Moganshan: Is This the Hamptons of China?

Most major cities have an exclusive summer escape for those with the cash to head for the hills. New York has The Hamptons; Spain, Marbella; France, St.-Tropez; and China. . . Moganshan. Part of China’s Moganshan National Park, about 2.5 hours by private car southwest of Shanghai, the lush mountain has long been the stomping ground of high-profile politicians (a list that once included Chairman Mao), foreign missionaries, Chinese gangsters, and well-heeled expats.

Thanks to its elite clientele and countryside appeal, the area has been dubbed the “Hamptons of China,” though visitors will have to trade a sandy coastline for rolling tea plantations and restored 19th-century mansions. Even without the beaches of Long Island, the draw is clear: It’s the kind of place where you can wander through tea plantations by day and sip French wines in a private cellar late into the evening.

After a busy visit to Shanghai, where temperatures hover around 90 degrees in the summer, Moganshan provides cool mountain air and a blissfully wide-open itinerary. Here’s how to make the most of it.

What to Know

As early as the 1800s, Moganshan was a booming summer hot spot for wealthy Shanghai residents seeking refuge from the city swelter. Over the next century, visitors built more than 300 European-style stone mansions among the hills, where a thriving community included all the necessities of the time: churches, tennis courts, banks, bookstores, bakeries, and swimming pools.

“It was a huge community of very influential people. You had all the political leaders, businessmen, religious people — all gathered together on the top of the mountain,” explains Christophe Peres, architect and owner of Le Passage Mohkan Shan hotel, who also contributes to the area’s archival research.

During World War II, however, Moganshan lost its luster. A U.S. and British ally, China used the area as a refugee camp (at one time housing more than 6,000 refugees) and the hillside was subsequently bombed by the Japanese. Following the war, the Communist party took control of the land and, still today, manages dozens of the remaining villas.

Since then, the area has largely stayed off the radar of most international jet-setters. But in the past five years, Moganshan has begun a slow ascent to its former glory days with new generation of boutique hotels and lodges popping up across the hillside.

Where to Stay

Le Passage Mohkan Shan is a French-style country hotel hugged by tea plantations on three sides. It’s the height of leisure: Guests can stroll through the manicured rose gardens or take a dip in the saltwater pool. The farmhouse-style address feels nostalgic, thanks to antique mosaic floor tiles, French furniture, and historic local images strewn throughout the property.

But the best feature might be the private dining room, housed in a subterranean wine cellar, which feels as if it’s been airlifted straight out of a French castle. The wine list comprises hundreds of bottles, all sourced from boutique wineries that follow biodynamic practices.

Up the hill from the 40-room Le Passage hotel is a new addition to the property: La Residence villa, with access via private footpath that was made with antique stones from nearby Shaoxing. Renting for $28,000 a night in high season, the house includes a private pool, chef, and eight loft-style bedrooms — each of which features a terrace that overlooks the organic tea plantation.

Nearby, eco property Naked Stables has also drawn visitors to sample its unique lodging options — picture panoramic “Treetop” villas and sophisticated “Earthen Huts,” made with all-natural materials. The property is flanked by bamboo forests, a reservoir, and boasts easy access to mountain trails, where guests can take one of the hotel’s 18 horses out for a trot.

The LEED Platinum-certified hotel opened sister property, Naked Castle, in May. A short walk from Moganshan Village, the 95-room hilltop address provides panoramas of the 128 acre grounds. It’s a restored castle, originally owned by a Scottish doctor, who worked in Hangzhou and built the property in 1910. Though it collapsed in the ’60s, the group acquired the site 10 years ago and has been refurbishing it ever since — picture regal suites, a cliffside infinity pool, and fresh-from-the-farm restaurant menus.

What to Do

If you can peel yourself away from the lofty retreats, Moganshan is an idyllic place to bike, hike, or partake in some outdoor yoga. The rolling hillside is home to China’s “Bamboo Sea” — a bamboo forest that you might recognize from the 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. You could easily spend a few hours exploring the 150,000 acres of land, where trails lead past rivers and waterfalls, rock pools, and stone mansions.

“Moganshan is also a cyclist’s paradise. Because you have a variety of terrain, you can enjoy off-roading, easy rides, or very difficult mountain biking,” says Peres. “There’s also a bit of rafting that is developing, zip-lining, rock climbing — all the sporty stuff. But many people simply come here to unwind.”

The mountain’s sinuous trails will lead to surprising finds — such as the stylish Mohkan Shan Pool Bar and Restaurant (originally a Communist cinema) atop Moganshan’s 2,360-foot-high peak. Another project by Peres, the newly opened bar balances past and present with a mix of retro signage and memorabilia, cocktails, and DJ sets.

Due to a lack of independent dining options in the countryside, most travelers tend to dine at the hotel restaurants. The food is typically top-notch, thanks in part to a reliance on locally sourced ingredients from nearby farms.

How to Get There

From Shanghai, Moganshan is an easy 2.5-hour drive. In the stifling city summers, the cool mountain air and inviting greenery provide an idyllic version of the China countryside, a world away from the urban center, where the population exceeds 25 million.

There’s a small handful of high-end properties in Moganshan, so you’ll pay for the privilege during the busiest months — July and August. It’s best to plan a visit during shoulder season, such as in May or June, or even to visit in the winter for peaceful surrounds and snowcapped hills. But regardless of the time of year, a sojourn to this sea of tea plantations offers a relaxing addition to any China itinerary.

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