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Independent Minds: Li Jin, Cours et Pavillons

Beijing local Li Jin has dedicated her siheyuan-style hotel, Cours et Pavillons, to preserving the centuries-old Chinese architecture of the courtyard house, and the traditional family values which come with welcoming guests into her historic home. Step into an oasis of old world Beijing amidst ancient hutong, to a tucked-away community keeping China’s past alive.

Li Jin pictured alongside the colourful courtyard entrance to Cours et Pavillons.

What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?

Our hotel’s overall design style and unique geographical location stand out from the usual chain hotels in terms of history and culture. From the guest’s perspective, it is more personalised and private. The hotel is located in a quiet location in the middle of the hutong, isolated from the hustle and bustle, perfect for relaxing in the courtyard, reading and sipping tea.

What was the inspiration behind the hotel, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?

As a local Beijinger, Cours et Pavillons was created as a mission to preserve the siheyuan (courtyard house), a unique Chinese architectural style that is traced back to over 800 years when Beijing established its status as the capital city. One of the most definitive features of the city is definitely its hutongs (胡同) – alleys formed by lines of siheyuan. We want to promote this inimitable Chinese cultural symbol and invite travellers from other parts of China and abroad to experience the life of old Beijing.

How do you think your hotel stands apart from other boutique hotels?

The most distinctive element of Cours et Pavillons from other hotels is that it reproduces the essence of the old Beijing courtyard house, as well as the essence of an ancient Beijing tradition and Confucian values which cannot be replicated anywhere else. These houses are representative of the relations in a traditional Chinese family, while the unique organisation of private and public spaces allow the residents to enjoy their privacy and, whenever needed, indulge in various social activities – which is exactly how we want our guests to feel – an intimate and restful atmosphere where they can spend valuable time with their loved ones.

Interiors are dotted with antiques from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

If it can be distinguished from other courtyard houses, I think it should be in our details. We have taken much effort to modernise and upgrade the siheyuan with modern-day amenities and top-notch service while still preserving the original elements including antiques from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. We also have a popular fine dining French restaurant where guests can enjoy contemporary gastronomy, or local street delicacies abound the adventurous once they step out of the hotel.

If you only had 24 hours to get a taste for your hotel experience, what would you recommend a guest must do?

I would suggest staying in our South Courtyard (南院) rooms – according to ancient traditions of sky and earth worship, the North pole was the centre of the world and the Forbidden City was built in a way the Emperor faced the South at any time, thus the ancient courtyard houses were built in the same way. The principal house facing the South was inhabited by the head of family because it had the best location, the warmest place in winter, offered most freshness in summer, and is shaded by the overhanging front-roofs. That said, all our rooms have been modernised to offer just as much comfort.

There is no lack of sightseeing around the hotel. Once guests are well-rested and ready to explore, they can ride or walk through the old Beijing hutong alleys to the famous Beihai, Jingshan, Houhai and Nanluogu Alleys – the streets are full of food stalls and small thrift shops, and also bars, cafés and live music venues. I always enjoy walking through the hutong alleys especially in the morning when the local markets and hole-in-the-wall food stalls are open and full of life. Later in the afternoon, they can also go to trendy Sanlitun which is known for its fashionable dining and nightlife scene.

Afternoon high tea at Cours et Pavillons.

When they are ready to call it a day, I recommend a hot bath in the semi open-air Jacuzzi in the South Courtyard Deluxe Room to eliminate the day’s fatigue. A fine dining French meal at our restaurant would be the best way to top off the day. Our housekeeper is also on hand to introduce the architecture and culture of our residence pre-dinner.

As the birds’ chirping signal the start of a new day, I would recommend trying a typical Beijinger’s breakfast – either soybean milk with crispy fried dough sticks, wonton noodles, or delicious steamed xiaolongbao (soup-filled meat dumplings). Of course, a Western-style breakfast is also available.

To fully immerse yourself in the special atmosphere of a siheyuan and experience a slice of life back in the past, sit beneath the Magnolia and Begonia trees in the main courtyard, enjoy the sunshine, watch the flowers bloom and fall, with a good book in hand and a pot of well-brewed Chinese tea. The courtyard is also the perfect place for an afternoon high tea.

How would you describe your own perfect luxury experience?

The perfect luxury experience starts right at the point when the guest makes a booking, continuing from when the person checks in to even after they leave the hotel; we have to make the guest feel welcome at every touch-point. When we welcome guests to our hotel, we will also introduce our unique architecture and story of the building to let them better understand and fully immerse in this special atmosphere. As we present this ancient culture, we also endeavour to provide the best facilities so that modern comforts are not compromised, and personalised service provided to every guest so that they can feel well taken care of and that it is something that they will remember for a long time.

A butler prepares one of the hotel’s seven guest rooms with incense.

Do you have a vision for the future of the hotel?

The original intention of establishing the hotel was to promote traditional Beijing culture. With this kind of responsibility, cultural sustainability is an important mission for the hotel. Also worth mentioning is sustainable architecture, which implies creating a healthy and comfortable environment for its residents, thus establishing a balanced and harmonious life within nature, culture and people. Although there was no such term at that time, the siheyuan architecture met all the above-mentioned criteria, and this is what we want to continue to preserve.

This pandemic period has also made people more mindful of the impact they have on the environment and the need for more conscious travel. Travellers now want to focus more on the quality of their trips, asking themselves why they want to travel, what experiences they are looking for and what they hope to learn from those experiences. They generally seem more concerned about sustainability and the need to support local businesses – which benefits local hotels like us. More importantly, the only lasting changes can only come with heightened hygiene measures which we are very mindful of and working hard to improve on everyday to ensure our guests’ peace of mind.