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Hot spots: The Bruce Chalet, Lijiang

Sian Powell

 

Could it get any more poetic? Sitting on an open verandah, drinking a bottle of Wind Flower Snow and Moon lager, gazing across a garden of deepening shadows to the distant Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range: only a Chinese Coleridge could do this scene justice.

Sorry, what are we talking about? The Bruce Chalet, which is in Shuhe Old Town, on the outskirts of Lijiang, Yunnan province, and is set almost on the edge of a field. Inspired by the architecture of the local Naxi people, the 12-room hotel has stone verandah floors, wooden pillars and grey barrel-tile roofs with arched corners. Built around a green and leafy courtyard, the rooms face inwards to the garden (pictured above) and the line of mountains dominates the horizon.

Who's Bruce? Hong Kong native Bruce Chan has been seduced by the poetry of wild Yunnan. He started making the trek to Lijiang in 2007 and found it "lovely". He visited again and again, eventually leaving his merchandising job in Hong Kong to move to Yunnan for good in 2009.

Three years ago, after overseeing 12 months of construction work, the 36-year-old opened his chalet. A year ago, he married Bella, who often cooks the hotel's delicious breakfasts of eggs, toast and noodles - there's fruit and Naxi delicacies as well, including a sort of fried cheese arrangement. Guests wanting lunch or dinner, however, will have to walk the five minutes or so into the middle of Shuhe or, if they mention to chalet staff that they're hungry and are lucky, they might be taken around the corner to another house, to be presented with a range of delicacies: cobs of corn, roast pork, a tomato and egg dish and fresh plums. The friendly family providing this unusual service is, apparently, from Anhui province.

Chan has settled into this semi-rural life, a far cry from the skyscrapers of home, and he's on hand most of the time, welcoming guests, dispensing advice and organising tours and car hire. He will send a car to the airport to meet visitors - and it's wise to take advantage of that offer; as we discovered, taxis trying to find the chalet tend to get lost, even with a map and further directions by telephone from hotel staff.

What's special about the rooms? Apparently decorated in the Naxi style, the rooms feature a lot of wood and stone, with modern beds, a television (but with only local channels) and a modern bathroom. Chairs placed on the verandah (right) provide a perfect perch for an evening chat or a browse of a laptop tuned into the hotel's free Wi-fi.

What else is there to do? Put your walking shoes on, my friend. Shuhe has one of the three preserved (and no doubt expanded) "old town" precincts in and near Lijiang. Once an important town on the ancient Tea Horse Road, which wound through Yunnan to Tibet and beyond, Lijiang has retained a patina of the past. Cobblestone streets, rows of shops, bars and restaurants and winding waterways make for an interesting morning sojourn, if you can cope with the hordes of domestic tourists who flock to the town. Shuhe is considered a "historic townscape of high quality and authenticity" by Unesco. The stone Qinglong bridge apparently dates from the Ming dynasty, but it's unclear at first sight how much of the old town is authentic and how much of it was rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1996. Cars are not permitted to rattle along the cobblestone roads but there are a few gaily caparisoned ponies trudging about with visitors on their backs. The police get around in golf carts. A number of places in which to eat are set next to small shops selling souvenirs and, more importantly, those selling the delicious Wind Flower beer. The Naxi food (big on barbecue) can be good but duelling sound systems tend to ruin the experience.

And further afield? The Tiger Leaping Gorge and its extraordinary scenery are a two-hour drive from Shuhe. Energetic hikers can walk the length of the gorge on a rocky path and even stay in Naxi guesthouses along the way. For the less athletic, there is a flat concrete path next to the river. The Bruce Chalet can arrange a car to drive visitors to the gorge or to Shangri-La, (originally Zhongdian, it was renamed by the central government in 2001).

What's the bottom line? A garden-view double or twin is 260 yuan (HK$330) per night and a king-sized bedroom with balcony is 480 yuan. For more information, visit www.thebrucechalet.com.

 

 

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