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China's Mystical Yellow Mountains
China's Mystical Yellow Mountains

There are few locations in China that encapsulate the dream-like, legendary mythos of the Chinese people than the Yellow Mountains. Also known as Mount Huangshan, this region, located in Anhui province in China's eastern reaches, is a home to all sorts of beautiful natural and cultural landmarks – a place that shouldn't be missed by any visitor to China's eastern seaboard.

Ancient and mythological

The Yellow Mountains have long been an aspect of the Chinese cultural identity. This focus stretches back to the mythological era of Chinese history – that of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. This era, brimming with demigods and epic tales, preceded the first Chinese dynasty – the Xia dynasty (2070-1600 BC) – and is one that is only referred to later in Chinese history, when writing was developed.

In 747 AD, the mountainous area (previously known as Mount Yishan) was renamed Mount Huangshan, thereby honouring the Yellow Emperor (Huang-ti) – one of the five emperors, and a man who had supposedly ascended to heaven among the peaks.

The area later became the focus of the Shanshui (“Mountain and Water”) school of landscape painting, and became the muse of many Chinese painters during the Sui, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties. Today, the artistic meeting of peaks, forests and clouds, painted in ink in a calligraphic style, is of the most recognisable forms of East Asian art.

A sea of clouds

It is hard to think of an equivalent to the Yellow Mountains. Gigantic, near-vertical granite peaks spread throughout the landscape, and the spindly pine trees that cling up the peaks' facades and crests make the entire area a rich landscape of white, grey and green, beautifully set against the azure of the high mountain sky.

In Huangshan, visitors are more likely to look downwards, however. From the many viewpoints and trails that run through the range, trekkers are often unable to see the feet of the mountains – on most days between September and May they are covered by a thick carpet of cloud, and stretching out into the distance, peaks jut out into the air, giving the area a truly heavenly character. It is easy to understand why the Yellow Mountains have been so focused upon by Chinese poets, philosophers, artists and writers alike.

Classic China

But there is more than just natural beauty to be found around Huangshan. In particular, two villages located at the foot of the range are particularly of note, and both exude a traditional Chinese charm that is only found in rural areas untouched by China's relentless economic rise.

Ancient China

The first is Hongcun Village, a settlement notable not just because of its World Heritage Site status, but because of its great age – around 900 years. The Anhui architecture of the village stems from the Ming and Qing periods, and throughout visitors can enjoy courtyard gardens, ponds, fine food and the forests surrounding the village that, come autumn, turn a variety of vibrant shades.

Then there is Xidi Village, some 100 years older than Hongcun. Here there is much of the same for visitors, but with fewer tourist arrivals, it is a little calmer than its more popular, yet more naturally beautiful, cousin. If you like architecture, visit during the winter season – you will have Xidi almost all to yourself.

To visit all of the above with ease, there is no better base than the Kempinski Hotel Suzhou. Located in the large and historic city that is one of the nearest to the Yellow Mountains, from this sumptuous and first-rate hotel you will be able to embark on tours of the mountains and their surrounding settlements – a perfect holiday that harmoniously combines nature and culture in kind.

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