The city of Guangzhou (population 14 million) is growing rapidly and becoming more cosmopolitan by the day. As the hub for China Southern Airlines and a stopover from Sydney on the route to Europe, Guangzhou and its surrounding region is attracting more attention from travellers. A one-hour drive outside the city on freshly-built highways is Conghua District, a region largely undiscovered by Westerners but appreciated for centuries by locals as a place of lychees, clean fresh air, mountainous countryside and therapeutic hot springs.
Nestled in the foothills of Conghua’s Phoenix Mountain is Imperial Springs, an oasis in a league of its own, and the perfect stopover to make best use of China’s short stay visas. From the moment we are met at the airport by our driver and butler, we are made to feel like very special guests. Having arrived from Sydney in the evening, we’re asked if we would like something from the menu waiting for us in our room for when we arrived. A short drive later and we pass through the guarded gates and into the resort.
Imperial Springs is run primarily as an exclusive club membership and hasn’t been heavily marketed to consumers; you may have the resort to yourself without many other guests around. If you are seeking privacy, it’s yours to enjoy, with staff always on hand. You may have the dining room to yourself or if you prefer, dine in your villa.
The architecture and decor at Imperial Springs is a harmonious blend of classical Chinese and contemporary design. Suites and villas are modern and expansive, decorated in an art deco style with a Chinese twist with rooms that are airy, bright and very comfortable. Bathrooms are huge, each with a large square Jacuzzi tub, steam room, sauna and massage room. Each villa has its own pool fed from the hot springs, as well as a large lap pool. Each has a separate lounge room/pavilion for TV, entertainment and dining. Your butler is a phone call away and available 24/7. Call for a buggy to take you anywhere across the resort’s sprawling 246 hectares – only buggies are allowed.
High tea is offered at the hotel in the Imperial Lounge lobby bar overlooking the Phoenix Mountains. The blue-tiled roofs against the bright green landscape paint an incredibly beautiful picture. July is lychee season and at Imperial Springs you will find arguably the best lychees anywhere in the world. The trees are everywhere and guests are free to pick.
The 27-hole golf course designed by Colin Montgomerie is very challenging. Luckily, our caddie was extremely knowledgeable and she definitely took some numbers from my score. The course is beautifully maintained and a lot of fun to play. It even has automatic navigation, driverless carts. Your cart follows you as you walk up the fairways while it stays on the pathways. The clubhouse is 28,000 square metres and just incredible with everything you could want in a clubhouse. It’s a great day of golfing and enjoying the outdoors surrounded by the beautiful countryside.
On site is the Kingold Museum, with more than 20,000 pieces of precious antiquities – porcelain, bronze, jade, painting and calligraphy – some more than 5,000 years old. The collection is on par with the very best of New York, Paris or Rome. We were met by the head curator who personally guided us through various artifacts drawn from throughout China’s history. It is one of the largest private collections of antiques and treasures in China and one could spend days taking it all in. Absolutely amazing.
Be sure to take the local village tour to Qiangang. Escorted by your resort guide, step back in time as you wander through this ancient village, and its meandering lanes of timber houses. Stop off at one of the little cafés for a local tea or coffee and a sweet snack and watch the life of the villagers go by.
In stark contrast, the Imperial Springs spa is expansive and lavish. Indoor and outdoor pools, hot and cool pools, and outdoor hot springs are set across 6,500 square metres of quiet, blissful oasis. Six pools are all distinctly landscaped and are very private. Seven treatment rooms and three spa villas are available – the traditional Chinese massage really hits the spot after a round of 18 holes.