ready to go home. Top and tailing the entertainment district is the Han Show Theatre at one end, and the Wanda Movie Park at the other. Both are iconic structures: the Han Show Theatre’s red lantern design is particularly memorable, dominating the skyline of this part of Wuhan. Inside is a spectacular water performance by Franco Dragone – famous for his work with Cirque du Soleil (tickets range from RMB380-2,000/US$59-310, thehanshow.com). The Wanda Movie Park offers another architectural marvel shaped like Chinese golden chime bells. Inside are six multidimensional movie theatres, plus rides and 6D experiences. For a different vibe, head across the river to Hankou – the financial centre. Wuhan has a colonial Bund to rival Shanghai, spread over three separate areas. Standing on what’s referred to as the “French bund” are the red-brick fortresses of Banque de L’Indochine and the American Consulate, as well as the cool, white elegance of the former German consulate. After exploring the architecture, wander through the Riverside Park to Wuhan Tiandi, a spacious outdoor complex with a bustling hive of independent stores, fashion boutiques, cafés and bars. In the cab home, I detoured past the Yellow Crane Pavilion, a much-celebrated (reconstructed) historical monument. While some might want to stop and take it in, locals recommended a drive-by is all that’s needed. Where to stay Wanda Reign Wuhan The Wanda group’s premium hotel brand offers 413 luxurious rooms and suites. It’s an ideal choice for MICE groups thanks to the hotel’s meeting facilities, comprising a large 1,500 sqm ballroom plus 13 function rooms, and even more so because the property adjoins the Han Show Theatre. There are three dining outlets including an international buffet and à la carte offering at Café Reign, classic Chinese fare at River Drunk restaurant, and the excellent He Japanese restaurant. Leisure facilities include a beauty salon, billiard room, gym and large indoor swimming pool. Conveniently situated in the “new” town centre, the hotel is close to the main shopping and entertainment area and overlooks the East Lake Scenic Area. Wuhan Tianhe International Airport is about 30 minutes away. www.wandahotels.com Marco Polo Wuhan Situated on the Bund, the Marco Polo Wuhan is located close to the central business district in the Hankou area, as well as plenty of bar and restaurant options. Opened in 2007, it is one of the older properties and could do with a refresh, however the 356 rooms and suites offer modern facilities including high-speed internet, complimentary minibar and cable TV. Three restaurants include Café Marco, serving Asian and international cuisine, Chinese fine dining at Shangdu Tao Yuan and the Verandah bar and lounge. The health centre includes a gym, indoor pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms. marcopolohotels.com   New World Wuhan Hotel Located in the heart of the Hankou business district, the five-star New World Wuhan Hotel is a convenient choice for business. There are 327 stylish guestrooms and suites, plus two dining options, including Italian fare at Jia Kitchen, or Chu Chinese Dining. Snacks and drinks are also available in the elegant lounge. More unusual leisure facilities include an outdoor swimming pool and an archery club. A business centre is also available on level six, providing a full range of services from secretarial support to printing and binding. wuhan.newworldhotels.com Sheraton Wuhan Hankou Hotel Opened in 2014, the Starwood offering boasts 501 guestrooms with 55 suites. Positioned in the main business district, the hotel is just a ten-minute drive from Hankou Railway Station. All rooms offer contemporary furnishings and all the necessary entertainment and communications tech, plus an array of welcoming amenities. Hotel facilities include three restaurants, a heated indoor pool, fitness centre, Shine Spa for Sheraton, a club lounge and 15 meeting rooms including a large ballroom. starwoodhotels.com/sheraton
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