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Homestay rekindles memories of Alpine childhood

China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-12 10:47
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HEFEI — As the countryside wakes up on an early winter morning, Armin Schober sits in the courtyard of his homestay, sipping hot coffee while gazing at the mist-shrouded mountains in the distance. Upstairs, his wife and daughter are sleeping soundly. Such peaceful moments often remind him of his childhood at the foot of the Alps in Austria.

Schober and his Chinese wife, Huang Qiong, run a homestay in Tachuan, a village at the foothills of Huangshan Mountain, a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site in East China's Anhui province.

Known for boasting one of the best autumn views in China, the village is a magnet for painters and photographers. But like many other villages near the scenic mountain, it has not enjoyed the benefits of a mature tourism industry. Schober is among the entrepreneurs trying to make a difference.

The story of this homestay, Alina's Garden, started with a simple wish to find a natural environment for their daughter, Alina.

Alina was born in 2018 in Shenzhen, a megacity in South China's Guangdong province, where Huang ran a company. The couple had planned to escape the urban hubbub and retreat to the European countryside when Alina turned three.

"I want to preserve her innocence as much as possible. I hope she can grow up in a free and natural environment and live her life to the fullest, just like I did when I was a child," said Schober, whose hometown is a small mountain village in Innsbruck.

"When I was a child, I often played in the forest and built my own tree house."

But a trip changed their minds. In 2021, they traveled to Tachuan and stayed in a homestay with a gurgling stream behind the backyard and mountain scenery in the distance. The city of Huangshan, where Tachuan is located, is famous for its natural landscapes, with a forest coverage rate of 82.9 percent.

"We immediately felt that this was the life we wanted," Schober said.

Schober and Huang decided to take over the homestay business. But moving from fast-paced Shenzhen to a small mountain village to start a rural homestay from scratch required enormous effort. From painting walls and fixing tables to installing lighting fixtures, the couple did everything themselves, gradually turning the ancient house into their dream home, which blends the local Hui architectural style with European elements, such as a coffee bar and European food.

The couple hope the homestay can bring the best of the East and West together. During the Spring Festival, Schober writes English red couplets with a Chinese ink brush.

Their business is booming, though Schober said his greatest sense of accomplishment comes from the way his daughter is growing up with confidence and independence.

"Although she is only five years old, she can already help us greet our guests, show them around, and play with the guests' children. She is like a little boss here," Schober said.

"People here are all very friendly and willing to help, from our next-door neighbors to the village leaders. I don't have to worry about Alina because here, everyone knows her, and everyone helps take care of her."

In recent years, new businesses, including homestays, have been flourishing around Huangshan Mountain amid the country's rural revitalization drive, creating more jobs for villagers and improving their incomes.

He Yi, the mayor of Huangshan, said the city has over 3,100 homestays. They received more than 3.3 million tourists last year, with an overall output value of 6.5 billion yuan ($912.5 million).

"The booming homestay industry has not only attracted people, capital and information to flow into villages but has also inspired entrepreneurs to establish businesses in rural areas," He said.

In October, Schober opened a coffee and pizza shop in Hongcun, a traditional village under State protection next to Tachuan, to serve handmade pizza and coffee to tourists from all over the world.

"We hope to make more investments here in the future and explore more different business ventures," he said. "I'm personally very positive about the outlook."


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