I was so fortunate to get to travel to China this spring with an awesome group of fellow bloggers. Planning the trip was truly a huge part of the adventure. When I first got on the phone with Marc from Mandarin Journeys, I was pretty clear I wanted to be immersed into China. I did not want to see tourist sites nor did I want to be in the big cities too long. I wanted to be in the country and I wanted to learn about culture, but I didn’t want to do it “explorer” style. I wanted a bit of luxury. Okay, I wanted to see it, do it, taste it, experience it and do it my way. After a few e-mails, it was clear one of my stops was to be Taihu Home on Lake Taihu.
To be honest, I was so excited to get out of Shanghai and head to Taihu. The lake itself is huge and has so much to offer. But, for my immersion into the culture of the region, my time was to be spent on the grounds and close to Taihu Home.
Taihu Home is located in a small quite neighborhood along the lake, but without direct access to the lake. It’s so great that it has a full collection of wonderful bikes you can jump on and in 10 minutes, be at the lake. The ride is beautiful along the neighborhood roads with farms and aqua-farms, including crab farms, YUM!
The property has many buildings, including an ancient building of the late Qing Dynasty that the owner, Mr. JIN Xunhua of Tai Hu, had moved to the property. The building itself also houses a private collection of the owner that rivals most of the museum collections I have seen around the world and many of the pieces have been and are on loan to international museums. The rich history and love of the tradition and culture is seen in the care of the selection of pieces he has collected.
The property is comprised of a grouping of building, including a main house where the restaurant, private dining rooms, and office is housed; the ancient home; the guest rooms, in a series of separate buildings that all have a bit different layout to make it easy for different travelers to find the best fit; a staff home; and then two big group meeting spaces. Each space is beautiful, clean, well designed, and comfortable. I hear they are adding an outdoor sitting area and that will be wonderful. I found myself sitting on the steps of the main house or group areas to enjoy the beautiful outdoors during the early mornings.
The guest rooms varied greatly in style, but each is new and modern. I stayed in the building just next to the main house that included a gathering area on the lower level. The room itself was very spacious with a large bathroom. The bed was super comfortable and the linens amazing. There was a comfy sitting area and a desk as well. The room was well-equipped with beautiful toileteries, a hot pot to brew tea, and everything else I needed. The only downside to the room was no real windows; the only ones looked at a wall. Next stay I would get a room with a porch or different view. There are many options for rooms, including renting a grouping of rooms, so you can have the whole family close with sitting rooms and gathering places.
The food is simple amazing, really some of the best I had in China. We ate family style each meal. Breakfast was full of traditional favorites that kept us fueled for the day. Lunch was delicious and dinner was over the top. I could not even begin to explain the meals, so please enjoy a few pictures, each presentation better than the one before. So many new foods and fish prepared fresh from the lake in so many ways.
Now, when I asked for a tour of the kitchen and they said yes, I was so thrilled. It was not just a kitchen, it was a whole series of small kitchens with one master kitchen. It included a dumpling room, a cold dish room and dessert room, and then came the my heaven – the master kitchen. It was not filled with a ton of stuff; just the basics and a lot of traditional cooking tools with a huge pot of broth simmering in the back on a low burner, because it was a super huge pot! And do not even get me started on the serving dishes. If only my suitcase was bigger, I assure you I would have begged them to take me to where I could buy all of them and take them home.
The activities at Taihu Home are endless, but more importantly authentic. They bring in the best of the best and the professionals. Our days included:
Traditional Tea Cup Making with Pottery Master Mrs. JI Fang
She is a true artisan and well known in her field. Her work is so beautiful. She came to Taihu to work with us with her husband, who treated us to a traditional tea service and her two assistances who were a huge help to me. I even got to make my own tea cup!
Dumpling Making with the Taihu Chefs
I have taken my fair share of cooking classes, including dumpling specific and dim sum classes. I was once told by a guest teacher at Whole Foods that maybe dumpling making was not for me. Well, I am a dumpling maker now! The staff was so patient and although we had a language barrier, they took their time with me until I got it right. Guess what we had for lunch that day?
This was most likely one of the most spiritual parts of my stay. The Tai Chi Masters, dressed in traditional attire, came in from Shanghai. We gathered in the courtyard of the ancient building. We began our lesson with the history and meaning of Tai Chi and then moved into our instruction. We learned a simple sequence of moves and the master and his student worked with us, one-on-one, each step of the way. I think it was one of the first times we were all silent, truly finding center in ourselves. At the end of our instruction, the Master and his student gave us an very moving demonstration.
Taihu offers many other classes and instruction, but you can sit and do nothing, too, on the property. The village that Taihu is in also has a wonderful garden and community center, which has a museum containing the history of the area.
I would highly recommend a stay of at least 4 nights at Taihu Home or longer, as there is so much to do in the surrounding area. But, working with someone like Marc can help you plan the trip that is right for you. I didn’t get to spend the time I would have liked there due to my limited time in China. If I had more time, I would have taken yoga, additional cooking and Tai Chi lessons, and gone for more walks and bike rides around the area.
As for who should go to Taihu – EVERYONE at any age! Taihu Home really gives you an immersion into China, while engaging in authentic life and learning about the deep history of the country. The surrounding area has much to explore, including an ancient tea plantation and Buddhist Monastery. This is one of those times I would say, get out of the city and immerse yourself into the rich cultural that is China.
Disclosure: Part of my trip to China was paid for by Mandarin Journeys. I was not paid for this article. All opinions are my own.
I am a home cook that does things my way. In my kitchen, I make breakfast, pack lunches, prepare snacks, and cook dinner. During the week, we eat real food that is homemade, organic, and local. On the weekends we do explore more of our local restaurants. I bake my own bread, juice fresh oranges every other day, and make my own kombucha and other weekly favorites.