An Ecolodge in China With a Recipe for Success

eco lodge yangshuo china All images © Natasha von Geldern

Yes, China is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the pollution in major cities is rising to hazardous levels. In fact, on the day I arrived people were being warned to stay indoors in Beijing. But last month I stayed at a real gem of an eco lodge – the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat – that just warmed my heart with its commitment to sustainability and responsible tourism.

While I was travelling in China I saw ample evidence of the government making concerted efforts to reduce the problems. There were solar panels on many buildings and I saw a lot of electric motorbikes and cars. Far more than I have ever seen in a so-called developed country.

The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat is run by American expat Chris Barclay, whose vision is to create a sustainable business model that helps preserve Yangshuo’s natural beauty and promote its unique culture.

Yangshou Mountain Retreat ecolodge china

Sit in front of a cosy fire at the Yangshou Mountain Retreat, China

For a start – and referring of course to the Eco Traveller guidelines on green accommodation credentials – the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat generates energy from solar panels and has a natural, self-contained septic system with zero contamination of ground or river water.

The staff all come from local villages, creating employment opportunities and community involvement. In addition, five per cent of profits are donated to the China-US Medical Foundation.

And there is a strict ‘no single use’ policy, from toiletries to napkins, there are no disposable products. An attitude I’m sure we could all integrate more into our own daily lives.

But what is it really like to stay at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat? In some ways I need go no further than the view from my bedroom window. I hope a picture is worth a thousand words because this scene of the Yulong River is too beautiful to describe:

Yangshuo river china

The lodge itself is a restored old farmhouse, all rustic stonework, and decorated in a traditional Guangxi style. It feels like a real mountain lodge but with a high degree of comfort.

The restaurant is open all day and late into the evening with delicious Chinese food, including local delicacies such as beer fish. There is also western food available. I visited in the winter and after days spent cycling and rock climbing in the beautiful countryside I loved coming back to a mulled wine in front of the open fire, with the hotel cat curling around my legs.

Yangshou Mountain Retreat China

Beer fish – at the Yangshou Mountain Retreat in China

In the morning the ladies who work there sit around the fire doing their needlework, heads bent as they make handicrafts to sell. They exude an atmosphere of peaceful industry as I sit in front of the fire and sip my (real) coffee.

Perhaps peace is the key word here. China is a busy place. It’s not just the population, the whole country sometimes feels like one big construction site. Travel here can be gruelling because of the distances involved.

But here, on the Yulong River where no motorised traffic is allowed, and yet only a 15 minute drive from the bustling centre of Yangshou town, I felt like I had truly found the legendary beauty of southern China.

Disclosure: Natasha was a guest of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat while travelling in China, but all opinions remain her own.

Filed Under: AsiaEco LodgesEscapeFeatured Articles


About the Author: Natasha von Geldern is a travel writer and editor who is passionate about making the pages of the atlas real, one step at a time. As well as Eco Traveller Guide, she contributes to Wild Junket Magazine, Yahoo! Total Travel, Travel Wire Asia and She blogs at and tweets about all things travel @NvGtravels.

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  1. You make me want to visit! I love your article and the views are beautiful. I’ll skip the beerfish but I loved everything else.
    Michelle Bermas recently posted..Tapping into Our Love of TreehousesMy Profile

  2. Steve says:

    Those of us that live in the polluted mess that is Beijing love to get away to places like this, so it’s good to find a new one to visit.
    Steve recently posted..The multi-coloured pools of HuangLong – Songpan, SichuanMy Profile

  3. I’m busting to get to Yangshuo and China in general. Great to see that there are few places where China is making an effort to go green.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..Travel Hacking New Zealand: Transportation on the CheapMy Profile

  4. Looks wonderful! I went to China twice in the past year, but never made it to that “gumdrop mountain” region. Would love to!
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..Are the Best Sights of India in Old Delhi? Look Here.My Profile

  5. It really was encouraging Bethaney, I’d like to see those sorts of efforts in Australia or the US! Yangshuo is gorgeous and this place is perfect to get away from the crowds.
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted..France snapshot: The fountains of VersaillesMy Profile

  6. Larissa says:

    Looks like a beautiful place! I’m glad there are those intrepid souls out there such as Chris Barclay willing to champion Eco-efforts in a country that truly needs it!
    Larissa recently posted..How to travel: 14 travel myths debunked (Part 1)My Profile

  7. I visited China several years ago during this time, and found it to be a bit better than what I expected. Still, on the Dragon Tower in Harbin, it was nice to be above the smog level! Glad to hear China is aware of the problem and working towards providing sustainable travel options.
    Cat of Sunshine and Siestas recently posted..Andalusia: A Love Letter in PhotosMy Profile

  8. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of China, but definitely my kind of resort!
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..The New and Improved Picture of the WeekMy Profile

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