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Mini-breaking at Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen

From Hong Kong's 'poor relation' to swanky hot spot, Shenzhen's transformation has been stellar. Carolynne Dear took the fast train to China for a weekend of eating, shopping and relaxing

Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen

Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen is just minutes from Hong Kong

The transformation of Shenzhen from a quiet scattering of villages to an economic powerhouse has been swift.

Just 40 years ago, it was a rural border town of around 30,000 inhabitants. Today, it has a population of 15 million people and fishing and rice growing has given way to tech and innovation industries that rival Silicon Valley. In the mid-twentieth century, people looking for better opportunities queued for weeks to be allowed to cross the border into Hong Kong; these days, the tables have turned. 

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported in March this year that Hong Kongers had “swamped” crossings to spend the long Easter weekend holiday over the border. According to Immigration Department figures, more than 680,000 Hong Kongers had left the city by 9pm on Good Friday, compared to just 93,000 people coming the other way.

So what changed? Pre-pandemic, Hong Kong was flooded with mainland visitors shopping, dining and making good use of the city’s swanky five-star hotels. But these days, Shenzhen has its own luxury hotels and restaurants to rival those of its neighbour. And what’s more, they’re often cheaper and with (reportedly) better service. With Hong Kong rents sky-high, it’s become a challenging and perhaps unexpected conundrum.

Since the opening of the controversial Hong Kong West Kowloon high-speed rail station in 2018, travel over the border has never been easier. Moreover, China has recently loosened some of its visa restrictions, with a handful of western passports (French, Spanish, Irish and more) now no longer even needing a visa for a short stay north of the border.

Even more enticing for me was an invitation to spend Saturday night at the posh Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen, with a limo service back to Hong Kong on the Sunday. It’s hard to say which part of the trip I was more excited about; a Saturday afternoon draped around a five-star hotel pool deck in the sunshine, a ride on the high-speed train (colloquially known as ‘the pointy’ train) or a chauffeur driven ride in a limo back across the border. I decided to take The Bloke with me.

Unfortunately when we woke-up in our Happy Valley apartment on Saturday morning it was bucketing down, so it looked like the pool might be off the cards. But we still had the pointy train ride to look forward to.

We’d pre-bought our tickets in-person at West Kowloon station the previous weekend. We’d looked at buying online, but as first-time users of the train service, we needed to register our passports which we were told by the website would take three days to process. By going to the station, passport details can be registered in just a couple of minutes by kiosk staff and tickets duly issued.

Four Seasons Shenzhen

Dining at Foo in Shenzhen

Boarding a cross-border train at West Kowloon is similar to using Eurostar in Europe; essentially the departure and immigration process is completed in West Kowloon station, meaning when your train arrives in China, you can simply saunter away. While West Kowloon station was being built, this caused a certain amount of controversy as parts of Hong Kong society objected to having an official mainland Chinese presence on Hong Kong soil, but in practice it makes for a super-smooth travel experience. 

Once we’d exited Hong Kong using our HKID cards, entered China using our multi-entry visas (you also need to fill-in a paper arrivals card) and passed our luggage through security, we were ready and waiting for our train. At the appropriate time, we were invited to scan our tickets and head to the platform to board. The whole process took around 45 minutes so it’s definitely worth allowing plenty of time, particularly during busy periods. 

We’d upgraded to First Class for this inaugural trip and the train carriage didn’t disappoint, with extremely comfortable seating and plenty of space for luggage. We were heading to Futian, Shenzhen’s commercial centre, a journey that’s a speedy 14 minutes and is almost all underground. And the train really is quite pointy, so that was an additional plus point. Such was the comfort, I would definitely consider opting for a train ride over a plane ride if travelling to other, reasonably close destinations in China in the future. And compared to many western countries, ticket prices are an absolute steal.  

Unsurprisingly when we arrived, it was raining as heavily in Futian as it had been in Happy Valley. Fortunately, Four Seasons Shenzhen had kindly upgraded us to an executive suite with fantastic views over the city and back to the mountains of Yuen Long.

The rain was really quite persistent (stair rods spring to mind) and all we managed that afternoon was a browse around a couple of malls a block away from the hotel before stumbling back to our room with soggy shoes. The malls were glitzy, bustling and to be honest, very similar to Hong Kong.


Back at the hotel, we changed out of our damp clothing and headed upstairs to tuck into a couple of glasses of champagne and some nibbles in the executive lounge, again, with great city views. After a convivial conversation about tourist numbers and the weather with Max from the Four Seasons’ guest relations team, we sat down to a delicious dinner at Foo, the hotel’s Asian-inspired dining spot. 

Four Seasons Shenzhen

Eventually the sun came out

The following morning we enjoyed yet more great food at the Four Seasons’ fantastic buffet breakfast, including heaps of delicious Chinese breakfast dishes (natch) that I hadn’t seen on other buffet tables in Asia before, gorgeous pastries and lots of western selections (including two types of bacon, cooked and crispy, which was quite a detailed addition). Four Seasons is very welcoming to families and there were plenty of younger diners enthusiastically filling up their plates.

Thankfully the sun had made an appearance so we escaped to the frangipani-fringed outdoor pool for the morning. Nice touches included bottles of water, floaties for children and complementary sunscreen. Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen also has a huge indoor pool; both pools were life-guarded and shallow enough for kids to enjoy.

Sadly our holiday over the border had come to an end and all that was left was for our suited and booted chauffeur to whisk us back to Sing Woo Road. The roads in Shenzhen are enormously wide and flat and so it was quite the contrast to pop out of the Shenzhen Bay border crossing onto Hong Kong’s windy, undulating highways. We were back in our apartment and loading up the tumble dryer a mere 55 minutes after leaving the hotel. 

The Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen Limousine Package includes a one-way departure or arrival limousine service between Hong Kong and Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen, breakfast for two, 15% discount on food and drink and 30% discount on any additional nights booked beyond the one-night stay period. The package is available until June 30.

Shenzhen travel tips

Where to dine

As a city once renowned mostly for its counterfeit goods, Shenzhen just ten years ago was certainly not somewhere you’d go for fine dining. Today, it’s no longer Hong Kong’s “poor relation” and instead one of China’s hottest gastronomic destinations.

Worth trying for high-end Chinese fare is Shang Garden at Shangri-La Shenzhen in Futian, serving refined Huaiyang cuisine.

Mesa Casa Latina in Luohu district cooks-up Spanish cuisine with a South American twist and is a sister restaurant to Hong Kong’s one-Michelin starred Mono.

Terra Madre, also in Futian, specialises in Italian comfort food. Terra Madre is helmed by Antimo Maria Merone, the chef behind one-Michelin starred Hong Kong restaurant, Estro.

For comfort Cantonese food, there are Shenzhen branches of dumpling specialists Din Tai Fung in PAFC mall in Futian and MIXC outlet in Luohu.  

Where to go

Upperhills in the downtown area of Futian is known for its colourful buildings and shops carrying more than 300 brands. The rain scuppered our chance to visit, but it’s apparently well worth a look. Upperhills is also home to the world’s first Muji Hotel and two-storey flagship store.

Sea World Nanshan is located in Nanshan district on the west coast of Shenzhen and recognisable for its cruise ship at anchor with heaps of dining options and entertainment inside. At night there are musical fountain shows and bar-lined streets. 

Explore lakes, temples and plants across the 500 acre Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Luohu district. Don’t miss the desert plant area with its huge greenhouse filled with cacti. 

Where to stay

These days there are international five-star hotels at every turn. InterContinental opened in January close to Shenzhen Bai high-speed rail station, Mandarin Oriental Shenzhen opened at Upperhills in Futian last year and Shenzhen has this year welcomed its fourth Shangri-La property in Nanshan district.  

Getting around

Taxis are super-cheap compared to Hong Kong. It’s worth downloading Alipay before you leave, the app also allows you to book DiDi Travel (similar to Uber). From later this year, cross-border Octopus cards can be used on Shenzhen public transport systems.

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