Bamboo Chic Chilling at China's First Ecolodge

Paul Wang copes with enough pollution in Beijing. So when the businessman flies into Guang-zhou, a smoggy city near Shen-zhen and Hong Kong, he hails a taxi to Crosswaters Ecolodge & Spa.

Crosswaters Eco LodgeFactories dominate the first few miles of highway. But when Wang’s taxi enters the Nankun Mountain Reserve, industry gives way to swaying bamboo trees. The car winds up a narrow mountain road and stops beside a security hut. An attendant raises a gate. Turning down a smaller road, the driver descends into a river valley.

Crosswaters comes into view. Eighty miles northeast of Guangzhou, the ecolodge is a fusion of five-star comfort and eco-ambience. Beauty technicians at an onsite “forest spa” ($150 for a 90-minute session) cleanse with herbal scrubs and “nectar masks”; bamboo-themed villas ($290 per night) overlook two scenic rivers; and hiking opportunities abound in the adjacent Nankun Mountain Reserve.

“To breathe this air is like washing your lungs,” Wang says. “It’s very quiet and tranquil here, so you feel like you’re part of the environment.”

He isn’t the only one praising this four-year-old ecolodge. In 2006, the American Society of Landscape Architects gave Crosswaters an “Analysis and Planning Award of Honor.” Two years later, National Geographic Adventure named it one of the world’s “50 Top Ecolodges.” And in 2009, China Best Design Hotels Award recognized Crosswaters as one of China’s three best “concept” hotels.

Nature, Incorporated

While planning the ecolodge, architects consulted a feng shui master and local community members. The result is a resort that celebrates nature and tradition. Villas were built in “Hakka” style, with mud walls and recycled tiles. Onsite gardens—with names like “Lotus,” “Reflective Moon” and “Seven-Sages Tao”—reflect ancient Chinese landscaping principles. And a visually stunning bamboo bridge connects a semi-enclosed outdoor lounge with the surrounding forest.

According to Crosswaters spokesperson Kenny Li, the ecolodge attracts mostly Chinese guests, about a third of whom are government officials. “Our guests want to relax and see nature,” says Li.

On this misty morning, a few guests drink tea near the “bamboo spa” while Wang talks with a receptionist beside pots of blooming orchids. The only background noises are chirping birds and rushing rivers. Wang draws a long breath and exhales. He’s stayed at upscale hotels and resorts across Asia, Europe and South America, but says this place is different. “If a hotel can have a soul, this place has a soul,” Wang says. “Its soul is nature. You’re part of it. You’re in it.”