A break in the country

It can be easy to get lost in the concrete jungle that is Shanghai but there are many opportunities to enjoy nature near to the city.  Yangcheng Lake is one such place. It’s a freshwater lake located between Kunshan and Suzhou, easily accessible by train.  It’s famous for Chinese mitten (or hairy) crabs which are considered a delicacy.

Biking by the Lake

Geese by the Lake

It was a very hot and sunny weekend and I was the only person crazy enough to go on a bike ride.  I rarely saw anyone except the farm workers, sweltering in the sun picking vegetables in their wide brimmed hats and somehow still smiling.

Flowers in the organic farm

I saw beautiful birds, butterflies, and wildflowers in full bloom.  In the Yue Feng Island Organic Farm, located on the grounds of the Fairmont Yangcheng Lake Hotel, there were grapes, tomatoes, various gourds, bitter melons, and pomegranates.  I love to see how the huge variety of vegetables and fruits are grown here in China; I had never seen a pomegranate tree before – a new one for my list ;).  I love being outside and active in the summer; it’s a great time to enjoy nature while getting some exercise.  What could be more beautiful than biking around a lake with a 33-acre organic farm!  Looking at all those beautiful fruits and vegetables gets me inspired about meal planning.

Delicious Food

Vegetables in the organic farm

Hotels and restaurants in the Yangcheng Lake area make great use of the local produce.  While Shanghainese food is too sweet for me, I find Chinese food from country areas to be very delicious and healthy.  Even though the Fairmont emphasizes hairy crabs as their specialty, I could also find some great plant-based dishes on the menu.  The food was fresh, light, and well balanced with amazing flavor.  Dishes included pumpkin and lily bulb with local honey, steamed tofu with truffle mushroom sauce & broccoli, and tofu soup with various greens & mushrooms.  I also had organic crystal ice plant salad with edible flowers – a must try green for expats.  Crystal ice plant is a dewy looking succulent plant. Its’ the ‘caviar of edible flowers’ according to the internet.  😉

Crystal Ice Plant Salad – Delicious!
Crystal Ice Plant up close

You will be surprised you can eat it and will likely either love or hate it.  Maybe the fact that it has vitamins and minerals, and is allegedly good for your digestion will make it taste better.  I was also surprised to discover that lily bulb is edible; it is indeed a tasty root vegetable.  I ate more flowers than I imagined possible.  I really loved all these dishes and have been craving them ever since. I also bought some grapes from the organic farm which were delicious.

I highly recommend getting out of Shanghai and enjoying seasonal summer produce from its source. Yangcheng Lake is one of many nearby places great for nature and hiking that won’t break the bank. Often, areas that are “off the beaten path” are the most interesting and relaxing; even with a 15-month-old baby in tow!

The Logistics

Yangcheng Lake is a freshwater lake located between the cities of Kunshan and Suzhou.  I travelled from Shanghai by train to Yangcheng Lake Railway Station; the station nearest to my hotel.  Stations in Kunshan and Suzhou may also be used; depending on your final destination by the lake.  I stayed at the beautiful Fairmont Yangcheng Lake Hotel.