Sometimes when searching for a weekend away I have fallen into the comfort zone of choosing the delights of Suzhou or the wonders of the West Lake and Hangzhou. Both are under an hour away and easy to take small children with you. However, if you are feeling a tad more adventurous and your child is a bit older then why not consider the slightly further afield option of Wuyuan (wù yuán 婺源).
Wuyuan is a small hidden county of ancient villages, nestled in the Jiangxi countryside. After a busy few months we chose to stay in a place called Yan village, (Sixi Yancun scenic area) the primary reason being was that it was a protected area and had an extensive history spanning back for more than 1,000 years, Wuyuan County was first set up in 740 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is an essential part of the ancient Huizhou Culture, with a series of ancient villages retaining the typical Huizhou residences, mansions of historical celebrities, ancestral halls, and antique gallery bridges. Similar to Suzhou, many scholars and talented people have made this their home leaving a deep rooted cultural legacy.
Wuyuan is famous for its ancient villages. Isolated by the Jiangxi mountains, the concrete and madness of the 20th Century passed this area by. The village lanes are too small for cars, so let the kids run free, safe to explore and be adventurous. The only danger they may encounter would be the odd chicken they might bump into. Some villages are protected tourist areas, others are more wild and rough round the edges. There are hundreds dotted around the county: think the UK Cotswolds, but Chinese style. If you are a floral enthusiast then mark March in your diaries, Rape seed blooms draw tourists from around the world. However, for a quiet retreat to the countryside, autumn is the best time to visit. Look forward to mild weather, clean air and autumnal colours. Just what the doctor ordered!
The journey from Shanghai is a fairly painless 3-hour trip and if you wish to stay for longer than a weekend there is plenty to do and you could even combine it with a visit to the Yellow Mountain (Huangshan) which is only 20 minutes away by train. But having visited the Yellow Mountain, our sole focus was not to do too much and most importantly get away from it all.
Hike Ancient Postal trails
Wild Hiking routes link the villages, laid down by hand centuries ago. These are not of interest to mass tourists, so are quiet and untouched. Look out for wild azaleas, wisteria and camellias on your walk through bamboo, pine and camphor forests. The north of the county has some of the most famous and wild routes, e.g. between Hongguan and Lingjiao, or for smaller kids 1 km between Sixi and Yancun.
North of the county lies FeiFengXia waterfalls – a true hidden gem connected by a modern safe path. A river crashes down the side of the mountain creating 15 waterfalls and plunge pools, with sparkling clean water. Join the locals who regularly take a dip to cool off from the summer heat. The village at the bottom of the falls, Xitou, relies on the clean, cool water to keep carp – the local delicacy.
Jaw dropping mountains
Keep everyone happy with a cable car ride – UNESCO world heritage site and home of Daoism Sanqingshan (think Huangshan with less people), or local hero Da ZhangShan – China’s (2nd!) highest waterfall is a 3 hour walk from top to bottom, or a short cable car.
Lujia village claims to be the home of Chinese bamboo umbrella art – for a thousand years, people have been making umbrellas by hand, wrapping with local paper, painting and coating in tung oil. Today the tradition continues, but the kids can make their own too for a very reasonable 100 RMB! A great souvenir to send back to Grandma for Christmas.
Boutique Hotel Scene
In Ming and Qing dynasties, Wuyuan was fabulously wealthy, and today is littered with booming old houses dating back centuries. A few plucky entrepreneurs have taken the plunge and turned these crumbling mansions into fabulous small hotels. The pick of the bunch has to be the Wuyuan Skywells, is run by an English/Chinese couple and has made a splash in the international design press: www.wuyuanskywells.com. They also have family and can accommodate your children for a trip into a taste of nature and real China. Whilst also serving a wonderful selection of beers.