Luxurious resorts are emerging in picturesque mountain areas on the mainland, with designs that reflect the local culture, blend with the natural surroundings and minimise the impact on the environment.
These venues hire staff from the surrounding community, source food and supplies locally, and maintain their own organic farms. These are the new generation of "natural retreats", a refuge for urban dwellers to enjoy luxurious living in harmony with the beauty of nature.
"The attraction for hosting meetings and team-building events [at natural retreats] is the quiet, peaceful and nature-inspired setting where participants can truly relax and get down to serious meetings, [with] team-building programmes," says Michael Murphy, general manager of Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, one of the latest additions to a growing list of natural retreats in the mainland.
Opening this month, the resort is situated at the foot of Qing Cheng Mountain, a famous Taoist area located about an hour by car from Chengdu. Murphy says the resort has been designed to incorporate the local architecture and landscape, with 113 suites and villas, and three restaurants. It uses responsible ingredients and produce from the local community, keeps its own farm, recycles its waste and bottles its own water.
The meeting facilities can accommodate up to 35 guests, and this will be expanded to over 220 with the opening of its ballroom in the third quarter of next year.
Guests can try out tai chi or yoga during their free time, or venture outside the resort to trek up Qing Cheng Mountain or visit Panda Valley, which is only 10 minutes away by car.
In Moganshan, about 3.5 hours' drive from Shanghai, the naked Stables resort is nestled beside a large reservoir, bamboo forests, tea plantations and small farming villages. Opened in 2012, the resort was created utilising sustainable design and green building technologies. In fact, it is the first resort in China to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification for its sustainable master plan and various design features. It also has an organic farm that allows guests to pick and enjoy home-grown vegetables and herbs.
According to Katharine Wang, director of sales and marketing at naked Retreats, the key benefits of hosting events at naked Stables include convenient access, absence of distractions, venues for team-building activities, seclusion for breakout sessions, flexible catering and privacy in an inspiring rural setting.
The resort has 121 rooms in 30 free-standing treetop villas and 40 earth huts built with green materials. It offers over 800 square metres of meeting and function space, including a ballroom and seven other venues.
For MICE groups, it can arrange outdoor activities such as hiking and local cultural interaction, and team-building activities such as raft building, The Amazing Race, Iron Chef and other tailor-made activities.
In Hangzhou, the Amanfayun near West Lake is a spiritual sanctuary inspired by Chinese tradition and Buddhist monastic culture. Surrounded by 14 hectares of lush tea plantations, natural forests and bamboo groves, the former tea-planting village has been restored according to traditional architectural techniques. The resort features the original village layout, and each of its 42 rooms, suites and villas has a unique design.
According to Yuko Yanagimoto, the resort's business development manager, the location was chosen for its blend of natural and historical resources. It was built to protect and maintain the area, which suffered from pollution.
Yanagimoto says Amanfayun is recommended for events with specific themes which can further enhance its concepts and styles. It is also suitable for unique and experience-based activities and itineraries.
In Shangri-la, in the northwest of Yunnan provincc, lies Songtsam Retreat, which is set on the slope of a mountain and enjoys a good view of the valley, Songtsamlin Monastery, Tibetan villages and mountain ranges in the distance.
"We consider this place as the typical representation of the real Shangri-la - the ideal place of pureness and nature where people peacefully live with snow-white mountains, clean and sky-blue lakes, family-like animals and ancient faith," says Tashi Tsering, general manager of Songtsam Hotels and Resorts.
Songtsam Retreat comprises 24 traditional stone buildings, built in Tibetan block tower style, with classic Tibetan decor. Its restaurants offer authentic French cuisine and local Tibetan meals, and its meeting room can host up to 80 people. Tsering says for event organisers, Songtsam Retreat offers a range of services combined with local culture and service guided by the concept of living from the local communities.
Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts probably has the largest collection of natural retreats in the mainland, with properties in Yangshuo, Huangshan, Beibei (Chongqing), Ringha (Shangri-la), Lijiang and Hangzhou.
A world-famous resort town near Guilin, Yangshuo is located along the Li River and is surrounded by picturesque Karst peaks. "The legendary beauty of Yangshuo is often extolled in classic Chinese poetry and immortalised in traditional scroll paintings," says Sophia Li, director of sales and marketing for Banyan Tree Yangshuo. The resort has 142 villas and suites. Its 210-square-metre ballroom can host up to 200 people, and also has four meeting rooms ranging from 28 square metres to 50 square metres. Li says the resort boasts a range of facilities and programmes that allow guests to reconnect with nature. The most popular excursion for groups is a bamboo raft ride with bicycling along the Li River.
Another natural retreat by the hotel and resort group, Banyan Tree Huangshan, sits at the foot of Mount Huangshan near the ancient villages of Hongcun and Xidi, both Unesco World Heritage Sites. The resort's architecture reflects the area's geography and the indigenous Anhui culture, featuring white walls and grey tiled roofs.
Lisa Wang, marketing communications manager of Banyan Tree Huangshan, says the resort enables meeting organisers and participants to enjoy fresh air and countryside landscapes. It has 76 villas and suites, three meeting rooms which can host up to 56 delegates, and a large lawn suitable for team-building activities. Activities outside the resort include bike tours in the ancient villages, sightseeing tours, jogging, white-water rafting and golf.