MOUNTAIN hideaway trips for summer chill are all the rage as the summer heat lingers on. For Shanghainese, Mogan Mountain in neighboring Zhejiang Province has always been an ideal hideout, about a two-hour drive away.
In the 1900s, merchants, foreign missionaries and celebrities, such as the mafia kingpin Du Yuesheng (nicknamed Big-eared Du), flock to build villas among the verdant bamboo forests on the mountain. Many of them remain.
Despite the mountain seclusion, Deqing County, at the foot of Mogan Mountain, has lots to offer. The ancient water town of Xinshi slows down the pace of life. The vast Xiazhu Lake is a heaven for birds.
By the end of 2013, more than 5 million tourists had flocked to Deqing, about half from Shanghai, said Zhang Xiaoqiang, county Party secretary of Deqing.
“Private cars with Shanghai plates often cram the highway to Deqing on weekends. The two places are intertwined, with even some roads in Shanghai named after places in Deqing, like Wukang and Moganshan roads,” he said in an interview with Shanghai Daily. “The laid-back simplicity and ecology in Deqing is a nice complement to Shanghai’s fast-spinning urban life, and a short getaway to relax or even just daydream,” Zhang said.
While some of the colonial-style villas have been turned into posh hotels, a handful of secluded boutique hotels have been built by expats. There are more than 50 hotels and guesthouses of this kind run by expats from 18 countries at Mogan Mountain, also known as Moganshan.
The number continues to balloon as the local government intends to help boost the tourism industry by involving more locals in efforts such as renting out houses or supplying local produce to hotels. Zhang said the government plans to expand roads and set up bilingual road signs, as well as expand the sewage-treatment system.
Pack up your gear and take a sojourn to the picturesque mountain for 48 hours as Shanghai Daily provides a detailed plan.
Catch a morning high-speed train from Shanghai to Deqing County in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province. Two direct trains commute daily. If you find the departure times inconvenient, simply take a train to Hangzhou, as there are many every day and it takes only 15 minutes to get to Deqing from Hangzhou.
Stop by Tongguan Mountain for lunch before heading all the way to the summer retreat of Mogan Mountain. Home to rich copper mines some 2,000 years ago, the homey mountain used to be called Wukang. That may ring a bell, as the phoenix tree-lined Shanghai alley where the bustling Ferguson Lane nestles is named after the mountain and the town at its foot. Local produce such as bamboo shoots, chicken and lamb dominate the menu at Tongguan Manor in town. Check out its celadon workshop after a hearty meal. Deqing has a profound history of celadon making — widely deemed as the very beginning of celadon ware in China — that can be dated to around 1560 BC. Try your hands making a celadon ware with the help of local craftsmen.
Embrace the boundless sea of green at Mogan Mountain. With an average temperature of around 24 degrees Celsius in July and August, the mountain has always been the favorite summer haunt for Shanghainese. Covered with lush bamboo and crystalline mountain springs and falls, Mogan rose to fame because of the swordsmith couple — Gan Jiang and his wife, Mo Ye. They were said to forge the two legendary fraternal swords, named Gan Jiang and Mo Ye after the couple, some 2,500 years ago at the mountain, which boasts abundant copper. Gan Jiang died under the smaller sword he forged when he presented it to the king, who ordered the killing to make sure he owned the one and only invincible sword in the world. The larger sword was hidden in the mountain with Mo Ye, pregnant with their son who later managed to wreak vengeance.
To memorialize the couple, the locals named the mountain Mogan. Today, the water pool and grindstone said to cool and sharpen the swords remains. Follow the sound until you spot the signature staircase waterfall. Don’t be fooled and think the blooming lotuses are the only attraction at Dicui Pool, where a huge Chinese character ´ä (cui, jade green), about 10 meters high, is inscribed into the cliff. The trick is in the calm water, where the engraved word miraculously appears in a kind of embossed reflection.
A big draw of Mogan Mountain is its various villas that almost make the mountain an open-space museum featuring contemporary architecture. European merchants and American missionaries stamped the hideaway with an exotic vibe, such as Gothic buildings with typical spires and villas resembling the art nouveau buildings prevailing in Riga, Latvia. Though many are deserted, more than 200 are still intact. In the Wulingcun area stands the villa where Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-ling spent their honeymoon in 1927. The Empress Hotel, where Mao Zedong and other military generals once stayed, is still open to the public. Hideout villas once owned by Du Yuesheng and Zhang Xiaolin, notorious mob kingpins in old-time Shanghai, are now resort hotels.
Rest your feet at The Lodge on Yinshan Street and enjoy a cup of coffee. An Englishman opened the lodge overlooking the street in 2005, and it attracts throngs of travelers and backpackers for a break or a casual chat. The 300-meter Yinshan Street has sort of a downtown feel, lined with stores, restaurants, cafés, banks, a post office and church. Once described as “the fair on heaven” by Chinese poet Guo Moruo, the street has always been the trade and entertainment hub for the locals. Though some of the mountain caves were flattened to give way for a parking lot, the street still has an atmosphere reminiscent of the old days.
A trip to Deqing won’t be complete without an overnight stay in Mogan Mountain. Inspired by the success of some posh resorts like Naked Retreats and French country-style Le Passage Mohkan Shan, boutique hotels and idyllic hostels have sprouted up, ensuring plenty of hotel options for all types of travelers. Tucked halfway up the mountain in Houwu Village, Howoo Life Resort comprises five secluded villas connected by cobblestone tracks paved by owner Captain Wang. The fabric art professor who teaches at China Academy of Art renovated the rustic houses into earthy dwellings, using local soil to create mud-walled structures.
The low-carbon, nonradiative material helps absorb light and sound and improves ventilation. The artful design lets in abundant sunshine in a discreet way, and helps the villas seamlessly blend into the surroundings. Looking from outside, it’s hard to believe that inside these seemingly shabby houses are a totally different world — a reclusive life, as Wang puts it. Howoo Life includes 22 rooms and a spa in the bamboo. A swimming pool and hot springs are under construction. (www.howoolife.com)
Nightlife at the mountain largely depends on where you stay. Travelers can grab a nightcap of fine wine at hotels with their own cellars. In Houwu Village, go watch an outdoor movie at Howoo Life Resort, or sit at a barbecue party at No. 73 Lodge.
Breathe in some fresh air and continue loitering around the mountain. This time, work up a good sweat with some outdoor activities. Cycling is a popular way to explore Mogan Mountain, and professional climbers frequently come for some adventures. Rafting is also a nice option for some summer chill.
Share a bicycle-themed restaurant that fuses local ingredients. After lunch, take time to check out the Gengcun Village Cultural Fair Zone, where the restaurant lies. Rebuilt from a deserted cocoon factory, it is now a destination for dining and entertaining. Time your stay so you don’t miss the freshly baked bread at Baking Bread. It sells out quickly. Have a cup of local black tea at Cocoon Café. If you’re there on a weekend, check the farmer’s fair for fresh produce and handmade crafts by the locals.
Saunter along the river in the old town of Xinshi for a laid-back afternoon. Xinshi — literally new town in English — actually has a history of more than 2,000 years. As if forgotten by time, the old town poses a strong contrast to the new town bustling with traffic. You can enjoy its black-tiled houses along the canal, mottled white walls clad with ivy, stone bridges and cobblestone alleys, and seniors napping under sunshades. Many of the antique pieces of furniture, flagstones and door planks in the renowned water town of Wuzhen are said to be bought from here. Though a bit simple and plain compared with other meticulously dressed water towns, Xinshi is more quaint and tranquil since most of the residents are seniors. Take a seat at a teahouse and have a bite of the local tea snack. Don’t forget to try the tender and chewy stir-fried mutton. If time permits, be an early bird and have a mouth-watering bowl of lamb noodles when the noodle stalls just open in the morning.
Sitting in downtown Wukang, Yuyingfang offers a range of dining choices, from local specialties to popular Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine to Korean barbecue and bibimbap and Western food. The area also has cafés, bakeries, teahouses and bars.
Embark on a cruise on the enchanting Xiazhu Lake. Covering a vast area of over 35 square kilometers, the lake not only graces the view but nurtures diversified species, one of which is crested ibis. Spring is the best time to spot the elegant birds that are in breeding season in April and May. As the boat steadily cuts through the water, a number of egret fledglings can be spotted staggering back onto the bank, or spreading their wings to soar high. The admission charge is 80 yuan, which includes the boat trip. Boats stop and set out at three islets.
Have a picnic on one islet with an ocean of reeds in Xiazhu Lake and take a last minute to enjoy the beauty of Deqing. The high-speed train station is just opposite the entrance of the lake zone, about 10 minutes’ drive.