25 Jun 2019
Shanghai is a wonder of the modern world. Its skies are crowned by skyscrapers, its streets aglow with the bustle of night-markets, and the whole city alive with the stories of its 20 million inhabitants. But sometimes the fast-paced allure of the city can be a little tiring. Luckily, a short distance from Shanghai are enchanting water towns, ancient cities, serene lakes, and rippling forests of bamboo. Here are our favourite seven adventures to have outside Shanghai.
About an hour to the west of Shanghai lies the magical water-town of Zhujiajiao. Dating back more than 1,700 years, the city has been heralded as the Venice of the east, with lantern-lit wooden boats atmospherically floating down ancient canals lined with classical Chinese buildings. Throughout the city, bridges dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, not to mention graceful willows swaying in the gentle winds, make Zhujiajiao seem like a miniature Summer Palace. Chief among them is Fangsheng Bridge, as much the heart and soul of Zhujiajiao as the Rialto is of Venice.
Shanghai’s largest freshwater lake lies slightly further west than Zhujiajiao. Owing its name to the nearby Dianshan mountain, the lake is the source of Shanghai’s artery, the Huangpu river, and it is visually stunning: surrounded by meadows with clear waters lapping playfully across its shores. What’s more: the lake is the local capital for watersports, with a dedicated part of the lake devoted to windsurfing, sailing, kite-surfing and more.
Another nearby town heralded as a “Venice of the East” is Suzhou, and this town has an additional connection to the canalled city: Marco Polo visited Suzhou during his travels alongside Kublai Khan. Suzhou exudes all the water-town charm of Zhujiajiao, yet adds an additional flavour in the form of paradisiacal Chinese gardens. Largest of these is the UNESCO World Heritage Humble Administrator’s Garden, resembling a celestial palace out of Chinese mythology. Its verdant acres are so beautiful it has been replicated for centuries, with even New York’s Met building a replica.
At about four hours from Shanghai, Linhai might seem a far journey, but it is a relatively hidden gem well worth the effort. The city is surrounded by low-set Song Dynasty walls that resemble the majesty and legend of the Great Wall near Beijing. Looking out over the ramparts, the full splendour of Linhai’s green valley shines in golden sunlight, while, in the misty distance, rolling, rising hills add yet another atmospheric layer to the lyrical landscape.
The island of Putuoshan is similarly distant from Shanghai but it is Buddhist capital that is as fascinating as it is surreal. Its temples chime poignantly as orange-clad monks perform moving rituals under the warm glow of sunlight. Chief is Puji temple, whose gabled roofs, stone bridges, and cherry blossoms recall the island’s cultural and historical significance.
The third and final water-town not to be missed is Wuzhen, often called the museum without walls. Of all the water-towns inhabiting Shanghai’s scenic canal-streams, this might be the most historic. Alongside ancient waterways and classical architecture, the town is home to dozens of museums that document everything from traditional bed-making to the extinct custom of foot-binding.
Two and a half hours from Shanghai are the magical mountain forests of bamboo known as Moganshan. From the very top of some peaks, the view out towards miles of undisturbed ridges of bamboo forests resembles the masterful ink paintings of traditional calligraphers. Meanwhile, the trails that criss-cross the bamboo fields offer a beautiful challenge for beginner and experienced hikers alike.
Perfect as a base to explore the countryside surrounding Shanghai, Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel is in the centre of town, close to Shanghai’s principal train stations.