Vacation at This Chinese Castle In the Sky
Once frequented by missionaries and Chinese gangsters at the turn of the twentieth century, this cool mountainside retreat outside Shanghai is making a comeback as an eco-friendly hotel.
MOGANSHAN, China — After a three-hour journey, the last ten minutes of which bumped up the side of a mountain on a dirt track, I stepped out of the van and into a bamboo forest. Before our driver unloaded our suitcases, he plucked tiny, wild strawberries from a bush growing beside the path to the reception building. “They’re sweet,” he said as he passed his handful harvest around to us. And they were.
Strawberries in Shanghai, where I had just arrived from, are typically grown in greenhouses and come — confusingly — into season in the dead of winter. This springtime retreat on the mountainside of Moganshan was a welcome return to nature for me, a city dweller whose access to greenery is often limited to parks where I’m not allowed to sit on the grass.
Moments before I had arrived at the end of the paved road, I spotted Naked Castle, an imposing European presence looming from the edge of a cliff above a sea of Chinese bamboo. Historically, this spot is where missionaries and Chinese gangsters alike escaped from Shanghai’s sweltering summers to the mountain’s cooler climes at the turn of the twentieth century. Forgotten for nearly a century, Moganshan has once again become a bucolic playground where expats, like me, and well-heeled locals can commune with nature – from the luxury of a stone fortress.
No cars are allowed on the resort, so my bags and I hopped onto an electric golf cart that wound its way up the last few meters to the peak and my room: Jasmine #9, a cliffside suite named for the flowers that grow in the area and are made into tea. The eastern-facing wall of the room is all windows that overlook the valley below. I enjoyed the view both during sunrise from the terrace and at sunset from the round bathtub, a miniature pool big enough to share. The pink-laced sky paired well with a bottle of South African Cabernet Sauvignon, especially as I overlooked the start of the eight-kilometer hike I had completed through the forest just hours before.
Rates start at $300/night. Click here for reservations, or get in touch with the Fathom Travel Concierge, and we can plan your trip for you.
The resort is located in Zhejiang province, three hours from Shanghai (or an hour from Hangzhou). It’s close enough to civilization so I didn’t feel off the grid, but far enough away from the crowds of tourists who come up the mountain to see a bed where Mao Zedong once took a nap.
Family-friendly with a focus on the outdoors — it’s all about getting back to nature, but always with a touch of luxury.
This Place Is Perfect For
Couples, families, and solo travelers interested in exploring rural China. Children are welcome.
What’s on Site
The 128-acre property is organized like a medieval feudal estate: royal suites in the castle (including one dungeon suite complete with bedside irons and a bathroom prison), village rooms made from converted farmhouses and barns, cliffside suites — like the one I stayed in, and self-service bungalows for large families or corporate teams. An infinity pool offers stunning views over the valley, but it was closed for renovations during my trip, and there’s sunrise yoga every morning next door. For tiny tots, there’s a kid’s club with arts and crafts classes, as well as ping pong and pool tables; for grown-ups, a spa facility with a range of natural treatments.
Food + Drink
Dining options include Pao Tai Lou, a classic Hangzhou/Ningbo restaurant (think sweet and sour flavors with an emphasis on seafood) and Naked Bite for all-day dining with an Italian influence. Both utilize fresh, seasonal ingredients grown on-site from Naked Farm. Pao Tai Lou, located on the top floor of the castle with a long terrace that faces the setting sun and the valley below, is ideal for romantic sunset dinners, while poolside Naked Bite is great during the day. At Pao Tai Lou, don’t miss the bamboo shoots served in a stone jar with fatty pork belly. In the basement of the castle is Glenturret, a bar that feels like a posh gentlemen’s club: Think Scotch and cigars amidst leather seats and poker sets.
Number of Rooms
95, including 30 village rooms, 30 cliffside suites, 25 bungalow rooms, and ten castle suites.
Coffee and tea, bathtubs built to share (in the suites), private hot tubs and swimming pools (in the bungalows), complimentary WiFi, a free bottle of South African wine, and one of the softest hotel robes I’ve ever had the pleasure of donning.
Naked Castle opened in February 2017, and service is still a bit rough around the edges. At Pao Tai Lou, they did not have any chilled bottles of sparkling wine available and the hilly surroundings can mean that any in-room requests can take some time to arrive. The pool was not open yet, but they ferried me down to Naked Stables, a valley resort, to use one of their two pools during the day.
Naked Castle builds on Moganshan’s colonial history, literally. It is constructed on the original site of a Scottish castle built by a medical missionary as a summer retreat for his family and a convalescing spot for some of his luckier patients. The modern-day turret is based on the surviving pictures of the original structure, but is even grander.
The castle is hemmed in on all sides by forest with hiking paths radiating out in every direction. The activities center recommended eight trails that start from their site, with options ranging from an easy three-kilometer hike to the nearby Moganshan town to a longer eight-kilometer hike down the mountain through bamboo canopies to an isolated village and back up through Sword Pond.
What to Do Nearby
There isn’t much to see or do near Naked Castle besides enjoy nature or go to town and see villas where former dignitaries once slept. Fighting the crowds through the town takes away from the peace and quiet of the mountain. Stick to the hiking trails which lead you to excellent vantage points from which to look back at your medieval abode.
Good to Know
To learn more about the history of the mountain, China Cuckoo by Mark Kitto is an interesting firsthand account of one of the first foreigners to move back to the mountain in the early 2000s.
Plan Your Trip
How to Get There
One of the best parts about Moganshan is its remoteness, but that makes traveling there difficult. The closest major train station is Hangzhou, and you can get an hour-long bus from there. You can also get a direct bus from Shanghai, which will take between three and four hours. Naked Castle organizes a private shuttle for its guests from its offices in Shanghai.
If you’re into hiking, you can see most of the village and surrounding valley on foot. Naked Castle does not allow cars on its mountain perch, so people and luggage are ferried on golf carts throughout the property.
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