This province, or, to be more precise, the flat, circular ‘Red Basin’ forming its heartland, is the economic powerhouse of Western China. Thanks to a humid, subtropical climate and extraordinarily fertile soil, the region has long ranked among the country’s most prosperous.

The capital, Chengdu, serves an ideal introduction to its long history, with archaeological vestiges dating back over 4,000 years and a dazzlingly modern downtown district whose skyline is starting to resemble that of Manhattan. Most visitors generally pause here a night or two to see the panda bears. The breeding and research centres on the city’s outskirts offer the chance to get close to dozens of adults and cubs.

Some of China’s most impressive rock-cut Buddhist sculptures also lie within the borders of this geographically diverse state, whose western half comprises a vast track of forested mountains – the edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Two of China’s most sacred mountains – Emeishan and Qingcheng shan – also lie with its borders and remain hugely popular tourist attractions. Most iconic of all Sichuan’s landscapes, however, are the wondrous blue travertine pools of the Jiuzhai Valley – at their most resplendent in the autumn.

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