We passed through the stone doorway

We passed through the stone doorway; Shikumen literally means ‘gate framed by stone’. The heavy green door silently swung open and I was politely invited to step into the private courtyard. We arrived at another door seconds later and just as I stepped into this inner sanctuary, the employee said with an evident mixture of warmth and pride, “welcome home”. A stark departure from its humble beginnings, the shikumen had been refurbished with luxury in mind; the lighting was soft and inviting, the carpet deep and plush. Paintings of pale peach blossoms set against a malachite background conspicuously hung on the walls. Toiletries decorated with images of 1930s Shanghainese ladies were present in the marble bathrooms and a vase of budding peonies was placed on the night stand. All gave an unmistakeable sense of place. Gazing out into the quiet courtyard, I reminded myself the entire house had likely been home to three or more families in the past, none of whom would have had the level of luxurious comfort I was privileged to enjoy.
I had been awake for twenty hours and my rumbling stomach reminded me it was time for dinner, a short stroll through a leafy alleyway led me to the restaurant. With its beautiful mosaic tiles and crystal chandelier, the restaurant lobby transported me back to the golden days of grand Shanghai. I shunned the elevator in favour of the wooden stairs leading to the three-star Michelin restaurant, Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire. I was escorted past the adjoining bar; its dark and seductive atmosphere reminiscent of a bygone era. I imagined banking tycoons, triad bosses and titans of industry deal-making and power-broking over cigars and cognac.

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