In 21st Century China, where the march towards modernisation continues at breath-taking speed, it can sometimes feel difficult to discover the country’s traditional heart and soul. And yet, visitors only need to take a short trip outside the country’s bustling mega-cities to discover an altogether quieter and more peaceful pace of life! China’s water towns are elegant pockets of old-world charm, complete with narrow cobbled streets, ornate stone bridges, lanterns hanging from the eaves of historic homes, and willow trees falling gracefully over rippling streams and reflective canals. Read on to explore a different side of China.
Feng Shui and waterways
This is the China of a bygone era, where towns and villages were designed along the auspicious principals of “feng shui”. In centuries past, these waterfront landscapes provided inspiration to generations of artists and poets, and they are still delighting visitors today as enchanting escapes from the city.
In eastern China, the area between Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou is filled with a complex network of canals and waterways, including the Grand Canal which stretches for 1,777km and is the world’s longest manmade waterway. Known as the “Venice of China”, this area also contains the Jiangnan water towns - a collection of exquisite settlements that retain their antique charm. Arguably the most famous of these is Wuzhen, which sits on the Grand Canal approximately 80km from Hangzhou and features a charming collection of homes and temples that line the banks. Dating back 1,300 years, this ancient town showcases the style of the Qing Dynasty. Alternatively, Zhouzhuang (70km from Shanghai) dates back more than 900 years and is reputed to be one of “ten most beautiful towns in the world”, while Zhujiajiao (48km from Shanghai) is one of China’s oldest water towns with 1,700 years of history contained within its nine long streets and 36 bridges.
Tongli (25km from Suzhou) was created in the Song Dynasty, more than a millennium ago, and is famed for its exquisite gardens and stone bridges, and Nanxun (90km from Hangzhou) is a cross-shaped water town that features the unique combination of Chinese architectural styles and 18th Century European elements.
All of these water towns and more in the Jiangnan area can be easily accessed from Shanghai, where Radisson Blu operates four world-class hotels. Alternatively, they can be combined with a stay at Radisson Blu Resort Wetland Park Wuxi, which is surrounded by its own alluring landscape of gardens and ponds near Liang Hong National Wetland Park.
Interested in exploring Shanghai? Check out these stunning skyline photos!
While the most famous of China’s water towns are found in the eastern provinces, visitors can discover elegant ancient settlements all across the country. For example, just outside the western metropolis of Chongqing lies Pianyan – a historic commercial town that features quaint houses, traditional markets, tea houses and dwellings built on stilts over the Heishui Tan River.
Alternatively, the “Porcelain Village” of Ciqikou is a charming town which showcases a wide range of arts and crafts, including pottery-making and embroidery, all overlooking the gently flowing waters of the Jia Ling River. Both make excellent day trips from Chongqing, where Radisson Blu operates two distinct hotels.
The countryside of Guilin
Perhaps the most legendary riverside landscapes in China can be found in the countryside of Guilin. Located in the southern Guangxi region, this alluring scene of tranquil rivers, winding their way through verdant pastures and past dramatic limestone karsts has inspired Chinese poets and artists for centuries. Amid this iconic picturesque landscape, Daxu is a blissfully quiet and unspoiled riverside town where life continues at a slow pace.
Visitors can also choose to visit Xingping, which showcases picture-perfect pavilions, buildings and bridges, and is considered to be the most beautiful town on the Li River. Both these charming towns can be discovered by guests staying at Radisson Blu Hotel Liuzhou, just over two hours’ drive from Guilin.
Psst! The hotel also has one of the most stunning indoor swimming pools!
Amid the whirl of development taking place in China, it is becoming increasingly difficult discover living examples of the country’s rich history. In these enchanting water towns however, the heart and soul of ancient China lives on, providing a wonderful window to the past.