January's a good time to sink your pasty ass into some thermal springs. We like to bring you news about good places to do just that around this time of year. Look, we did it last year, too
This time I went out to this new hot springs resort in Jiangsu. It's about three hours away in a car. The nearest big city is Nantong, which is a historic place, one of the early manufacturing bases in this part of China. If you head north out of Shanghai and cross over the mouth of the Yangtze near Chongming Island, it's up there. To get there you traverse that massive bridge that goes on forever. It's surrounded by power plants belching out smoke and, well, it feels like you're on another planet just hitting that bridge. That's pretty cool in itself. But on to the springs.
This is what the outside of the hotel looks like. Sort of faux British thing going on.
The backstory to this resort is pretty serendipitous. The land was given to a Hong Kong development company by the local government. Originally there was just supposed to be a golf course here, but while they were digging around, looking for water to irrigate the fairways, they stumbled upon three hot springs, and they're some of the most mineral-rich in all of eastern China. One of them comes out of the ground at 96 degrees C.
With that liquid gold bubbling up through the ground, they decided to turn the area into a huge natural springs destination. There are plans under way to build a colossal day spa that can fit 1000 people around an artificial lake, with hot springs treatments and a wealth of other luxuries. That won't be done for a few more years but the first stage of the project is this 220-room family hotel, with a couple of restaurants and an indoor-outdoor network of baths and pools pumped full of their healing water. These pools don't get the really hot stuff, or the water that's richest in minerals because that stuff is so mineral-rich than they don't advise anyone soaks in it for too long. But this is still thermal spring water, that's heated up a bit to make it pleasant enough for bathing.
Pools inside the indoor hot springs bit.
The main hotel feels very high-end, with modern buildings but quite lavish, spacious interiors. In fact, it's four star, which means the prices are low compared to what we're used to paying in Shanghai, though the décor feels five-star. There are Chinese and Western restaurants, 10 rooms for private dining in the Chinese venue, a couple of small KTV rooms and a cozy bar. But the focus is really on the hot springs.
This is the largest outdoor pool.
To that end, there's an indoor mixed springs area with four pools, plus a huge outdoor area with a swimming pool filled with hot spring water and eight smaller bubbling pools for groups to wallow in. The whole bathing area is really smart, with secluded areas and lots of space for lying out. Come the summer, it would be a nice place to lounge around all day. For now, you're just going to want to scamper from one hot tub of thermal goodness to the next.
That water with the richest mineral count is called, rather grandly, the Golden Healing Water. For now, this is reserved for use at their VIP area — the Clubhouse — a network of 22 bungalows about a mile away from the main hotel. All these rooms have private butlers, living areas and their own private pools in little gardens. This Golden Healing Water is so full of minerals that guests are advised only to bathe in it for a limited time. It's the sort of stuff that comes out of the faucet clear, but turns a rusty red when it makes contact with the air.
Here's one of the fancy rooms in the Clubhouse.
Each of these VIP suites has a pool for Golden Healing Water and then a separate pool of less hardcore mineral water to wash off in, or for longer soaks.
The hotel claims the water's good for dermatological problems, motor disorders, rheumatic problems, gynecological problems and if you're recovering from any surgery. Who knows about any of that. Certainly not me. But sinking into steaming water in an outdoor pool under the stars on a freezing evening in the middle of nowhere, I know that's good for the soul, if nothing else.
The main hotel also has a Turkish baths — I believe hammam
is the correct nomenclature — with plunge pools and saunas. Groups of four or five can rent the whole area and get up to all manner of sweaty mischief in there. The spa itself offers a number of treatments I've not seen anywhere else. They have these heated water bags that they wrap you up in, after smearing you in mud, and there's a bamboo massage where they roll lengths of that plant over your body. The bamboo withers and dies, while you walk out of there feeling like a bazillion bucks.
Private pools for the posh Clubhouse rooms.
As well as that, there's a 27-hole golf course. I know nothing about golf so didn't embarrass myself by hacking around it, but 27 holes, that seems rather expansive. I'm told the area is rich with birdlife, including two types of birds that are on a watch-list because their numbers are falling. The hotel plans to make itself a bird-watching destination, as well as a place for thermal treatments, bike rides, fishing and golf. For now, it would certainly serve as a multi-use place for a family to relax for the weekend. There's golf for those who golf, spa stuff and afternoon tea for those who want pampering, and enough activities to keep kids distracted and out of their parents' hair.
This is the golf course. Long and green; that's what golf courses do.
And the price is far less than I expected. Rooms start at 768rmb including breakfast for two, free use of the four indoor and nine outdoor thermal pools, free use of the sauna and the fitness area, plus some of the activities for kids. Right now they have a package for 888rmb during the week or 988rmb on weekends which includes all of that plus a local "rudong"-style seafood dinner of four courses and a soup, which is enough to feed two. All those rates include tax and service charge.
For those with children, the wide open spaces and plethora of things to do would make it a good place to come with kids, or for groups of young folk looking for a weekend place to flop, the rates would make it attractive for them, too. There's a tennis court, a basketball court, cycle paths and free martial arts classes by an on-site instructor. The journey is not excruciating, but you're going to want to book in for two nights to make it worth the trip.
During the winter in Shanghai, we have a choice between sitting at home complaining about the lack of heating and the general dreadfulness of the season, or making a break for the hills. If you can brave the journey, rewards like these are excellent.
If the journey is too much of a chore, Links has a shuttle bus leaving Shanghai at 4pm on Friday and returning Sunday afternoon at 3:15pm. That leaves from the Renaissance Shanghai Caohejing Hotel, which is in Hongqiao on Tianlin Lu. You have to pay for that, though — 250rmb per person round-trip, or half price for kids under 140cm and free for those under 100cm.
For more about Links, visit their website here