Taiwan started blipping on my radar screen last year as enthusiasm for the island started percolating in the press. The New York Times hailed the destination as one of 52 Places to Go in 2014. National Geographic hailed Taiwan as one of the 20 top places to go in 2015. All of a sudden what the Portuguese saw in the “Beautiful Island”- Formosa as they’d dubbed it in the 16th Century- was in the midst of a renaissance of sorts.
As was the Grand Hyatt Taipei. I’d heard last year that the hotel was on the verge of a grand relaunch 25 years after first opening, and several years after the hotel embarked upon a top-to-toe renovation that took all 853 rooms and suites all the way down to their concrete fundamentals. Who can resist a renaissance? Not me.
In mid-April of this year, the hotel did indeed celebrate its grand relaunch, complete with a troupe of aerialists dangling from 30-foot streamers of silk and more than 600 celebrants. The lobby is a soaring space, not surprisingly, but accessible in a far less grandiose way. Checking in seems beside the point. There is no high counter at which you’ve got to offer up passport and credit card. Instead, you sort of mingle with staff at any one of five low-slung check-in desks, as if you’re an attendee at an event.
“It’s much less of a ‘you and I’ experience,” says the hotel’s general manager, Kai Speth, “and much more of a ‘we’re all here together.’ These are very subtle gestures, but a hotel relies on its mostly finely tuned details to create its most memorable effects.”
The woman who escorted me to my room told me that the elevator cars, like so much of everything else about the hotel, were new, and that I should feel free to check my mail in the elevator. “Wifi boosters,” she said, clearly charmed.
I never think about elevators when I am traveling to my hotel room, but I did in this one, because one thing I was determined to do in Taipei was travel to the top of Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010. The skyscraper towers over the Grand Hyatt Taipei, and a ride to the top was reputed to be one of the top 10 elevator rides in the world. “At Taipei 101, the journey really is the destination,” Speth tells me.
My room was a Grand Executive Suite. I entered tentatively, waiting for the frisson that sometimes accompanies those first few steps into a new space where I’m bound to spend a few nights. The excitement doesn’t always register, and it’s never a conscious development, and it doesn’t always happen in a new room. But it was happening here as I drank in the flourishes of this suite.
My bath clad in big half-square yards of marble, the muted, earthy colors, the plush goose down duvet, the deep soaking tub on one side of my bath and the rain shower on the other. Flat screen televisions hung from textured walls, and a great bank of windows opened on the city in two directions.
I drew the drapes, and, there was Taipei 101, looming outside my window in all its resplendent glory, climbing for the skies in segments like the stalk of bamboo it represents.
The following morning, I did take that elevator to the top of Taipei 101, and the 37-second journey was the destination, but so was the top. All of Taipei, a good deal of Taiwan, it would seem, sprawled away from my perch on the tower’s 90th floor. There were rice fields in the distance, and closer to home, temples and parks and “many other wannabe skyscrapers, hunkered down as if in obeisance to this architectural wonder,” as Speth writes in his blog.
From here, I tapped some places into my phone for visiting later. In the meantime, there was lunch to see about. In the new Grand Hyatt Taipei, there are two new destination restaurants - Yun Jin, which serves up cuisine from nearly every corner of the Middle Kingdom, and the Steakhouse, which, well, you can imagine. That restaurant has yet to open.
‘When in Rome’ was my mantra this afternoon, and though Cantonese is not Taiwanese, it was close enough for me on this first day on the island. No wonder they’d decided against changing Pearl Liang, a Tony Chi design that opened in 1999. Servers set platters of dim sum on a spinner at the center of my table, and I spun my way into culinary bliss.
Over the next several days, I explored the culinary delights of China through Yun Jin, traveled to the region’s other big island for Japanese at Irodori and, as much as I’m loathe to admit it, stopped in at Cheers for some Western comfort food. One person, by the way, knew my name.
One morning, I ate at the Café, an irresistible venue on the ground floor where a rain wall at the entrance is a prelude of vast dining area, banked with windows, accented by show kitchens and anchored by an enormous buffet. But I preferred the Club Lounge upstairs. A long high-counter catered to guests who wanted a convivial breakfast, and smaller alcoves on the windows took in the long view. That’s where I sat most mornings, enjoying the renaissance.
For more information, please visit www.grandhyatttaipei.com.