Unique Experiences-The Happy Village

One of the most interesting boutique hotels in China is the Linden Centre, a lovingly restored courtyard complex situated in the village of Xizhou in the magnificent Dali valley in southwest China’s Yunnan province. The Dali valley is a magic place, filled both with bright sunshine and a sense of detachment from the real world. And one of the oldest and most scenic of the villages dotted along the valley by the shores of the huge Erhai lake is Xizhou, the home in decades and centuries gone by of traders of the Bai tribes who used their profits to build magnificent courtyard homes for themselves and their families.


On the outskirts of Xizhou, which literally means Happy District in Chinese, is the largest and most elaborate of all the local courtyard homes in the area and is now the home to the Linden Centre, a boutique hotel opened by Brian and Jeanee Linden two years ago. The centre is composed of three enclosed and deliciously quiet courtyards, each composed of two-story totally refurbished wooden structures, with delightful rooms and suites, and a terrace on which guests can sit and watch the sun set over the fields. There is a well-stocked library and the coffee machine is on for whenever you want to go from chilled out to something more switched on.


It is a fabulous place to go to get away from it all, and it is not too hard to get to. The first step is to fly to Kunming from wherever you are. Then either take a car direct to Xizhou costing around 500RMB for the four-hour drive, or else fly to Dali – just a quick half hour hop from Kunming – and then take a taxi to Xizhou – an hour or so drive for either 200RMB or 250RMB, depending on how vigorously you negotiate with the driver. Accommodation at the Linden Centre includes three meals a day, and also a wide range of activities including walks, painting, antique hunting, biking through surrounding villages, chats with the locals, cooking classes and lots of other pursuits developed by the Lindens to give visitors a real sense of connection to this village and the unique Bai culture of the Dali valley. Half an hour away by bus is Dali town (excellent apple pie at the German Bakery, 88 Bo Ai Lu, near Renmin Lu).


Just a short drive away from the Linden centre is a local market which is amazing in the range of products on sale – from unusual carrots and the most delicious fruits to paper money to burn for your ancestors to spend on the other side. Brian Linden seems to know everyone there, and leads guests to the best deals offered by the most Bai miinority farmers selling their wares. I have been to a lot of markets in China, and the one near Xizhou is one of the most colorful and interesting. The complex was built around 100 years ago by a Bai tribe trader with excellent taste in architecture surnamed Yang. The structure is protected by the state, but still managed to survive the past few decades largely intact as it was occupied for many years by an army unit and then later by a state kindergarten. Prices are RMB 600 per day for a normal room, and RMB 850 for a suite. There’s wi-fi everywhere in the Centre, it is a relaxing, safe and quiet and the ambience is unusual. It is a perfect place to go to hide out and get that book written. Take your sun-glasses and put on some sun protection cream. Wear clothes that easy to take off because when the sun is strong during the day you can wear short sleeves, but it cools down sharply after sunset.


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