Zhujiajiao, but not as you know it

New resort Ahn Luh offers a different take on the popular destination

Weve long maintained that Zhujiajiao is best visited as an early evening and early morning excursion rather than a day trip. But while this approach enables you to avoid the majority of the matching baseball cap-wearing, megaphone-wielding tourist hordes and the tat sellers that thrive off their business, previously it meant spending the night in a B&B. And, as much as we love the rustic charms of hostel-like spots such as Cao Tang, that often meant accepting a fairly basic level of accommodation.


Yet, conscious of Shanghai residents desire for more luxury weekend getaway options, a new clutch of up-market accommodation developments in and around the watertown are changing that. One of the newest, and most impressive additions to this growing crop is the recently opened Ahn Luh Zhujiajiao.


The hotel is comprised of 35 individual villas, each with its own outdoor space, varying in size from a small courtyard and garden with the entry level rooms to a private swimming pool with the most luxurious (theres still a lovely shared pool for the less well-off guest, dont worry). While the villas are all new buildings, they take their architectural cues from traditional Ming and Qing styles, with lots of wooden carvings and stone surfaces, both inside and out, mixed in with all the mod cons and comfort youd expect from a brand new high-end resort. While its possible to feel a little penned in inside the gardens attached to the smaller villas, the high walls give plenty of privacy and a quick stroll out to the adjacent watertown during the day is enough to remind you of the value of this peace and quiet.


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The centrepieces architecturally are the grand lobby and, sitting opposite it at the resorts entrance, an ancient opera house. The former is based in Wufeng Lou, a 600-yearold courthouse that was originally located in Anhui, but was painstakingly moved to, then reconstructed and repurposed on the hotel site. It features an array of intricate carvings and architectural points of interest, while its airy upstairs lounge is a peaceful spot to unwind during the day. The opera house, once the centre of social activity when it was constructed in the late Qing dynasty, is a similarly impressive sight, particularly at night when its elegant form is reflected in the surrounding body of water.


Theres little to do on site, but then thats largely the point. The best way to approach Ahn Luh Zhujiajiao is as a weekend getaway whereby you spend the day lounging by the pool and then head out into the watertown as the sun begins to dip and the crowds start to thin. One option is to head for the 7pm nightly showing of renowned composer Tan Duns water-based song and dance spectacular Water Heavens (tickets from 180RMB). Alternatively, you can head next door for seasonal 7.30pm performances of kunqu opera classic Peony Pavilion set atmospherically in one of the water towns gardens (tickets from 580RMB). Both Water Heavens and Peony Pavilion are located just inside the water town entrance closest to the hotel.


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For a slightly different kind of culture, also found in this part of Zhujiajiao is Zher Bar, a small café, bar and live music venue set up by former punk band frontman Frank Feng. Live shows here are sporadic, but regardless you’ll find it a good place to sup a few beers in the evenings, surrounded by punk paraphernalia beside the canal.


Otherwise, wandering the narrow streets in early evening you’ll find many of Zhujiajiaos shops in the process of closing up for the day, but drift away from the main drag and you’ll stumble across local residents emerging onto the canalside streets for a natter, plus myriad small coffee shops and friendly cafés that morph into bars as the day winds down. Whatever you end up doing, you’ll certainly see a very different side of Zhujiajiao, and arguably its best.


Rooms at Ahn Luh Zhujiajiao start from 3,600RMB a night. See ahnluh.com for booking information.

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