MAGICAL mountain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am


'It's going to be like summer camp for adults,'

I promise my travel companion, Alex, as we peruse the activity roster at naked Stables - tea-leaf picking, swimming, cycling, hiking, archery, cooking. It is the subject of intense conversation on our ride to Moganshan from Hangzhou.

Moganshan is a mountain about an hour's drive from Hangzhou, dotted by a handful of tiny, sleepy villages. It has always been a getaway spot for Shanghai's rich: 1920s gangster 'Big-eared' Du, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong have all laid their heads here. In the past half-decade, following 50 years of government occupation, Moganshan is again becoming a bastion of rustic luxury.

The newest entrant is naked Stables, an environmentally-friendly hotel made up of two- to four-bedroom treetop villas and earth huts that opened late last year. The resort, which uses recycled, reclaimed and green building materials, aims to be Asia's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum-certified hotel.

Hailing from New York and now living in Shanghai, I am no wilderness girl - my summer scent is eau de Off - but I recycle and never use plastic bags, so the retreat's commitment to the environment sold me, as did its Wi-fi, mobile reception and location, although the last 10 minutes of winding dirt roads uphill is slightly nauseating. On arrival, however, we bound out of the car, gasping for clean mountain air that we never have in Shanghai.

Continuing the summer camp theme are the hosts and hostesses, perky Chinese twentysomethings assigned to each group of guests. Our host Ivan is an absolute peach, shuttling us across the grounds in his electric golf cart, and racing up to the house after we lock ourselves out.

'What's your favourite part of living out here?' I ask Ivan, who is 23 and from Dongbei in the north of China. 'All my friends are here,' he replies as we whiz up the hill. 'We all live together and every day is fun. Here I have tried Western food for the first time, but so far I only like hamburgers.'

Although we initially have grand plans at Stables, visions of cathartic hiking dancing in our heads, we beat a hasty retreat to the naked Leaf Spa & Wellness building. Like the rest of Stables, the spa is a haven of relaxation, with separate hot and cold pools, saunas and steam rooms for men and women.

After a relaxing facial and a soak, we are ready to face the outdoors. Sprinting up a set of wooden steps carved into the side of a hill, Alex, three paces ahead of me, cries out: 'Is that a pool?' Wheezing and unable to muster the breath to speak, I grunt in agreement; we arrive at what Stables calls its hideaway pool. The little watering hole, ringed by a few sun loungers, beckons midnight skinny dippers.

Back in our treetop house, we collapse on the enormous red couch in the lounge, ceiling fan whirring above our heads. What I love about Stables is how homely the villas and earth huts are. The beds are made up with crisp, cool white sheets and duvets. In the kitchen are salt and pepper grinders and little canisters of coffee and tea. Everything is eminently comfortable, and I feel as if I am staying in a well-heeled friend's holiday house.

After watching the sunset from the deck, we spend the evening grilling salmon and vegetables we had brought from Shanghai and playing Scrabble, borrowed from the Little Shoots Kids' Club.

The next morning, over farm-fresh eggs and bacon, we get chatting with a couple at the neighbouring table, fellow Shanghai expats. 'We cycled for nearly an hour and didn't see a soul,' the wife says. Her husband adds that it's so nice to hear birds. 'When was the last time you heard anything chirping outside your apartment windows?'


Naked Stables has two properties - naked Home Village, made up of renovated farmhouses set in a bamboo forest, and naked Stables Private Reserve, a five-star resort in a valley 5.5km away, with treetop villas and earth huts, restaurants, pools, stables, conference facilities, activity centre and spa. Reservations: + 86 (21) 6431 8901