About an hour’s drive from Guangzhou, in southern China, is a five-star retreat in an enormous private estate that’s bigger than Monaco.
To get there, you have to navigate a misty highway that snakes around a valley before it emerges to reveal a rural village. The resort is at the end of a long driveway from there.
It sounds like the beginning of a cloak-and-dagger mystery novel – and then you learn that this ultra-luxury resort had once been privy only to the elites in Chinese politics and has only very recently been opened to the public.
About an hour’s drive from Guangzhou is Imperial Springs, a five-star retreat in the town of Conghua. Above, the entrance to the golf club
The property is situated in an enormous private estate that’s bigger than Monaco – reportedly occupying over 2.8million square metres of space
One of the key attractions for the property is its 27-hole golf course (above)
Or at least, that’s what I was told as I’m driven to Imperial Springs in a blacked-out Mercedes under the cover of the night. It all feels a bit hush-hush.
Drama of my night-time arrival aside, there were some facts that I was sure of.
The Imperial Springs resort is located in the picturesque region of Conghua, an area that’s long been revered for its natural springs.
With little industry and an abundance of greenery, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy the fresh country air – something that the local smog-plagued and well-heeled city folk desperately craved.
But despite its obvious touristic appeal, the area is still relatively undiscovered – a fact that’s plenty evident when you visit the near-empty national park nearby. It’s surprising considering that the tropical views found there are comparable to the islands of the Caribbean.
Imperial Springs itself is made up of 37 villas and 90 suites, each with their own charm.
The suites are closer to the hub of restaurants and entertainment facilities, though you’ll hardly see a soul, while each of the villas has access to its own hot spring and offers a greater level of privacy to their guests.
Imperial Springs is made up of 37 villas and 90 suites, each with their own charm. Above, the bedroom inside a suite
Each suite has its own spacious lounge area (above), where guests can enjoy complimentary coffees and teas
One of the most impressive features about the suites is their sizable bathrooms. At pride of place is a monsoon shower
I stayed in a suite on the third floor where, in the morning and at sunset, the hazy mist created a view that’s a perfect rendition of a classical Chinese painting.
The bedroom was huge but the bathroom was even bigger and it came equipped with a spacious monsoon shower and sizable tub. There’s also a lounge area where you could enjoy a spot of coffee before you wandered down for breakfast.
The buffet breakfast was a sight to behold. There were three or four separate stations where you could pile your plate high (if you’re not worried about looking greedy) with steamed dim sums, fresh fruit, cakes and pastries and an assortment of other treats that catered to tastes of the east and the west.
But of course, the dinner was even more worthy of appreciation.
The flagship restaurant is Imperial Palace, where there are only private dining rooms. It’s classic Cantonese cuisine at its best – clean, gentle and restorative. Think steamed grouper and chicken soup, only with ingredients you can only dream of.
That said, for the chilli-addict in me, it felt like something was missing from the mix.
Qin stayed in a suite on the third floor where, in the morning and at sunset, the hazy mist created a view that’s a perfect rendition of a classical Chinese painting (above)
Guests staying in the villas will be treated to their own private hot spring. However, some villas also feature their own pools
For guests staying in the suites, there is a fitness centre where they can work out and a luxurious pool indoor poor where they can relax. There is also a separate outdoor pool
The 27-hole championship course has a Scottish shooting lodge-style club-house (above) where members can enjoy cigars and cognac
The other restaurant I tried was Flavors, which offers fusion fare – inventive European fodder with inspirations from China.
Although Imperial Springs has a number of entertainment facilities, some require additional fees so it’s worth asking what is included in your package.
The hotel offers a 24-hour butler service, which has looked after everyone from former US President Bill Clinton to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Michael Rudd.
The chef sure liked a challenge – I mentioned a few restaurants I’ve eaten in at lunch and so he decided to create something even more spectacular at dinner. The cuttlefish fettuccine I had at lunch certainly got pipped to the post by the crispy oyster and lime aioli with Sichuan peppercorns at dinner.
I’m not a golfer but there is a 27-hole championship course with a Scottish shooting lodge-style club-house. And because it’s basically the national past-time in China, there’s also an entertainment centre with karaoke booths and, perhaps more importantly, mah-jong tables.
For the first time in an age, I tried a spa treatment. I always found it weird to have some stranger touching me but, having spent too many long hours at the desk, my neck really needed some readjusting. And I was glad I did because I emerged from the tranquil therapy room with a few stones lifted off my shoulders.
While it’s inadvisable to use hot springs after a spa treatment, according to the traditional Chinese way of thinking, I did it anyway. Because I’m part of that obnoxious you-only-live-once generation.
Some 20,000 artefacts are held at the Kingold Museum (above), all privately owned by the billionaire founder of the resort, Dr Chau Chak Wing
One of the restaurants Qin tried was Flavors (above), which fuses European fare with inspirations from China
Left, the steamed grouper in a restorative broth at Imperial Palace and right, the cuttlefish fettuccine at Flavors
I became so relaxed in the warm water, I almost fell asleep. If there was pool-side service, I may never have left.
But it’s not all indulgences of the body at Imperial Springs, you can also take a tour around the private museum on site to invigorate the mind.
Some 20,000 artefacts are held at the Kingold Museum, all privately owned by the billionaire founder of the resort, Dr Chau Chak Wing. At any one time, around 5,000 pieces are on display and all are hand-curated by the businessman himself.
Learning about the history behind each item will leave you gobsmacked. But not for long because guests are only allowed a 30-minute guided tour. It’s a real shame because you could literally spend hours among the fascinating collection.
And like the tour, my short stay drew to a close all too soon. And I didn’t even manage to unearth any mysteries. Alas, there is always next time.
There are direct flights between London and Guangzhou with KLM with rates starting from £377 return.
To book, visit www.klm.com.
Suites at Imperial Springs start 4,000 Yuan (£460) per night, which includes breakfast for two.
The villas, which feature private hot springs, start from 51,800 Yuan (£5,960) per night and includes breakfast.
For more information and to book, visit www.imperialsprings.com