Winter Travel Escapes

By Sam Braybon 2021-12-28 17:11:57

Travel experts share their favourite picks.

Shanghai weather can get sneaky in the wintertime. Sure, temperatures might never get as low as they do in places like Beijing, but our draughty homes all too often prove utterly defenceless against the constant freezing drizzle, humid air and overcast skies that seem to settle over our fair city and make it a tough couple of months for many of us. With the end of the year rapidly approaching and no sign of international travel on the horizon, those that want to take a winter break are going to have to think outside of the box once again.

But where to go? Solicit suggestions for domestic travel in winter and there are two names you are likely to encounter repeatedly: sunny Sanya and freezing Harbin. And as perfectly enjoyable as those places can be, we reckon a vast country like China surely has more to offer at this time of year. So, we turned to a few trusted travel industry insiders in the hope that they’d be able to provide some slightly more original ideas.


Northern Yunnan

Ruixi Hu, co-founder of food tour specialists Lost Plate, recommends this part of China, especially the areas around Dali and Lijiang which many travellers will already be familiar with. Hu says, “Many choose to come here in the summer, however during the winter season, it’s blue skies almost every day and the temperatures are perfect, up 20 C in the daytime, which feels even warmer under the sun.” Dry, mild weather means great hiking conditions, so if you’ve ever had the urge to tackle the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge then this is very much the time to do it.

And days spent exploring Yunnan’s rugged mountains are surely the perfect excuse to indulge a little more than we otherwise might. Evening meals typically consist of warming hotpot-style dishes that are perfect for sharing on colder evenings. “As the Chinese New Year approaches, you’ll also find that people start to prepare traditional festive dishes like smoked meats and sausages that are perfect for the season” adds Hu “and over the Christmas seasons we’ll also enjoy some festive mulled wine along the way.”


Fujian & Guangdong

If you want to get well off the beaten track then Maxime Tondeur, founder of Explore Beyond, is the guy to talk to. He designs private, customized tours and relishes in guiding families on adventures through the bits of China that most people ignore. He’s currently planning a new trip that traverses two of southeast China’s coastal provinces and that he reckons will make for a unique winter expedition. “Fujian and Guangdong are provinces that people just don’t think of to travel, even though they’re very accessible from Shanghai” he explains “but they’re mild in winter, and there is so much great stuff to explore there.”

This new route will examine the history of the Hakka, a subgroup of the Han that have their own distinct language and customs, not to mention a history of incredibly impressive architecture. Many will be familiar with the famous ‘tulou’ roundhouses found in southern Fujian but few will know that there are plenty of other historic buildings spread throughout these two provinces, including old fortified villages and ancestral halls. Whilst these areas aren’t exactly remote, they’ve long been overlooked by tourists and a skilled guide like Maxime is just the kind of person you need to uncover good stuff.


The Tibetan Plateau

If anything, you’d think that remote high-altitude areas like this would be exactly the places to avoid in the frigid depths of winter. But those that know their stuff will very much tell you otherwise. Ben Cubbage, founder of the aptly named Elevated Trips, has lived in Qinghai Province for 11 years and arranges expeditions across the Tibetan Plateau. He insists that not only is travel possible during the chillier months, but that visiting in winter has numerous benefits.

“Yes, it does get cold here. But the days are sunny and dry, and you’ll often find me hiking up to 4,000 meters in just a t-shirt,” he claims. With far fewer tourists this is the time you’ll really be able to enjoy interacting with locals in a relaxed manner. “Many locals are farmers or nomads, but their work is done at this point, and you’ll be able to sit and chat with them and hear their stories over a cup of yak butter tea.” You could also time your trip to coincide with Losar, Tibetan New Year, when temples are especially active with visitors clad in traditional clothing.



Anhui’s ‘Yellow Mountain’ was nominated as a top winter destination by Sarah Keenlyside, founder of Bespoke Travel Company, who arranges private tours around China. As one of China’s most famed tourist destination it is also known for the substantial crowds it can often attract. “Winter is absolutely the best time to go here,” Sarah says. “If you can, avoid the weekends, you will pretty much have the mountain to yourself.” With a good high-speed rail connection to Shanghai that takes just a couple of hours, this can make an excellent little weekend trip.

“Natural scenery aside, the area also has loads of great hidden gems,” says Keenlyside. “There’s a hidden hotel on the summit that hardly anyone knows about. You can enjoy underfloor heating and views over the snow-covered pine trees whilst the staff bring you warm soup. There’s not a better winter feeling than that!”


Good to know...

• Lost Plate:

• Explore Beyond:

• Elevated Trips:

• Bespoke Travel Company: