Beijing Getaways: Nanxun 南浔镇
Venice of the East: Wandering the Waterways of well-preserved Nanxun
Located east of Huzhou in northern Zhejiang Province, sleepy Nanxun is one of many "Venetian-style" water towns on the lower reaches of the mighty Yangtze River.
However, what sets this charmingly picturesque place apart from the rest is that it is still relatively free from the tourist hordes that have blighted the likes of Zhouzhuang and Luzhi.
For now at least, Nanxun's attractive architecture, network of slow-moving canals, ancient arched bridges, narrow cobblestone alleyways and welcoming inhabitants make it a great springtime weekend destination.
Though a village existed in Nanxun's current location as early as 746, the town was officially established around 1250 during the southern Song Dynasty. Many of Nanxun's traditional houses and garden estates date from Nanxun's heyday between the late Ming and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911), when the town was a thriving centre of trade, first in silk, then rice and salt.
Today, laid back life in the old section of town is centered on the Gu Yunhe canal in the north, and the small north-south tributary that flows from it.
The main streets are Dong Dajie in the north, and the north-south thoroughfares of Nanxi Jie and Nandong Jie.
The most famous structure in Nanxun is the 400-year old Baijian Lou, (literally "the pavilion of 100 rooms"), located in the town's northeast corner.
The building was apparently constructed by an important Ming official for his servants.
Nanxun's exquisite gardens are another must-see, especially Xiaolian Zhuang, the private garden of a Qing official named Liu Yong.
Over 17,000 square meters, the highlight of the Xiaolian Zhuang garden is a large lotus pond, a profusion of color in spring and summer.
East of Xiaolian Zhuang is another of Nanxun's treasures, the magnificent Zhang Shiming Jiuzhai. Built in 1905 by a local businessman, the estate features a front section in quintessential Chinese style, with carved stone frames, lattice windows and doors.
Be sure to check out the beautiful blue and white floral-patterned stained glass windows on the second floor, which served as the women's quarters.
Wandering Nanxun's canals, gardens and buildings is a good way to build up an appetite.
Luckily there are numerous inexpensive restaurants and teahouses along the main streets offering jiachang cai (home-style cooking) - try the delicious yuxiang rousi (garlic pork) or jiachang doufu (home-style tofu).
Local snacks include sticky candies like juhong gao and gusao bing.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the big city this springtime and head south to Nanxun - but don't tell too many people where you're going!
- Various Trains leave Beijing Friday night / arrive Shanghai early Saturday morning - approx. 700RMB hard sleeper
- Various trains leave Shanghai Sunday night / arrive Beijing early Monday morning
- Regular buses Shanghai-Nanxun-Shanghai 110 RMB (incl. 60 RMB sightseeing ticket)
- Gondola rides 80 RMB for approx. 30 mins. (good way to see the town)
- Old town entry free, all major sights can be viewed with one 60 RMB ticket. Ticket office open 8am 3.30, Tel: 0572 391 5115
- Baijian Lou - One-hundred-room Pavilion
- Xiaolian Zhuang Little Lotus Villa
- Zhang Shiming Jiuzhai - Zhang Shiming's Estate
- Tongjin Qiao / Hongji Qiao - Tongjin and Hongji Bridges
- Jiaye Tang Cangshu Lou - Jiaye Tang Library
- Jinquan Guesthouse, Jiu'an Conference Center and Yinyuan Hotel are all reasonable options.
- Hotels in Zhejiang Province
- Shops along Dong Dajie have good quality silk clothing, calligraphy and paintings - don't forget to bargain.
Last but not least...
- Make sure you have a selection of small bills for bargaining - handing over a 100 RMB note doesn't leave much room for negotiation!