Sandwiched between Zhejiang and Guangzhou provinces, Fujian province stretches from the mountainous interior of south-east China (where the climate is perfect for tea growing) to the almost 3,000km long coastline which overlooks Taiwan. It has long been a province of emigrants, of which my husband is one, and has much to tempt those of us wanting to explore a side of China which Shanghai cannot offer. There are far too many beautiful AAAAA rated national parks to mention, and often we’ve been lucky to enjoy them pretty much to ourselves. With endless of days of sunshine and one of the best air quality ratings in the country, it’s definitely worth a visit!
Easily reachable by high speed rail (it takes less than five hours to reach Fuzhou, the provincial capital, from Shanghai Hongqiao station) or air (just over a one hour flight from either Pudong or Hongqiao airports), it’s a destination which should make it onto your bucket list. I’ve spent the October Golden Week holiday and the April Qing Ming breaks there every year for the last five years, so allow me to allow me to share my China with you – fabulous Fujian province.
Fuzhou (Happy City)
Fuzhou is the provincial capital, and always our first pit stop thanks to my parents-in-law’s keen desire to provide free babysitting. Even if that’s not on the cards for you, for transport reasons, you’ll probably stop here at some point.
Being constantly caressed by gentle see breezes, the air quality here is among the best in China, and although the summers are hotter than Shanghai, spring and autumn are the perfect time to visit. There are many city center parks and outdoor spaces, including the thousand-year old West Lake Park, and Jinjishan (Golden Rooster) park just behind my parents-in-laws house. But, the real attraction of Fuzhou lies not in the city, but in the mountain forest parks that surround it. Gu (drum) mountain offers an opportunity to hike through the pine trees to reach the temple at the top, which is still inhabited by monks, from where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city that you see laid out below you. It’s a steep climb up plenty of steps, but there’s also a cable car or road (you can just drive all the way up to the top). You can enjoy a vegetarian lunch at the lively working temple, although unfortunately it won’t be cooked in the humungous ancient rice pot that once held 250kg of rice (or, as my kids proved, two small children).
The parks below are within easy reach of Fuzhou with a private car or driver. Fuzhou National forest park is just a short drive from the city center, and conveniently located next to the city zoo. We spent a whole day in the park, walking amongst the trees, paddling in the stream to catch fish and small crabs and visiting the bird sanctuary. Another tranquil hidden gem is Houjuxi scenic spot below, hidden up a winding road beyond a small village on the outskirts of the city. You can hire bamboo rafts or just paddle in the crystal clear water, and harvest many local fruits such as loquats which grow in the surrounding trees.
You could always skip Fuzhou, and go directly to Xiamen, the final stop on the high speed train from Shanghai (you might be interested to know that Premier Xi Jinping hails from the region and was previously mayor of Xiamen). Xiamen is a beautiful coastal town which was controlled by the British in the period immediately after the Opium Wars, and is famous for its renowned university. The nearby island of Gulangyu still retains a colonial feel, and a stroll amongst the twisting alleyways and crumbling buildings is a must. Fresh seafood abounds here too, it’s impossible to walk anywhere without seeing wriggling eels, flapping fish and shellfish of all shapes and sizes on every street corner. Make sure you try the local specialty of fish balls with a meat and gravy stuffing.
The Hakka Tulou villages, near Xiamen
A World Heritage site, these mud roundhouses are a very unique style of home, built hundreds of years ago by the Hakka people. Many extended families, often sharing just one surname, would share a whole building, each family occupying a tall, narrow space for themselves and sharing communal cooking and washing facilities in the central outside space. The style of building enabled whole villages to close the door to their community, the thick walls protecting everyone inside against those who wished them harm and a visit to one of these dwellings instantly transports you to a way of life that has long since disappeared. Sadly, many buildings are suffering from the effects of time, weather and little to no protection, with the bamboo support poles, earthen walls and starting to give way. We spent the night in a small hotel in one such village, together with a group of French cyclists, and inevitably met only elderly residents, many of whom lived alone in crumbling old buildings whilst their families worked in the city. All were very keen to show us around their homes and tell their stories over a cup of tea, so do take a Chinese speaker with you if you can!
A trip here can easily be combined with a trip to Xiamen, as many day or overnight organized trips are easy to arrange there. We stayed overnight which was a worthwhile and memorable experience, particularly if you have a Chinese speaker with you. We found the group coach tours to be a fairly chaotic experience, and hiring a private driver would be the best way to see the region.
Wuyishan national park
A mere three and half hours from Shanghai Hongqiao train station on the high speed train, Wuyishan is an absolute delight. The scenery out of your train window will change from the flat farming fields that stretch from Zhejiang to the border with Fujian, until suddenly rolling green hills, tea plantations and water buffalo appear as far as the eye can see. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Wuyi mountain is a fantastic place to get back to nature and enjoy being surrounded by greenery as you take a mountain hike or relaxing bamboo raft trip along the nine bends of the river. Wuyishan is also a great place to experience some typical Fujian cuisine – fish and shellfish, and plenty of mushrooms and bamboo gathered from the mountains, all washed down with a cup of local tea.
Pingnan county national parks
This is a hidden gem, a region which we have visited again and again thanks to the generosity of my extended family. 170 km from Fuzhou, Baishuiyang (white water ocean) scenic resort is a perfect place for children of all ages – little ones can paddle in ankle deep pebble-free crystal clear water, and teens and adults can kayak on the lake. The cool water cascades down from the surrounding mountains, and is the perfect antidote to the summer heat. We visited in the October golden week holiday, and whilst it was busy, it was nowhere near as crowded as I expected. You can also walk around the lake area, enjoying the spectacular scenery and flora and fauna – the area has wild macaques, and is a nesting area for mandarin ducks.
Yuanyang (mandarin duck) stream scenic area is just twenty minutes by car from Baishuiyang, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in China. Offering spectacular hiking opportunities on well-maintained cliff-side paths in the spray of waterfalls, I felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of life in a huge city like Shanghai. There are plenty of steps, but my almost five year old managed admirably, outpacing his grandfather, so it’s suitable for all ages.
So, now that you know a few of the natural and cultural sites that Fujian has to offer, what are you waiting for? A quick search online reveals several travel agencies offering guided tours around Wuyishan, Fuzhou, and Xiamen.