Nestled in the foothills of Huangshan, Pingshan
is a picture pretty village filled with classic
Huizhou architecture – white-washed walls and
dramatic eaves set around carved wooden pillars
– that often gets overlooked in favour of the
nearby Hongcun and Xidi
(it’s roughly equidistant
between the two). But that means in place of bus
loads of tourists, you get art students (especially
when rapeseed flowers are in season during late March and early April) and
relaxing locals populating the narrow alleyways
and canal-side paths.
Sitting pretty toward the top of the large village
is the extraordinary Imperial Guard Boutique
Hotel. It stands on a site first given to warrior
Shulian by Qing dynasty emperor Yongzheng
for halting an assassination attempt; Shulian
was also bestowed with the title of Imperial
Guard. Yet the hall eventually fell into disrepair
and more recently was being used as a roller
skating rink until filmmaker and regular Zhang
Yimou collaborator Zhang Zhenyan stepped in.
A restoration enthusiast, he decided to move
the wooden structure of another ancestral
home in nearby Pengxia to form the basis of his
regeneration of Shulian’s Pingshan site, thus
‘saving both buildings’. It’s an incredible project,
with an interior that combines the ancient carved
timber with historical touches from around the
region (including Former French Concession tiles
and balconies) and nods to Zhang’s film career
(a signed photo of Gong Li hangs on one wall for
So far, guests have included Fan Bingbing and Feng Xiaogang. If you’re fortunate enough to visit while
Zhang is there (he’s currently busy with another restoration
project in Qingpu), be sure to grab a few words
with him; his stories are delivered in Mandarin
with a typical filmmaker’s flourish.
The hotel’s elegant, comfortable rooms
make for a great base to explore Pingshan's winding lanes and houses daubed with fading Maoist slogans. Other buildings in the village are being restored too, with some spectacular facades currently under renovation.
There's little to do in Pingshan in the evening (although the roller rink is still active a few doors down from the Imperial Guard Hotel), but on cold nights a fire is often lit in the Imperial Guard's coffee bar and lounge area and most guests retire early anyway, to afford them an early start to explore the surrounding villages. Hongcun and Xidi are
a bike ride away, though if you can, get a car
to nearby Guanlu (关麓村, pictured right), which is far less
troubled by tourists. Here, a guide will take
you in and around the fascinating local homes to
admire the carvings and painted ceilings, many of which are in good condition despite a few missing deity heads courtesy of the Cultural Revolution. Just bear in mind that the guides' English is limited.
How to get there
There is one high speed gaotie train a day from
Shanghai to Huangshan Bei and back (8.30am
there, 2.30pm return). It costs from 304RMB
one way and takes four and a half hours, but
it whips you through some idyllic scenery,
especially near Wuyuan. From Huangshan Bei,
it’s an hour’s drive to Pingshan; ask the hotel
about pick ups. The train times plus the drive mean that you're best off treating this as at least a three day break, or if you have longer tagging it on to a trip around Huangshan and the other villages nearby (see below for more on Xidi).
If you have your own car, all of the above becomes a lot easier, though we managed fine with public transport and a few lifts and taxis. Alternatively, you can make the
one hour flight to Huangshan (from 620RMB on
Ctrip) and arrange for a pick up from the airport.
Rooms at the Imperial Guard Boutique Hotel start from 699RMB through
Qunar.com. You can also call 133 5909 1777 for more information and to book.