Fabulous Fujian

By Sam Braybon 2021-05-06 14:19:25

Explore a relaxing city by the sea.

Often when choosing a destination in China one has to make the choice between coastline and culture. You might find gorgeous beaches on Hainan Island, but let’s be honest you won’t find too much else to get excited about there. And whilst you can enjoy epic sight-seeing in places like Xi’an, these huge cities can feel overwhelmingly urban when you just want to relax and explore.

But a handful of cities do manage to combine genuine charm and history with those ocean breezes we all crave once summer rolls in. And of these, it’s the island city of Xiamen in Fujian that we are drawn to again and again. Just a 90-minute flight from Shanghai, it’s close enough to be an excellent weekender. Add a couple of more days to explore the gorgeous countryside nearby and you’ve got yourself an almost unbeatable little China adventure.


What to Do

Gulangyu, the tiny island that lies just off the coast of Xiamen, is the city’s star attraction and kids will love the 20-minute cruise across the ocean. The island is ferociously popular with local tourists (ask your hotel to help book a ferry ticket in advance). Don’t be put off by the initial crowds. It is absolutely worth it, we promise. Let your kids navigate the island‘s maze of winding lanes, totally free of cars, until you find a calm spot to relax and take in the tropical vibes that surround you.

Like parts of Shanghai, the island was once an international settlement with many exotic, palatial buildings constructed a century or so ago. No need to purchase tickets to typical tourist draws like the Piano Museum, the real joy here is roaming the island’s hilly, cobblestone streets and passing little coves and beaches. There are a number of cafes when you need to recharge your batteries.

Back in central Xiamen, the streets around central Zhongshan Road are the best place to look for local flavour. The city was once widely known across the world as Amoy, based on the pronunciation of its name in the Hokkien dialect, and you’ll encounter plenty of old school southern China charm here, with bustling narrow streets lined with well-preserved old buildings and thronged with street side vendors.


The No. 8 Market in this area is rowdy and fun. It’s overflowing with tropical fruits and the freshest fish and other exotic ocean creatures. Those with a taste for seafood can head to the restaurants nearby where produce can be cooked to order. One local specialty that requires a slightly more adventurous palate is tusundong, a kind of sandworm that is set in jelly and then eaten. Having sampled it we concur with locals that, with a mushroom like texture, it is far tastier than it sounds!

Further along the coast, the central campus of Xiamen University is known for its beauty and the surrounding area has lots to offer. Nearby Minzu Road is great for browsing with plenty of cafés, boutiques and even a couple of ice cream parlours. The Shapowei Art Zone is a repurposed old fishing wharf that hosts lively weekend and evening markets where artists sell their wares.


Where to Stay

Xiamen has oodles of accommodation options including an increasing number of luxury properties. Basing yourself on Gulangyu may seem like a romantic option, but repeat visits have shown us that hotels located in the city center offer much better value and access to Xiamen’s best food, as well as far more convenient transport.

• Xiamen Lanqin Mansion (25 Daziju Alley) is a quirky and very affordable local guesthouse hidden deep in a tiny lane just steps away from the city’s best street food. Some rooms are in a traditional Minnan courtyard, with others in an old European-style building. The latter are brighter and have breezy balconies.

• The Conrad Xiamen (186 Yanwuxi Road) is a slick five star at the top of a skyscraper with awesome views of the coastline and Gulangyu, as well as all the mod cons you could want. It’s just steps away from the hip cafés and bars that line Minzu Road.

• The Lohkah Hotel & Spa (277 Penang Road) is a top-notch resort with a southeast Asian feel, for those that want a tropical treat. Go for zen vibes, a gorgeous outdoor pool and excellent spa treatments.


To the Tulou!

Fujian’s famous Tulou, the fortress-like residences that dot the verdant countryside, are worth the trip if you can tag an extra night on to your stay. These vast round structures have been home to communities of Hakka people for centuries and will impress kids with both their scale and abundance of local life. They may look familiar to those that have seen the most recent remake of Mulan, in which they feature.

A 3-hour drive from the city, aim to stay at least a night here. Many locals try this as a frantic day trip but setting up base in one of the villages and soaking up the quiet country atmosphere with a home-cooked meal is really the way to do it. Hongkeng village has some wonderful tulous, and the Fuyulou Changdi Guesthouse here will suit those that want to keep it local with basic rooms in a stunning historic building. Friendly English-speaking owner Steven is happy to offer plenty of insider advice.

Those seeking something more elevated can try Taxia Village which has a range of accommodations and great restaurants where you can enjoy an evening meal and cold beer. The swankiest place to stay, by far is the super sleek Tsingpu Retreat with a seriously elegant design and a barman who can make what we are quite confident in saying is the only legitimate martini for many miles. Just the kind of country living we could get used to.


For travel destinations closer to home, check out Shanghai Family's list of places within city limits to visit.