Fragrant Hill Hotel


This forgotten architectural landmark is all the more intriguing considering it was only built in 1982. The work of Chinese-American architect IM Pei (of Louvre pyramid fame), it was said to be his attempt at defining a new modern Chinese architectural vernacular. Functionally it's a snoozy state-run hotel, but it's worth admiring if visiting Fragrant Hills Park – it's just outside the northwest gate.

The New York Times at the time described the building as a a 'mix of Chinese and Western architectures the likes of which have never been seen in China or anywhere else'. Or since, frankly. Low-slung, with white stucco walls and a flat roof, it looks like a Suzhou mansion crossed with a Tibetan monastery. The building was met with bewilderment by a nation expecting something more befitting an architect famous for skyscrapers.

The hotel is best viewed from the pond at the rear, flanked by ornamental rocks lugged all the way from Yunnan's Stone Forest. A cafe-bar just inside the rear entrance makes for a pleasant post-park pit stop.