Why China Is the Perfect Place to Avoid a Traditional Christmas

05/01/2015 11:57 GMT | Updated 06/03/2015 10:59 GMT
Sarah O'Meara

As the waiter poured gravy over my turkey, while Spotify streamed cheesy Christmas tunes into our Chinese hotel room, I asked a stupid question.

So how many times have you done this today?

The young man with a wonderful amount of thick black hair whose name badge said his name was 'Tony', looked back at me blankly.

I tried again: "How many turkeys have you served today. Christmas Day?"

"I have never done this before," he replied in precise English, before placing the oh-so-modern test tube of gravy down artfully next to my plate and vanishing into the background.

naked stables
Table being laid for Christmas dinner

The date said December 25. But it wasn't really Christmas.

Yes, tiny stockings filled with sweets had been delivered by hotel staff sporting reindeer head bands the night before. But Tony's answer underlined the point. These festive trimmings were just an illusion.

And it was a huge relief.

Here in our modern hotel in the mountains of Moganshan, there were no traces of the area's infamous colonial past that would have had white people served their traditional Christmas fare regardless of practicality, throughout the early 20th Century.

The wealthy expatriate families who used Moganshan as an escape from Shanghai until Chairman Mao turfed them out, and would have recreated the wilds of Sussex among the bamboo forests every winter, are nowhere to be seen.

Instead, my husband and I have the privilege of being the first guests at naked Stables to request a turkey on Christmas Day.

To be honest, I was glad the spell has finally been broken. That this was not some kind of wormhole to a white supremacist expat kingdom.

No Shanghai expat worth their salt is ignorant of Moganshan, the rural playground of the first European families to live in China after the Opium Wars. But once you learn of its existence, you almost wish you never knew.

The idea casts a strange spell over you.

In your daydreams you imagine beautiful stone villas, tennis courts and swimming pools lying in varying states of repair and disrepair up in the hills, waiting for a modern Gatsby (i.e. you) to come and save them.

naked stables
View from the balcony of our treetop villa

Like Gatsby, you're driven a little mad by dreams of fire-lit evenings, cocktails and servants.

As a result, when we finally decided to visit Moganshan for Christmas, I half expected to see Grace Kelly waving her racquet asking for a lift, as we ascended the hills in our people carrier.

Yet in our eco-resort, three hours drive from our home in Shanghai, such retro nonsense has been firmly swept away.

We arrived to find the place humming with Chinese families eager to participate in outdoor life. And we were the only foreign couple in the dining room.

naked stables
Guests take a canter around the paddock after breakfast

Naked Stables opened in 2010 to serve as a direct contrast to all that had gone before on the mountain.

The team behind the naked Retreats brand have created a resort that blows away the cobwebs.

Gone are resource-intensive catering arrangements to keep visitors happy. Instead, the site operates on renewable power, uses sustainable building materials and grows its own food.

Guests participate in their environment, rather than merely see it as a backdrop for fun and frolics.

So in our sustainably built eco-villa, we toasted Christmas, with a happy sense that Moganshan's link with the past was being broken. And it was a good thing.