Rock formations, Huangshan Mountain, China
   

For many people who have seen the classic cloud covered scenes, shapely trees and impossible mountain views of much Chinese art, such visions are often regarded as the fantasy interpretations of an idealised natural world, but the reality of Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) will soon awaken the visitor to the breathtaking truth of this phantasmagorical haunt of Taoist artists and poets.


View across the Valley, Huangshan Mountain, China

The landscape of Huangshan mountain is visually stunning, almost surreal, exquisitely beautiful, and the source of inspiration, along with features in Wulingyuan, in Yunan Province, for the 'fantasy' landscape of the film Avatar.

Huangsham Mountain view, Huangshan, China

There are three routes up to the mountain's several shapely peaks, the easiest of which is the cable car. For those with more energy and thirst for the finest views, the long route of the Western Steps and the shorter Eastern Steps, lead up to the heights of this delightful UNESCO World Heritage site.

Steps on Huangshan Mountain, China
 

The best of these routes are the Western Steps, a 15 km climb that is demanding but takes you by the most stunningly beautiful viewpoints such as Flying Rock, Bright Summit Peak, Aoyu Peak, Gleam of Sky, Lotus Flower Peak, Lanrui Peak, and Heavenly Capital Peak.


The Eastern Steps route is a shorter 7.5 km climb, achievable in two and a half hours, but although still beautiful, lacks the otherworldly magic of the western route.

 

However you ascend the mountain, the reward at the summit area is a convergence point of several trails around the upper area which provides some of the most beautiful views you will ever see anywhere.


Summit Trail, Huangshan Mountain, China
   

There are a number of hotels within the vicinity of the expansive summit area, which afford the possibility of lingering to take advantage of the most incredible setting for sunsets and sunrises, or better yet, spending a few days imbibing the spell.


Cafe, Huangshan Mountain, China

Weekends are best avoided, as the mountain can become very busy, cable car queues long and the increased demand makes hotels more expensive.


The area to the south of these ethereal heights will augment a visit to the mountain with cultural charm, the lovely ancient villages of which were extensively used for scenes in the famous film ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', including Hongcun, a UNESCO World Heritage site, whose Moon Pond and Bridge open the film.

 

Other nearby sights whose authentic ancient ambiences were used for the lavish production are Nanping Village and the striking bamboo forest at Mukeng Zhuhai, so effectively used to create the iconic semi-aerial fight scene.

 

Also in this area, another UNESCO World Heritage site is the village of Xidi, famed for its carved features and Ming Archway.

 

SANQINGSHAN

 

A little way further south over the border in Jiangxi Province, Sanqingshan Mountain offers similar types of rock features to Huangshan and is a highly worthy complement, or less frequented alternative, if you are a fan of the world's most shapely places.


Sanqingshan Mountain, China
 

Lesser known than Huangshan, its equally spectacular landscape is comprised of the three main peaks of Yujing, Yushui and Yuhua, which in Taoist iconography represent the ‘three pure ones’ and is regarded as a sacred mountain, and yet another fabulously scenic UNESCO World Heritage site.


Similarly graced with stunningly beautiful rock formations, the area is also a wildlife sanctuary, within which a great many animals and plants thrive and although beautiful at any time of year, is at its most breathtaking in May, when the Rhododendrons, Magnolia and Sweet Chestnuts are in bloom.


Mist over Sanqingshan Mountain, China
 

The extensive summit area is known as Nanqing Garden and is served by two cable cars from the south and east and like Huangshan also has a few hotels hidden within its heights enabling you to spend time exploring the elevated trails, their wonderfully scenic views and awesome natural formations.


For those who enjoy the truly spectacular, and can deal with the psychological implications of the 1,600 metre drop along the fenced platform walkway, the amazing Western Coast Trail edges along the cliff face to the Taoist Sanqing Temple dating from the Ming Dynasty.


Another route, known as the Sunshine Coast Trail leads back from the temple and gracefully winds through the forested heights and features a glass bottomed viewing platform. The full loop takes around 7 hours of walking, but there are several smaller trails to enjoy.


For the enthusiastic trekker, it is also possible to skip the cable car and ascend the mountain on foot via two official climbing trails.


Down in the valley, to the north, the nearby ancient villages of Yuyuan are a splendid and picturesque escape into the rural past of China.

 

WUYISHAN

 

Further south of Sanqingshan, just into Fujian Province, yet another of China’s natural UNESCO World Heritage sites can be found at Wuyishan, likewise a favourite with China's historic poets.


The most visited feature of this area is the lovely Nine Bend River, mildly reminiscent of the Li River in Guilin, where visitors can bamboo raft down its gentle flows through the peaceable gorge, observing its shapely rock formations, such as Yunni Hill.


Nine Bend River, Wuyishan, China


The gorge also features some ancient carved hollows high above, which used to house 4,000 year old boat-shaped coffins, some remnants of which can be observed on the fourth bend of the journey.


If you fancy getting above the river, the Heavenly Tour Peak trail, one of several picturesque routes in the area, takes you above the river to enjoy the views, and provide you with some wonderful walking. There are also some interesting stone inscriptions, and other features to be found among the lush vegetation.


View over Nine Bend River, Wuyishan, China
 

The area also sits within one of China’s most celebrated tea growing areas, and the famous Red Robe Valley, situated within the scenic area, is a beautifully serene place to walk among the tea gardens and enjoy its several revered Oolong and Bohea rock teas, grown within the craggy landscape, which can be imbibed at the numerous teahouses which pepper the area.


Red Robe Valley, Rock Tea bushes, China
 

While affordable teas abound, some varieties are extremely rare, growing only on a few bushes on rocky outcrops and command very high prices.


Although the most internationally famous variety is Da Hong Pao (Red Robe Tea), the locals prefer the Shui Shan, Tielohan, Rou Gui and Shuijingui varieties.


The local historic traditional trading centre for the tea, until modern times, was the nearby ancient village of Xiamei, which dates back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1120 AD), and posesses some remarkable Qing Dynasty features.


The village is a quaint place to wander along its wooden riverside walkways, cross its little arch bridges and visit the Zou ancestral hall, experiencing the quiet charm of this old world delight.


 

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