Journey to the Center of the Earth with InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland

12 years in the making, the 336-room InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland rises like a phoenix from the pits of an abandoned quarry in China’s Sheshan Mountain range.

The glass lift is designed to resemble a cascading waterfall.

As the glass lift descended 16 levels below ground, my eyes darted eagerly at the changing landscapes before me. First, barren trees signaling winter, then a rapid plunge into a once-abandoned quarry—with curved, graveled walls melding into rows of pristine glass balconies. At the bottom, a viewing platform somewhat resembling a futuristic UFO landing pad greeted me, dotted with fellow travelers.

My first experience of the newly opened InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland was as otherworldly as I’d imagined. Turns out, it was exactly what the architects had envisioned—to let guests feel like they’re plunging straight into the core of the earth.

16 levels below ground.

While most hotels pride themselves as skyscrapers, InterContinental Hotels & Resort’s 200th hotel is special in that it’s been built into the depths of an abandoned quarry in China’s Sheshan Mountain Range. Conceptualized by Martin Jochman, also one of the designers who brought Dubai’s Burj Al Arab to life, the bold architectural design is a visual reflection of its natural surroundings.

First conceptualized in 2006, the hotel project faced various challenges along the way including meeting strict earthquake regulations and maintaining water levels. Thankfully, these were solved, and construction began in 2013. Guided by philosophies of feng shui, the grass-covered dome of the building resembles rolling hills, the glass elevator cascades downwards like a waterfall, while the contours of the buildings meld perfectly into the rigged edges of the quarry.

Bird’s eye view of the futuristic looking viewing platform.

While subterranean hotels aren’t new, InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland takes it to the extreme by stretching 88 meters underground. The only two stories above ground welcome guests with a grand lobby area—complete with a light and water fountain, as well as a steam-punk inspired Quarry Bar. Meanwhile, 16 levels are below ground, encompassing 336 rooms and suites, the spa, as well as an underwater restaurant.

All of the rooms here offer incredible views of the quarry’s cliffs and waterfalls from the balcony.

All of the rooms here offer incredible views of the quarry’s cliffs and waterfalls from the balcony, including the classic room in which I stayed. The color scheme here is a comforting combination of warm, woody browns and denim blues. Brass piping and stud accents also add an industrial look to the handles and walls, alluding to machinery used in the quarry industry. You’ll find buckle detailing at the edges of the sofa and bed, a large freestanding tub in the bathroom, as well as an in-room voice-activated smart assistant called “xiao du”, who will assist you in closing the curtains, searching for information, and more. Adding to the luxe factor, the rooms come with Dyson hair dryers and Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries.

The crown jewel here is the underwater suites.

The crown jewel here is the underwater suites, which take up two of the 16 underground levels. Offering a loft design, these suites feature a landing deck at water level, which houses the outdoor terrace and living room; while the underground bedrooms are encased within an aquarium. Forget about the television as you watch the schools of fish swim by instead. Designed for full-fledge pampering, these suites also come with round-the-clock butler service.

Mr Fisher restaurant is enveloped by a massive aquarium, where giant manta rays, sharks, and colorful fish make their rounds.

Those who don’t fancy sleeping with the fishes can choose to dine in their company. The headliner restaurant is Mr Fisher, which is located one level before the water surface. Like the underwater suites, the restaurant is enveloped by a massive aquarium, where giant manta rays, sharks, and colorful fish make their rounds. Be mesmerized by their curious and playful ways as you tuck into beautifully plated seafood dishes that are equal parts comforting and fresh. For authentic Chinese cuisine, head to Cai Feng Lou, which specializes in regional specialties from the Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces. Expect flavorful double-boiled soups, braised meats, and exquisite morsels of dim sum.

Taking advantage of the unique quarry setting, the hotel offers outdoor activities such as zip lining, kayaking, and rock-climbing, allowing guests to marvel at the landscape from various vantage points. The best views of the vistas, though, can be experienced from a glass-bottom bridge accessible via a somewhat derelict children’s theme park just across the hotel. Within the hotel, there’s also a gym and a heated pool. The latter makes a lovely hideaway on brutal winter days.

The heated pool makes a lovely hideaway on brutal winter days.

At the moment, there’s little to do in the vicinity of the property, although there’s the promise of a newly renovated mega mall, as well as other entertainment facilities. For now, InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland makes a destination of its own, drawing inbound and international tourists with its photo-worthy extravagance—executed with class, thankfully.

More information here.

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