Pas­sage to China Past

In the moun­tains just be­yond shang­hai, Cathy Wagstaff re­lives the colo­nial splen­dour of Mo­gan­shan steeped in French el­e­gance.

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it’s easy to see what first brought the bur­geon­ing shang­hai elite to Mo­gan­shan in the late 19th cen­tury. the hill­side re­treat is a balm for those scorched by the city’s blis­ter­ing sum­mers, blan­keted in bam­boo forests and scored with wind­ing paths. at the height of its pop­u­lar­ity in the early 20th cen­tury, more than 300 for­eign­ers, along­side na­tive shang­hainese, came to Mo­gan­shan in sum­mer for a non-stop pa­rade of par­ties and so­cial events.

in the last decade or so, Mo­gan­shan has ex­pe­ri­enced a re­nais­sance. Vil­las have be­come ho­tels and inns, wel­com­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional guests alike. Few, how­ever, have achieved the dis­tinc­tion of Le Pas­sage Mohkan shan, nes­tled in the val­ley of an or­ganic tea plan­ta­tion and hailed as China’s first French lux­ury coun­try house ho­tel.

echoes of France Wind­ing down the drive­way af­ter a 2.5hour drive from shang­hai, i am met with a gra­cious home that ef­fort­lessly fuses lo­cal ar­chi­tec­ture with French grace. the un­du­lat­ing hills seem to rip­ple as the moun­tain breeze catches the plan­ta­tion’s tea leaves and the bam­boo above, while thou­sands of bloom­ing roses colour the gar­den in shades of scar­let and coral.

the over­whelm­ing feel is one of nos­tal­gia, which is just how owner and founder, French-born ‘friend of China’, Christophe Peres, and wife Pauline would have it. Le Pas­sage Mohkan shan started out as a fam­ily re­treat be­fore Peres de­cided to open his slice of Mo­gan­shan to the world in 2012, and there’s a sense of in­ti­macy that’s sur­pris­ing when you con­sider the 40room ho­tel it­self is a new build. the at­ten­tion to pe­riod de­tail – worn leather arm­chairs, hand­made ce­ment tile floors, chan­de­liers, hand­wo­ven rugs – makes it seem a relic of a beau­ti­ful past.

this year, Peres and his team an­nounced plans for La Res­i­dence, a stand­alone eight-bed­room villa perched on a pri­vate hill­top with a sim­i­lar coun­try-house aes­thetic.

gourmet es­cape Le Pas­sage has also gar­nered ac­claim as a gourmet des­ti­na­tion, and a leader of French cui­sine in China. at lunch, ex­ec­u­tive head Chef Jackie Chen re­veals lit­tle of the sump­tu­ous de­lights to come in a three-course menu that enig­mat­i­cally reads, “home­made smoked sal­mon – roasted chicken or cod fish – nougat glacée”.

the gourmet theme con­tin­ues with an af­ter­noon spent strolling the eighthectare bio­dy­namic tea plan­ta­tion, see­ing the pre­ci­sion with which each leaf is picked. the gen­tle ap­proach yields three high-qual­ity teas, in­clud­ing an aro­matic black brew un­like any i have tasted be­fore.

My one night here is sim­ply not enough to en­joy all that Le Pas­sage and Mo­gan­shan have to of­fer. Mu­se­ums, quaint neigh­bour­hood shops, bird­watch­ing lo­cales and pic­ture-per­fect pic­nick­ing spots are on your doorstep, and those with an ac­tive streak have kilo­me­tres of trails for hik­ing and bik­ing at their dis­posal. in fact, as a renowned cy­cling en­thu­si­ast who rode 12,000km across China, Peres him­self is of­ten your most en­thu­si­as­tic guide.

For trav­ellers seek­ing a hands-on culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence, the ho­tel’s French Cook­ing school in­spires begin­ners and ad­vanced cooks alike to learn the art of foie gras with in-house ex­pert, Fa­bi­enne La Bey­erie, and mas­ter the del­i­cacy of the choco­late fon­dant.

the Lounge Bar and Fire­side sa­lon is a wel­com­ing place for cock­tails, be­fore en­joy­ing a re­laxed din­ner in one of the two pavil­ions be­side the pool. Cre­ative pri­vate din­ing spa­ces are dot­ted across the el­e­gant es­tate, in­clud­ing an un­der­ground Wine Cel­lar that hosts tast­ings, sur­rounded by some of the finest vin­tages avail­able in China.

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