Escape the hustle of down-town Shanghai by heading to the French Concession- a leisurely enclave that sprouted at the beginning of the 19th century as a nominal French colony. The leafy streets lined with Art Deco villas and broad avenues offer ideal walking conditions. Grab a map and discover the area’s fascinating array of goods, from home wares to Mao ware.

 

 

The Shop: Madame Mao’s Diary
(207 Fumin Lu; +86 21 54033551)

The Vibe: You could entertain yourself for hours browsing the witty Mao memorabilia in this cozy shop. Pick up statues of the man himself, or painted onto the inside of a glass Christmas light. Just as fun are the Socialist-realist enamel plates with a whimsical twist (traditionally reading “Enhance our vigilance, defend the Motherland!” now printed with, “Defend the stock exchange!”) However, it’s unlikely the Great Helmsman would have approved of the capitalist-era prices- especially when most of it can be found at a fraction of the cost at the Dongtai Rd Antique Market or in brick-brack shops along Duolun Road.

Best Buys: Pick up bed time stories with reproduction copies of Mao’s little red book, in English or Mandarin, $144; enamel cups with Red Guards advancing on the Beijing Olympics, $15; Hello Panda! T-shirts with Revolution-era designs, $50. There is also a stack of antiques and clothes by Jian Ping (see below).

What’s Nearby: One of Shanghai’s newest- and most interesting- boutique hotels is a short walk away. Housed in the former post office, URBN (183 Jiao Zhou Road; +86 21 51534600; www.urbnhotels.com, double rooms from $234) has 26 spacious rooms with mahogany floors, hemp rugs and a green conscious. It claims to be the first carbon neutral hotel in China, with such eco-conscious features as passive solar shades and water-based air conditioners.

The Shop: Urban Tribe
(Valley store- 86 Fuxing Rd West; +86 21 64335366. Lane store- 14, Lane 248, Taikang Road; +86 21 54651668)

The Vibe: Fashion designer Jasmine Mu and former T+L China editor Ping Gao started Urban Tribe two years ago after becoming fed up with the dreary quality of Chinese made homeware. There are several outlets, with the Valley shop offering the entire range of their lifestyle goodies- pottery, clothes, shoes- that focus on China’s vanishing textile and handicraft traditions, like liang chou, a Ming Dynasty-era silk which is washed in river mud until it looks and feels like leather. Ponder how far you can stretch the budget in the leafy tea garden out the back.

Best Buys: The chunky, hand beaten jewellery is both rustic and stylish: silver rings from $61; lapis, coral and jade necklaces from $142. Sturdy leather sandals, from $89; liang chou silk evening dress, $266; Jasmine, Oolong and Dragon Well Green teas, from $17.

What’s Nearby: Tucked behind 1930’s Shanghai-style furniture chain Casa Pagoda is Ginger Café (299 Fuxing Road West; +86 21 64339437; www.gingercafe.cn; lunch for two $55), which draws a loyal crowd for its dips, cakes and jazzy Asian fare, like Vietnamese baguettes with kaffir lime chicken and nigiri tofu salad.

The Shop: Chartres Gallery
(268 Fuxing West Road; +86 21 62128086)

The Vibe: This candy-coloured shop is a part of nearby Chartres French restaurant. Although shoe-boxed size, we love it for its unusual collection of antiques and collectibles – many a blend Eastern and Western styles, all the fashion in the early 20th century, when Shanghai was known as one of the most glamorous and illicit cities in the world. These are squeezed in among upcountry textiles and exquisite fine bone china.

Best Buys: The classical bone China saucers with hand painted Chinese Emperors, from $100; paisley and flower print table cloths from Yunnan Province, $56; tasseled elephant lamp, $635.

What’s Nearby: Chill out with a four-hands massage or sea-salt scrub at nearby Shui Urban Spa (5th floor, Ferguson lane, 376 Wukang Rd; open from 11am; +86 21 61267800; www.shuiurbanspa.com.cn; from $27). The minimalist day spa has an outdoor lounge area hovering among the tree tops.

The Shop: Brocade Country
(616 Julu Road, Jingan District; +86 21 62792677)

The Vibe: Travel to China’s most remote and picturesque corners without leaving the city. Miao sisters Liu and Yanzi Xiaolan forage for their shop’s stunning collection of intricate embroidery, old shoes, silver work and wooden cabinets from their homeland in Guizhou County, an area of towering mountains and terraced rice fields in the south of the country.

Best Buys: Colourful woven belts are a great quick-fix fashion accessory, from $10; elaborate hand embroidered wall hangings, from $181; silver-plated hair pins, $12.

What’s Nearby: On the weekend, stop for brunch at Adelaide chef Steve Baker’s modern-continental restaurant, Mesa (748 Julu Road; +86 21 62899108; www.mesa-manifesto.com; brunch for two $43), which has terraced outdoor seating, juices, smoothies and rich eggs Benedict. In the evening, head upstairs to adjoining Manifesto Bar (748 Julu Road; +86 21 62899108; www.mesa-manifesto.com; drinks for two $30) for spicy-named cocktails like Erotic- a bubbly concoction with champagne emulsion, brandy, strawberries and honey.

The Shop: Jian Ping
(Room 9, number 7, 210 Lane, Taikang Rd; +86 21 64663320)

The Vibe: Shanghai’s fashionistas flock to Lane 210, a warren of rickety lane houses now transformed into bohemian shops and cafes. Tucked into a rear courtyard, the exquisite garments of Chinese-Canadian designer Jian Ping are a bit old for the latte-drinking crew draping the cafés outside, but don’t let that put you off. Her classical Chinese pieces made from natural fibers and with contemporary twists (cloth knotted buttons, carved jade accessories and intricate embroidery) are some of the city’s finest.

Best Buys: Wispy cotton print blouses, from $68; heavy linen trousers, $141 (780Y); qipao high-neck Chinese dresses, $358; Cashmere cardigan wrap, $320.

What’s Nearby: Pick of the many galleries on this artsy strip is Chinese photographer and author Deke Erh Art Centre (2, Lane 210 Taikang Rd; +86 21 64150675), a warehouse filled with some of his most thought provoking images- from Shanghai’s skylines and mushrooming skyscrapers to old tea houses.

The Shop: L’Atelier Mandarine
(Studio 318, Building 3, Lane 210 Taikang Rd; +86 21 64735381)

The Vibe: French expatriate Caroline Stavonhagen’s sun drenched roof top shop stocks super-cute kids’ and maternity clothes. The collection- which includes booties, aprons, bags, toys and cashmere cardigans- came together after Stavonhagen and her French friends decided that the only they were going to find good quality children’s wear in China was to make it themselves.

Best Buys: The brightly coloured waterproof anoraks with print lining and matching caps are adorable, from $81; sleeping bags-cum- blankets for afternoon naps, $49; Chinese-style cotton pyjamas, $31.

What’s Nearby: Drop by the tiny tea house Zhen Cha Lin (13 Tiansifang, 210 Taikang Rg; +86 2164730507) for more than 30 different varieties, including Monkey Tips and Tiawanese-green, which you can try before you buy.

This article was published in the September 2009 edition of Travel + Leisure Australia. Prices are in Australian Dollars and were correct at the time of publication.