Since 1983, when China joined the World Tourism Organisation, Chinese travellers have finally been able to go abroad more easily. Over the past three decades, Chinese consumers have typically associated ‘luxury travel’ with international, rather than domestic travel. However, in the last three years they’ve begun to look a bit closer to home, especially as more and more companies have begun to offer short holidays and flexible work arrangements.
There’s no doubt that there are a plethora of landscapes in China – from the highest mountain in the Himalayas, to the grand canyons in Xinjiang province, to the beautiful coastlines along the southeast border. And with the development of economy and the rising awareness of experiential travel, in-the-know travel brands are starting to develop domestic tourism by showcasing local culture and building relevant facilities.
The boom of boutique farmhouses nearby major cities is one emerging trend worth keeping an eye on. One of the regions where you can find the best Chinese farmhouses is the rural area around Shanghai. The region called Mogan Shan was once countryside; but things changed in 2006 when Mark, originally from England, opened a café with rooms there. Originally meant for his friends and family, it didn’t take long for more and more foreigners living in Shanghai to discover this perfect weekend getaway – and soon the region became known as the perfect place for a convenient short break.
After 10 years’ development, Mogan Shan is now the battlefield of the best farmhouses in China. Diving into local culture and cultivating the vibe to embrace not only travellers, but also the locals, are two trends that hotels need to take into consideration in the future – and most Chinese farmhouses were born with these two DNA.
The Hillside Village is one of the best farmhouses designed and operated by Chinese people. Its slogan, ‘this is your home away home’, reflects the story of its owner, Mr. Qian: in 2008, Qian spent a year in Mogan Shan. The atmosphere of the place and intimacy of the neighbours made Qian want to move here – and eventually he decided to share his experience with more people.
It took seven years for him to renovate eight farmhouses into what is now Hillside Village. Each farmhouse is named after someone’s home and the villas fit needs of multi-generation travellers, as well as groups of friends. Guests can cook in the large in-room kitchen, or have a barbecue party in the courtyard. Qian also hired local people and trained them as hotel cooks, so that guests could taste authentic village style cuisine (there’s even an option to order ahead if you have a particular request in mind).
In order to reflect authentic country life as much as possible, the original structure of these farmhouses remains unchanged and all renovations were done using local building materials to reduce the carbon footprint.
The operational concept of the Hillside Village also bucks the trend. Most butlers and employees are not from the hospitality industry; instead, most are millennials seeking a different life, looking for an escape from the bombarding urban tempo – just like Qian did. These young people who grow up in the era of social media and globalisation are not typical hoteliers, but they could be proper travel buddies.
The booming of Chinese farmhouses actually echoes a new societal phenomenon, similar to the Brooklyn-isation of the Western World. There, since the late 1990s young generations living in Portland, Williamsburg, Shoreditch and Canal St-Martin building their own fixed-wheel bicycles, foraging their own gardens and paying attention to local communities… It was a reaction to the global terrors and economic hardships of our new century’s first decade. Now, it’s time for China’s young generations to seek their own lifestyle, rather than follow their parents’ paths – the economy boom and development in the countryside has established a new platform for them to choose another life without sacrificing their contemporary lifestyle and, in return, their devotion to the rural areas turns once-lagging places into attractive destinations.
[All photos courtesy of Hillside Village.]
Nancy Huang is Features Editor for Condé Nast Traveler China.