Disclaimer: We paid for this weekend ourselves, and it was bloody expensive. But it was so worth it.
The people behind Moganshan's naked Retreats have just opened a new eco-resort development nestled in a bamboo and fir tree valley between Moganshan and Anji. It's a spectacularly beautiful piece of unspoiled nature and more importantly, feels a thousand miles from the hideous gritty gray pall of smog that passes as weather we've had for the last week in Shanghai.
naked Retreats began as a weekend getaway in a small village at the base of Moganshan mountain, with several village houses converted into rustic retreats complete with roast chicken dinners, fireplaces, and nature walks. A month ago, the same group opened naked Stables, a lavish spread of some 120 'earth huts and treetop villas' settled between the trees of a valley that forms part of a large private nature reserve.
And for those readers outside Shanghai, when I say 'nature reserve' it's not a euphemism for 'nudist colony', and the name naked Retreats is designed to indicate a return to nature, not a shedding of clothes. Just so you know.
To get to the new naked Stables from Shanghai you'll need private transport, or you can take the fast train to Hangzhou (45 minutes) and have them collect you at the station for the 90 minute trip to the resort. Having just finished telling you it's not a nudist resort, I did get a good laugh from the text message sent by the young lady arranging our pick-up from Hangzhou Train Station. It read "Ok. I will wait you at exit. And with shuttle bus come naked." In the crowds at Hangzhou station we might well have slipped through naked relatively unnoticed, but we opted to wear clothes to avoid any difficulties.
Once you leave Hangzhou's equally choking smog behind you drive towards the mountains, past rows of terraced tea bushes, through small towns piled to the sky with stacks of green bamboo drying in the sun, and past tiny fields of golden rice, head-heavy and ready for harvest.
In amongst all of this is naked Stables. Soon after our arrival on Friday afternoon our 'host' Tornado (his real name, although he confusingly pronounces it 'Toledo') took us in a motorised golf buggy to our villa, Crane 1, perched on a ridge overlooking the valley. It's all incredibly lovely - timber floors, stone walls, floor to ceiling windows looking out on to a broad deck. There are bedrooms with fluffy white quilts, bathrooms lined in slate, and a huge and comfortable living room with a full-sized kitchen, should you feel like self-catering.
The kitchen comes equipped with local 'white' tea, a variety of green tea, and freshly-ground coffee. I personally think a bottle of wine would have hit the spot really well on a Friday afternoon, but there was none in the mini-bar. Tea will have to do for now.
When you're done relaxing in your villa, you can call Tornado and he will take you to relax somewhere else. Deep, sustained relaxation is the key to getting the most out of this place, I figure. There are daily activities like mountain hikes, horse riding, pilates and mountain-biking, but why put yourself to all that trouble and perspiration when there is a perfectly good lounge to recline on down at the Clubhouse in the early winter sunshine, and snacks and drinks to be had?
When summer arrives the pools (there are three altogether) will be a great drawcard. In the meantime I try a Moganshan Spring beer and 'Moganshan farmer's snacks' - dried sweetened bamboo shoots, chewy and sinewy, dried smoked green soybeans, terrifically delicious and never-before tried, and boiled peanuts (20 yuan/$3). The Clubhouse has a casual bistro decorated with terracotta lamps and carved wooden chairs where you can eat lunch and dinner. The very reasonably priced menu runs to shrimp and pomelo salad (50 yuan/$8), chicken and mushroom pot pie (75 yuan/$12), prosciutto and mozarella sandwich (50 yuan/$8), or shrimp and water chestnut pot-stickers with a garlic-lemongrass dipping sauce (45 yuan/$7).
For breakfast and more formal evening dining, you can eat lakeside at Kikaboni Restaurant at the opposite end of the resort. In the morning sunlight streams through the restaurant windows, reflecting off the small lake. It's a lovely space and the food reflects their philosophy of simple food, locally sourced and made.
Two full days of it round-the-clock relaxation (there's a spa opening soon) and good food and you're just about ready to move to naked Stables for good. The only problem will be how to explain the overdraft to your bank manager. Guess it will have to be an occasional guilty indulgence.
Currently in soft opening from now until Feb 2012
Earth huts from 2600 yuan/night, second night free until Feb 29
Villas (2-4 bedrooms) from 5800 yuan/night, second night free until Feb 29
Breakfast and Hangzhou transfers included.
Labels: Shanghai weekend breaks, travel