Another ancient city within easy range of Shanghai, and which beguiles for its bucolic scenery and atmospheric architecture, is Hangzhou. Strategically situated on the Grand Canal connecting the Yangtze and Yellow River basins, it became the imperial capital in the 12th and 13th centuries, when Marco Polo described it as ‘the most beautiful and magnificent (city) in the world’.
A wonderful collection of shrines, tombs, temples and pagodas adorn the willow-lined shores of Xi Hu, or ‘West Lake’, Hangzhou’s pride and joy, where you can cycle or stroll along medieval backroads, passing groves of bamboo and old humpback bridges to reach outlying villages. Further afield amid the lush, rolling hills that surround the city, settlements such as Meijiawu and Longjing are old tea growing centres, where visitors may sample the famous local Dragon Well tea in a traditional wood and clay teashop before returning to town.
Worthwhile excursions include the trip to the Wunlin Mountains on the northwestern outskirts to visit the splendid Lingyin Temple, one of the largest and wealthiest Buddhist shrines in the country, where a massive golden Buddha is the principal object of veneration, and the pretty precinct of Tunxi to the south of the centre, whose 1,000-year old, flagstone-lined high street is the best source of authentic souvenirs such as Mao badges, teas and calligraphy brushes.