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Moganshan Mountain: A Quiet Refuge, A Rural Retreat

Moganshan Mountain: A Quiet Refuge, A Rural Retreat

Write: Shakira [2011-06-07]

As people seek to get away from the big city helter-skelter, vacation spots in the country are mushrooming. Xu Junqian finds one quiet refuge in Moganshan, in Deqing county.

It is verdant country laced with soothing streams and blanketed in evergreen trees and bamboos. Moganshan used to be a favorite summer retreat for the rich and royal of Shanghai in the past, and a sprawl of villas varying in style from medieval castles to country manors equipped with tennis courts, swimming pools and indoor ballrooms testify to that era of grand living.

Wealthy merchants and traders from The Bund created a holiday paradise for themselves at Moganshan, just 200 kilometers away from Shanghai and 60 km away from Hangzhou.

Now, a different breed of professionals and expatriates from big cities in the surrounding hinterland is re-discovering the pleasures of the countryside there.

In fact, some have actually invested in this new opportunity.

As our car crawls up the winding mountain road up Moganshan, it is easy to spot eight red-brick farmhouses among the hundreds of others that dot the rolling hillside.

This is the 395 Village resort, and the gravel path leading to the farmhouses is marked by a sign enlivened with colorful images of workers in the early revolutionary style.

The access is neatly maintained and free of plastic bottles or other holiday debris left by careless visitors. The front yard, too, is blessedly free of the vulgar statues and faux rock formations that adorn so many public areas throughout Zhejiang.

The only structure of note in this small open area is the wash basin, converted from a feed trough for livestock.

This is the work of Grant Horsfield, who took pains to maintain the rustic nature of the environment when he began work in 2007 remodeling these farmhouses into bungalows equipped with modern facilities.

"I fell in love with the area on my first visit that year and made up my mind to build a holiday resort," said the former management consultant from South Africa. Together with his two partners, Horsfield spent $1 million to lease eight of the 18 original farmhouses in the village, which got its name from the fact that it was home to only three families of nine people at one time.

Now, it is a holiday complex, renamed Naked Retreat, that can accommodate a total of 30 guests.

Business has been brisk. In the peak season, usually during the long breaks on Labor Day, National Day and the Spring Festival, bookings are required one to two months ahead.

More than 10,000 visitors have stayed at the resort since its opening in late 2007, and the occupation rate has been around 50 percent on average.

In the first two years, nearly 90 percent of guests were expatriates from neighboring Shanghai, but there is a growing number of young Chinese tourists, and Horsfield expects this group to represent half the occupancy rate soon.

The amenities of Naked Retreat seem bare.

Air-conditioning, deemed harmful to the environment, is banned and guests are kept cool with fans in summer. Most of the furniture is largely made from recycled material and all household fabrics are of cotton.

"We want to bring nature to urbanites from cities like Shanghai. It will help them relax, get refreshed, and hopefully, take up an eco-friendly lifestyle," Horsfield says.

Leisure in this nature resort doesn't come cheap. The average charge ranges from 500 yuan to 1,000 yuan per person, depending on season. This doesn't include meals, which guests can order from the cooks recruited from the neighboring villages.

"Basically, Moganshan has become an all-year-round retreat spot for urbanites," said Ji Huibin, vice director of the communication department of Deqing county.

"Some city people flock to Moganshan in the winter months simply to see the snow," he added.

Such enthusiasm has lured thousands of local farmers into the "agritainment" industry, as they call it. Many are simply opening up their newly refurbished and modernized homes. Some empty-nesters are simply renting out the spare bedrooms left by their children, who have gone to the big cities to make more money.

For them, it's like having paying guests at home to whom they can offer accommodation and meals - typical home-cooked country fare with ingredients that come straight from the vegetable patches and the hen coop in the backyard.

The county government estimates that there are currently about 1,500 beds provided by 108 agritainment families at Moganshan. More than 1,200 people, mostly farmers, are working in the business, accounting for 10 percent of the population of the less-than-100-square-kilometer mountainous area.

The numbers do not include "part-timers" with a regular job in town, who are more than willing to open their homes to make some spare cash when their neighbors are overloaded with visitors during peak holiday periods.

The demand is there, nationwide.

According to Horsfield, his company plans to open another three Naked resorts in some of the best locations in China to expand their green business.

The latest is Naked Stable, a 20-minute car drive away from the village, a more high-end facility which offers horseback-riding and conference amenities. It cost 200 million yuan to build and is expected to be in operation late this year.

Another two, still in blueprint stage, are to be located at Shangri-La in Yunnan and the Zhoushan Islands in Zhejiang.