Call it serendipity, but after last month’s award-eligible cover story on crabs, we were invited to the best place for them. Now everyone, “in the know,” knows the best Hairy Crabs come from Yangcheng Lake, but until recently there was no place worthy of the discerning MORE reader to stay. Enter the Fairmont at Yangcheng Lake. Opened in 2009, the Fairmont, is the only 5-star hotel catering to tourists, business executives, corporate events, and crab connoisseurs in the bustling city of Kunshan; located conveniently between Shanghai and Suzhou, and barely a 2-hour drive from Hangzhou. We were there to indulge in their Real Crab in Real Style overnight package, so if you like fantastic crab, and accommodations, read on.
We arrived at the Fairmont at Yangcheng Lake just after lunch on a sunny, and unseasonably warm, November afternoon. We couldn’t have hoped for better weather as we parked the car and took the elevator up to the main lobby of the Fairmont. Walking through the expansive lobby towards reception, our eyes were drawn to the gorgeous and inviting Luwei Lobby Lounge, with its panoramic views of Yangcheng Lake. Within the confines of this warm, and inviting, earth-toned marble cocoon, it didn’t really matter what the weather was like outside, but seeing as it was so nice, we couldn’t wait to tour the resort grounds.
After an effortless check-in, we dropped our bags in our respective rooms (more on them later), and went off to check out what sort of activities the Fairmont had to offer. Needless to say, what’s available is more than you could do in a day, but we were willing to try. Contained within the Fairmont’s vast Sunset Dew Park you’ll find tennis, basketball, play areas for the kiddies, a painstakingly manicured chip and putt area, and rock climbing. Complimentary golf carts can take you where you need to go, or you can explore the grounds more freely yourself on some of their rental bicycles (50RMB/hour).
After all the sporting, we took a look at their organic farm. Covering over 200 acres, the Great Harvest Island organic farm at the Fairmont at Yangcheng Lake prides itself on its “green” credentials. Not only is the bulk of the produce provided in its top-notch restaurants sourced on-site, but also the fowl, fish, and furry, freshwater crabs. For those of you interested in a look at the more traditional lifestyle indicative of this area, you’re welcome to visit the, “Water Village.” There you’ll find a traditional-style home where the happy inhabitants grow Biluochun tea, and harvest hive-fresh honey, a short boat trip away from the house, at the resort’s own apiary. It’s been years since we tasted fresh honey, straight from the comb. As we watched the beekeeper work, no one seemed in the least bit nervous, yet bees were swarming all around us. It’s hard to lose your composure when your tour guide is literally, covered in bees.
After braving bees, free range chickens, and sheep, we jumped in a waiting golf cart and were whisked back to the hotel where we took a break to explore the immaculate Willow Stream Spa. For spa lovers, you won’t be disappointed. The Willow Stream Spa is a full-service haven in the heart of the hotel. From facials to full-body massages they’ve got you covered with top-end healthcare products and an international staff of world-class therapeutic technicians. For those of you looking to keep in shape, there’s a full-size heated lap pool, a full gym, and yoga/taiqi area for those of you who want to hone your body as well as your mind and spirit. As if that weren’t enough, the specially-designed, health-focused, menu at Willow Stream Spa was voted the best in China. Do you know how many spas there are in China? And this one has the best cuisine? That’s an enormous accomplishment.
As dinner time drew near, so were our bellies’ calls for sustenance. Luckily for us, those calls were soon to be sated by the Cantonese creations of Master Chef Jack Li, at the Fairmont’s Yi Feng Court Restaurant. It was here, where we supped upon a delicious bevy of courses including mouthwatering mu er (wood ear fungus), seafood-stuffed lotus root, succulent fish head, local Kunshan noodles, and, of course, the pièce de résistance, the Hairy Crabs. We were served a mating pair (one male, one female) with the traditional vinegar and ginger dipping sauce. We also ordered a bottle of warm huangjiu (yellow wine) as custom dictates when one dines upon this seasonal delicacy. Now we’re no strangers to Hairy Crab. We’ve been eating it for years. So it is saying something when we proclaim these to be the best hairy crabs we’ve ever eaten. Hairy Crabs are prized not for their meat, which is nothing to shake a stick at, but for their roe, and these bad boys (and girls) were packed with it. There was so much, certain people in our party actually stopped to call loved ones about it. They were simply divine, and at Yi Feng Court, they provide tools for working your way through them, which is always a plus.
Stuffed, we made our way back to our respective rooms, where we stripped down and “robed up” in their comfy dressing gowns and slippers, and enjoyed all the room had to offer. The rooms offer a fully stocked mini-bar, 24-hour room service (We recommend the Wagyu Beef Burger for 118RMB.), Internet access (for a nominal per diem fee), and High-Def satellite television. If you’ve never watched Robocop or Robocop 2 in high-definition, you need to, because it is hilarious. The bathrooms sport separate bath and rainfall shower areas, and a full line of salon-quality personal products that put us in the perfect mood for sleep atop the Fairmont’s amazing mattresses and bedding.
We awoke refreshed and ready for the day. After an extra-long shower, listening to ESPN through the room’s surround sound, we packed up our stuff and slowly headed for a check-out we never wanted to arrive. Our only solace was the knowledge that crab season runs through December, so we can head back up anytime between now and December 31st, for another Real Crab in Real Style evening, and enjoy everything again. Rates begin at 1,808RMB (+15% service charge). For an escape that captures the best of both worlds, check out the Fairmont at Yangcheng Lake.