The Wonder of Wuyuan

By Stu Lancaster 2019-12-04 11:45:00

Discover a hidden county missed by the 20th Century, where your children can run free

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, 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 that it was a protected area with an extensive history spanning back 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 region 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 around 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, rapeseed 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 relatively 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.

Wild Swimming

North of the county lies FeiFengXia waterfalls - a real 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, freshwater 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 fewer people), or local hero Da ZhangShan - China's (2nd!) highest waterfall is a 3-hour walk from top to bottom or a small cable car ride.

Umbrella painting

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 finally 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 it's littered with booming old houses dating back centuries. A few spirited 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, run by an English/Chinese couple and has made a splash in the international design press. Having a family of their own, they're happy to accommodate your children for a trip into a taste of nature and real China. All the necessary amenities a traveller can ask for. Rooms are comfortable, air-conditioned and well designed. They cater a wide range of delicious local food which includes homemade cheesecake, an excellent library encompassing several English and Chinese books, free bicycles, and most importantly providing a warm family atmosphere for a great getaway.