After a late arrival on a flight from the U.S. to Shanghai, I awoke the next morning to an enticing email invitation to Chongming Island. My friend, French architect Jean-Pierre Heim, wanted me to join a group visitinghis hotel project there.
The alluvial island, also called Edo-Island, formed from silt and rock, is in the Yangtze River Delta and had long been on my must-see list.
But Heim’s group was leaving in only two hours! I abandoned my plan to spend a few days recovering from jet lag and was soon out the door.
SHANGHAI YANGTZE RIVER TUNNEL & BRIDGE
We began our journey through the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel Bridge, at 15.8 miles (25.4 km) the longest bridge and tunnel in China. Before its completion in 2009, only a ferry connected Chongming to the mainland.
Though it cost more than 12 billion yuan ($1.8 billion), the bridge-tunnel is expected to boost incomes in Chongming, one of Shanghai’s poorest areas, and to encourage tourism and investment.
MY FIRST VIEW OF CHONGMING
Chongming, located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, is a rural, agrarian area, home to natural parks and wetlands filled with migratory birds. Just a two-hour car ride from Shanghai, it’s considered a restful getaway spot ideal for a weekend visit or conference.
Since I had read that it was meant to be a nature preserve, I was surprised by the extent of development: business parks, characterless suburban housing, and charmless farmers’ homes.
In addition to Heim’s hotel, a sprawling Hyatt Regency recently opened on the island. It has embraced the island’s ecological focus by incorporating organic foods into its menus and offering outdoor activities such as tours of nearby farms and bicycle rides.
DAO ZHONG DAO HOTEL
Our bus turned into a beautiful first-class development: a feng shui-influenced landscape featuring a lake, trees, rocks, and bridges.
Within the development, we arrived at Dao Zhong Dao, a concept hotel and restaurant. The name is cleverly symbolic: zhong means “center.”
Jianpei Shi expressed his delight with the project and the area, which offers fresh air and organic produce. A wine connoisseur, he is searching for a chateau to buy in Bordeaux, as many of his friends are doing.
“We can breathe the sea air here,” said Heim as he welcomed the visitors. He acknowledged the contribution of his daughter Carolyn’s work on the hotel project. “Her feminine perspective added a softening touch.”
CLUB & HOTEL TOUR
After lunch, Mr. Heim and owner Jianpei Shi took us on a tour of the contemporary Dao Zhong Dao hotel.
I highly recommend the resort as a paradise-like refuge from crowded Shanghai, whether you go for a pleasure trip or for a business meeting.
VISIT TO SHOU’AN TEMPLE ON CHONGMING ISLAND
Heim had also organized a tour of the nearby ancient Buddhist Shou’An Temple, built more than 700 years ago during the Song Dynasty. It was expanded over the centuries, throughout the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.
After years of neglect, in 1983 the local government restored the Shou’An Temple. Returned to magnificence, it draws a large number of pilgrims each year. The Jade Buddha Tower, another addition to the complex, was completed in 2000.
In China, the use of incense (xiang) is integral to a variety of cultural activities. At Buddhist temples, it’s burned to purify the surroundings and clear out any bad spirits. It also serves as an offering to ancestors or deities.
We partied late into the night, when buses returned us to Shanghai. I never made it to several other Chongming Island attractions—the Dongping National Forest Park, Dongtan Wetland, and Yingdong Fishing Village, where guests can go fishing and locals will cook the catch. So I’ll just have to return!
SHANGHAI YACHT CLUB
Jean-Pierre Heim, who has offices in France and Mykonos as well as in China, is one of many expats who’s involved in numerous projects here. This year, he completed a renovation of the Shanghai Yacht Club, located on the shore of the Huangpu River in Pudong (the financial district), and he’s currently designing the Beijing Yacht Club.
“THE FRENCH WILL NEVER FORGET” D-DAY COMMEMORATION
Despite his busy schedule, Heim managed to fly to Manhattan on June 6 to take part in the ceremonies put on by The French Will Never Forget (TFWNF) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. It honored French and American soldiers who lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy.
TFWNF’s goal is to strengthen the friendship between America and France, which dates back to France’s supporting the American Revolution and being the first country to recognize the U.S. as an independent nation.
TFWNF co-founders made a statement expressing France’s wish to show its appreciation to America, its “oldest friend and ally,” for helping the country regain its freedom in World War II.
Photos by Jeanne Lawrence, Jean-Pierre Heim, Ron Contarsy, Shanghai Chongming Government, and Wikimedia Commons.
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.