China’s tranquil Anhui province has always been a haven for local tourists and backpackers looking for an unforgettable experience outside of China’s urban jungles. However, given exciting new accommodation developments the region is beginning to offer more options for travelers who enjoy traveling off the beaten path but would like to collapse onto a plush bed at the end of the day.
You might have heard of Pig’s Heaven Inn (and if not, you should have—they’ve been featured in Time, The New York Times and countless travel blogs), but you may not be aware of some of the finer points of the Pig’s Heaven properties. Two decades ago, Shanghainese artist Li Guoyu took a brief sojourn to the bucolic back country of Anhui and immediately fell in love with the region. She vowed to one day return and settle down in Anhui’s tranquil countryside, and several years later she finally found an opportunity. To most other people, this ‘opportunity’ was less than enchanting—a modest, unkempt Ming dynasty structure which at the time was being used as a makeshift pigsty. To Li, however, this abandoned structure was a golden entry point into a new life. Despite being ridiculed for her initial purchase, within a few short years Li and her family managed to transform their decrepit shanty into a charming boutique inn. Travelers from all over the world flocked to her inn, which was named ‘Pig’s Heaven Inn’, a play on the building’s former function as well as a reminder for guests to shed their worries and pretensions at the door, leaving nothing but unabashed relaxation, feasting and merriment inside. The fact that this inn was located in Xidi village, a UNESCO World Heritage site, certainly didn’t hurt business, and Pig’s Heaven Inn soon became the place to stay for travelers looking for an air of authenticity rather than the more traditional 5-star hotel setting.
Compared to the Pig’s Heaven Inn in Xidi village, fewer people are aware of the Pig’s Heaven Inn’s Bishan location, which as a renovated merchant mansion is a larger establishment than the Xidi Inn. Although some travelers have qualms about Bishan’s isolated location and the fact that the inn isn’t nestled in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is exactly why we enjoy staying there so much. The quiet back roads streaming past the Bishan Pig’s Heaven Inn take you along flower fields, freshly plowed farmland and local workshops. For most of the year, silkworms are raised in wooden huts raised along row after row of mulberry trees. Grab a bike and set out into the tranquil locale, learning how to make tofu by hand, tend to crops and unravel silk cocoons; in the summer evenings, fireflies race each other along a nearby river. The fact that this region has not been publicly stamped with a UNESCO seal of approval means that fewer people end up wandering over, and an area with less foot traffic means a more authentic experience.
The real news with Pig’s Heaven Inn, though, is that there is an even newer property set to open later this year, and this past week WildChina was given exclusive access to the site for an insider’s look at what’s coming. The complex was used as a tea oil production workshop, and the maze of courtyards and storage rooms have been infused with new life through the meticulous reworking done by Li and her family. Guests will be free to kick back with a cup of tea overlooking the flower fields buffeting the property, and in the evening a small stream literally seconds away from the guest rooms is the perfect place to watch the fireflies or wax philosophic with a friend.
Regardless of which Pig’s Heaven Inn establishment you choose to stay at, you can expect to be treated like a family member. The properties’ open-roofed courtyards, organic tones and antique furnishings blend together to create a cozy atmosphere, but what truly makes you feel at home are the home-cooked style meals. Enjoy fresh greens from the local garden wrapped in hand-made tofu skin, juicy slabs of suckling pig, freshwater fish hot pot and Eastern-style curry all made from scratch. Ingredients are locally sourced or specially imported from select organic suppliers, and Pig’s Heaven Inn, though not marketed as a culinary establishment, is nonetheless one of our favorite places to enjoy traditional Huizhou cuisine, one of the eight famous culinary traditions in China. The cooks’ personal touches shouldn’t be overlooked, be it a hint of apple and honey that brings the curry to life or the way most of the meat dishes are meticulously de-boned for guests.
Anhui’s accommodation developments aren’t limited to the villages dotting the province’s pastoral valleys. For a major hotel revamp worth noting down, look no further than the misty peaks of Huangshan, or ‘Yellow Mountain’, half an hour north of Hongcun village. Xihai Hotel, previously a basic 4-star hotel, has undergone extensive renovations, shedding its former shell to emerge as an international 5-star establishment. The hotel has managed to retain its distinct ‘Chinese’ gloss, but with multiple dining options and more stringent smoking policies than its neighboring hotels, Xihai manages to better accommodate travelers coming in from abroad. The hotel is just a short trek up from the nearest cable car station and an entire web of trails and side paths start right at Xihai’s doorstep, branching throughout the mountain range. If you’re atop Huangshan, your first priority is most likely to soak up as much of the majestic scenery as possible, and we feel that Xihai Hotel, which masterfully balances comfort and convenience, is the perfect launching point for doing so.
If you have questions about accommodations in Anhui, or about China in general, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to assist you.