A hotspring pool at Tangfeng Hot Springs in Wuyi county. [Photo by Yang Feiyue/China Daily]
It's a county yet it's called a city of hot springs by the authorities. There are 13 hot springs in the 1,577-square-kilometer Wuyi county in the heart of Zhejiang province.
The hot springs can provide more than 24,000 tons of water a day, local officials say.
But as of now only two sources have been tapped and roughly 4,000 cubic meters of water from the hot springs is supplied to local facilities every day.
"Still, the (current) amount puts many other getaways with hot springs in the shade," an official says.
Hot spring facilities elsewhere have supplies running into hundreds of cubic meters at best, he says.
Wuyi has well-paved wide streets crisscrossing the county. And a short trek up a tortuous road leads me to Tangfeng Hot Springs, one of the few major facilities in Wuyi.
At night, dim polychromatic lights suffuse the various open-air hot spring pools, each of which is well-separated from the other ones by tall trees and thick bushes.
It is like being in a garden typical of those south of the Yangtze River.
My visit is in late February, a perfect time to enjoy hot springs since there is still a chill in the air but it is not bitterly cold.
Typically, the most popular season to visit hot springs is from October to May.
As of now, it costs 248 yuan ($38) a night at Tangfeng. The deal includes two complimentary meals.
Sheng Xibin, the owner of the facility, has been in the business for the past 15 years. The middle-aged man used to be a lawyer but fell in love with hot springs while he was on a business trip to Japan in the 1990s.
"It was magical to dip in the hot spring with snow piled around and the view of Mount Fujiyama in the distance," says Sheng.
The opportunity for him to get into the business came when he got to know of the hot springs in Wuyi when he was dealing with the bankruptcy case of a local government-owned hot spring facility after his Japan trip.
Sheng didn't hesitate. He quit his job as a lawyer and took over the facility.
He then moved all the facilities from indoors to outdoors and opened the business in 2003. He also renovated his facility with elements from the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
"You can see portraits of ancient maidservants here," he says.
The whole facility integrates elements of Tang-styled constructions and classic parks south of the Yangtze River.
Meanwhile, despite the obvious profitability of his project, hot springs are more than just a business venture for Sheng.
"I hate it when people think that going to a hot spring means taking a bath," he says.
At the moment, he is trying to get support from the local government to build a museum to show the public the benefits, culture and history of hot springs.
He hopes this will help people get a better understanding of hot springs before experiencing them.
"For example, you should bathe in advance and never scrub yourself in a hot spring," he says.
Taking his venture further, the businessman has launched an online app this year that offers a butler service to users.
"We'll have people take care of you from the time you step out of the high-speed rail station all the way until you get back on the train."
Hot springs have also helped put Wuyi on the tourist map.
Visitors to the county numbered 8.6 million in 2015, up 41.24 percent over the previous year, while income from tourism surged 53 percent to 7.5 billion yuan.
One million of the visitors headed for the hot springs.
During the recent seven-day Spring Festival holiday, the number of visitors was 440,000, up 67.7 percent year-on-year, and tourism income hit 389 million yuan, up 81.8 percent.
The other hot spring in the area, the Qing Hot Springs, covering an area of 130,000 square meters, the biggest in Wuyi, drew 50,000 people during the festival and raked in 1 million yuan daily.
The facility has now evolved into a complex that integrates a spa, karaoke, a gym, basketball and tennis facilities.
Also, many guests were enjoying themselves at an ocean-wave simulation pool.
Huang Lujun, CEO of the facility says: "We want to turn our facility into a scenic spot, not just a place for hot springs,"
The facility is targeting guests from Shanghai and Wenzhou since the high-speed rail to Wuyi opened early this year. The high-speed rail has cut travel time from Wuyi to the two big cities to two hours.
The local government has focused on using local hot spring resources to develop tourism since 1994.
Now, a 3.8-square-kilometer area has been earmarked as a hot spring tourist resort. The area contains Qing Hot Springs, a park containing ancient residences and a fluorite museum.
The Jingyuan ancient houses park has more than 80 structures from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).
A plum blossom fragrance wafted to my nostrils once I got into the park. Walking past each ancient building at the park was like flipping through a history book.
The fluorite museum is an eye-opener.
Grotesque crystallized minerals with polychromatic colors are on display, including a 94.7-ton crude fluorite stone, the world's biggest luminous fluorite ball at 1.75 meters in diameter, and a fluorite and jade-made feast with 108 dishes.
The resort is expected to cater to 3.5 million people annually by 2017, and rake in 3.5 billion yuan in tourism income.
The hot spring resources have also greatly benefited local villagers.
The county has nearly 20 villages, where locals now offer farmhouse-styled cuisine to tourists.
Last year, 3.7 million tourists visited the villages and now some rural households' annual income has surpassed 500,000 yuan a year, according to the local government.
He Guangxing, who is now in his 50s, from Guodong village opened his family-run restaurant offering local cuisine to tourists in 1999.
The restaurant is practically where he lives－a 400-year-old two-story building made of stone and wood.
The restaurant can cater to up to 20 tables at a time. Most of guests, often from neighboring cities like Shanghai, drop by after enjoying a hot spring treatment.
A meal for a table of 10 costs an average of 400 yuan.
Dozens of residents in the village like He have also opened restaurants or hotels to cater to the increasing number of tourists, who come mostly to savor the local natural environment and village life.
He says his annual income ranges between 100,000 and 200,000 yuan.
Among other local government efforts to promote Wuyi is a one-month hot spring festival, which has been held every year over the late October-November period.
Celebrations are staged and discounts offered during the period, the government official says.
Separately, bars, a shopping plaza, F3 racing tracks, and health facilities will be established to spice up the hot springs experience, says Zhang Xinyu, the head of the county.
"We'll even provide hot springs water to local hospitals to treat patients," says Zhang.
Airports are also expected to be established in the next five years to connect the area with Zhoushan and Hengdian.
There are many celebrities at the Hengdian World Studios, and the half-hour flight will make it possible for them to visit Wuyi to relax and enjoy the hot springs after work, says Zhang.
Work on an expressway connecting downtown Jinhua city and Wuyi will begin this year, shortening travel time to 15 minutes from the previous one hour.
More than 90 percent of Spring Festival visitors chose to drive to Wuyi, says Zhang.
Besides, a group of high-end family hotels will open for business later this year.
The idea is to ultimately turn Wuyi into a backyard of major cities nearby so people can come and take a break from their busy schedules.
If you go
It takes roughly two hours by high-speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to the Wuyi North Station