Off the typical tourist track, in the Chinese town of Zhangzhou, the Tulou Retreat is a well-kept secret. Converted into a boutique hotel, traditional 600-year-old structures have been given a new lease on life in an effort to preserve Hakka community’s timeless culture.
Situated within the rustic village of Taxia, and surrounded by beautiful mountains, Tulou Retreat is a local cultural success story. Dedicated to drawing guests into the Hakka way of life through a range of local cultural experiences, guests are transported back to a simpler time, where family and community were everything.
The Hakka, a branch of Han Chinese people originally from the Huanghe River Valley, migrated and settled in the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China. Here the Hakka constructed the Tulou, circular compounds where extended families would live, secure and communal. Despite many families moving further abroad, to Southeast Asia and beyond, many still send money back to China to help preserve the legacy of their culture.
Housed within one of the original Tulou compounds, Tulou Retreat is part boutique hotel and part community initiative and is centred around building awareness while preserving the Hakka way of life.
“Tulou is quite special,” says Amy Sun, director of product development at Tsingpu Travel, which operated the retreat. “When the retreat was designed two years ago, we tried our best to keep the original structure and highlight the best features of the buildings, using local construction materials to reflect the local culture and spirit of the Hakka people. We spent over a year signing contracts with the local residents to rebuild the five original earth buildings for the retreat.”
Located on a hillside in Nangjing County, the five restored earth buildings now house 24 luxury guest rooms, complete with traditional original wooden floors and vaulted ceilings. “An S-shape river splits the village into two, with two round Hakka houses on each side creating a symbol of yin and yang,” says Sun. However, much more than just a chic house of slumber, the retreat is also an active cultural center, maintaining Hakka traditions, with more than 20 local experts employed to provide authentic experiences to hotel guests.
The hotel has had a significant impact on the local economy, helping reduce urbanization in the village while also bolstering awareness of the Hakka culture. “Besides increasing local employment, we work with external travel companies and invest a lot of time in social media to attract more and more attention, not only for the retreat itself, but to promote local resources, local culture and authentic living,” says CEO Xueshan Yang, who was one of the visionaries behind the project. “Cultural wares and locally made food are also incorporated into the overall experience, all in the hope of developing our local economy.”
Guests at Tulou have the opportunity to live the traditional lives of the Hakka through a curated collection of authentic experiences offered through local guides. Over 20 authentic experiences are on offer, allowing visitors to learn the interesting Hakka culture through a myriad activities, such as classes with local craftsmen, and tours through Taxia with village elders explaining the village’s Feng Shui and its ancient history.
“We hope that our clients will have the chance to experience real Hakka life, rather than a guided tour,” says Sun. “Whether they are following a local farmer, hunting for bamboo shoots, or picking tea leaves for local tea makers, we hope to show our client a China they've never seen before.”