Fragrant Hills Hotel - (Chinese 4-star)
The Fragrant Hills Hotel is one of Beijing's hotel tragedies: so much potential, yet so run down, poorly managed and unappealing.
The hotel *is* worth visiting to see the gardens and the architecture (it was designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei and is reputed to be one of his favourite works). The gardens are neo-classic Chinese style and there is a guided walkway with explanations in English.
The hotel, though, has seen better days, and unless the 'under new management' signs appear, it is unlikely to see them again.
During SARS last year, they quoted the rack rate (which was higher than the discounted rate being offered if you telephoned really top places like the St regis or China World!!!), and they wouldn't budge until another guest chipped in and berated the receptionist for trying to rip me off (Thank you, Mr Zhang of Dalian!)
The rooms are "usual locally-managed China 4-star": grubby, grimy, stained, smelly, everything worn and tired out; missing lightbulbs, poor lighting everywhere, over-staffed by under-employed, witless, clueless, "Mei you"-chanting staff who prefer hanging around with their mates to doing anything for a paying guest.
The coffee shop refused to hand out more than one menu to a table of four people at a table, served cold coffee (despite explicit request for "yibei *rede* kafei"), then waited until we had ordered everything on the menu (I really do mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g) before saying that they didn't know what they had because the chef had gone home. ("When will the chef be back?" we asked. "September maybe").
I was verbally abused by drunken guests at the tiny, seedy bar-cum-karaoke hovel on one of the upper floors. ("Mei you bar" said the receptionist).
Unique Quality: Other than the fabulous gardens and the stunning architecture (love it or hate it, the design is striking), there is little to recommend this dump.
One final indignity is that because the hotel is technically inside the Fragrant Hills Park, taxis and vehicles struggle to get past the aggressive, unthinking guards at the entrance barrier. I had to walk - with my bags - half a kilometre down the road to get a taxi to leave.
This hotel makes Fawlty Towers look like The Bangkok Mandarin Oriental.
As a last comment, I telephoned the Beijing Tourist Complaint Hoteline. The lady at the other end of the line was friendly and helpful, but her comment was funny: "Oh everyone complains about this hotel!"
Directions: Use the south gate of the park.