Imperial dynasties, the Red Guard and a new form of 'capitalist communism'; there is hardly a country in the world with such a turbulent history as China. The 21st Century no longer knocks at the door of ‘The Middle Kingdom’, but rushes through it at full speed. Fortunately more and more Chinese people realize the importance of the past and the need for it to be protected for future generations. Centuries- old gardens are the focus of this tour but you will also be introduced to Chinese culture, architecture and its cuisine as well.
The journey begins in Beijing. We visit the temple and palace gardens where Qing and Ming emperors once sought their peace. We walk across the Great Wall and visit the Summer Palace with its vast park in northern Chengde. A high-speed train takes us to Suzhou. In this city of water on the Yangtze delta, scholars and dignitaries built their gardens which were said to be the ‘finest under heaven’. We visit public parks which are the ‘backyards’ of millions of city dwellers. Here you’ll witness people singing and dancing early in the morning or playing a game of chess and practicing Tai Chi and other forms of exercise. Every age is represented here. No matter what group activity you see, you’re very welcome to join in and participate !
Next we travel to the city of Hangzhou which lies on the idyllic West Lake and which has been a source of inspiration for painters, poets and garden designers for centuries. We stay just outside of the city in Longjing, in the middle of the tea plantations near the ‘Dragon Source Tea Village’.
The tour ends in bustling and sophisticated Shanghai, once the ‘Paris of the East’ and still the city where the ‘East meets the West’. The Pudong district embodies ultra-modern Shanghai. Where not so long ago farmers cultivated rice, we find futuristic buildings and the Shanghai Houtan Park, designed by the landscape architecture firm Turenscape. We visit small neighborhoods, tea houses and in Yuyuan, the ‘Garden of Happiness’ to get a feeling of what old Shanghai must have been like in days past.
Join us for this exceptional introductory tour of China, its’ gardens, culture and cuisine !
Arrival in Beijing and transfer to the Prime Hotel Wangfuying, conveniently located in the city center on Wangfujing shopping street. Mid-afternoon, we visit Jingshan Park (optional). Dating from the 14th century, the park consists of five individual peaks built from sand excavated from the moat around the Forbidden City. On the top of each peak there’s an elaborate pavilion surrounded by fruit trees, pines, cypress trees and flower gardens. If the skies are clear, the views from here over Beijing and the Forbidden City are unforgettable.
Accommodation: Prime Hotel Wangfuying in Beijing.
In the morning we first visit the Square of Heavenly Peace. Known as Tiananmen Square, its name stands in stark contrast to the events of the student uprising in 1989. The square houses the enormous mausoleum of Mao Zedong and the Hall of the People, the Chinese parliament building. We walk into the Forbidden City through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, where the portrait of the ‘Great Leader’ still hangs proudly. Behind the walls are palaces, temples, reception rooms, gates and private rooms. For nearly five centuries, the palace city was the residence of the Imperial Ming and Qing dynasties. Here the Emperor exercised absolute power over China from his Dragon Throne. No one was allowed to enter or leave the city without permission, but today we can now roam freely! The Imperial family’s private garden is a typical example of Chinese garden design. The rectangular garden dates from 1417 and consists of around twenty buildings, each built in a different style but always in harmony with the surrounding trees, rocks, flower beds and incense burners.
In the afternoon we explore the area around Beihai Park. At the edge of the lake we still find hutongs; old neighborhoods with narrow streets and houses with picturesque courtyards. In recent decades, many hutongs have disappeared in the name of progress, but fortunately some have escaped the bulldozers. This is true of Prince Gong’s Mansion, built in the 18th century. The complex consists of large villas with courtyards and gardens with artificial hills, trees, shrubs, flowers, pavilions and terraces.
This evening we enjoy Beijing’s most famous specialty: Peking Duck.
Accommodation: Prime Hotel Wangfuying in Beijing.
The Temple of Heaven is considered the most perfect example of Ming architecture and the symbol of Beijing. Here the Emperor, in his capacity as 'Son of Heaven' came to implore a good harvest and divine wisdom. An early morning stroll through the temple’s park is a memorable experience. Older Chinese in particular come here with their caged songbirds to walk, practice tai chi, play a game of badminton or Chinese chess and to sing and dance. You’ll be surprised at how energetic even the most elderly are.
Afterwards, we travel to the northwest of the city and visit the Summer Palace. In the Qing Dynasty, the park served as an escape from the searing summer heat for the Imperial family. The largest area of the almost 3 km2 park consists of water features with the Kunming Lake at its center. In 1998, the Summer Palace was declared a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden architecture and registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Accommodation: Prime Hotel Wangfuying in Beijing
A comfortable coach takes us to Jinshanling and the Great Wall of China. This beautifully restored part of the wall is located 150 kilometers from Beijing and is visited much less than other famous sections of the wall which are closer to the city. With a history of 2000 years, The Great Wall is one of the most important testimonies of the achievements of Chinese civilization. The current wall is more than 6,000 kilometers long and runs from the Chinese Sea to the Gobi Desert. Although intended as a means of defense, the wall as such failed, but from an aesthetic point of view it is unparalleled.
After lunch in a local restaurant you can have a walk on a section of the wall as it snakes past us, towards the surrounding hills and into the distance. Although parts of the wall have a steep incline it’s worth making the effort because the views that you will have over the surrounding countryside are stunning.
Accommodation: Dhawa Hotel in Jinshanling at the foot of the Great Wall of China.
If you wake before dawn today and walk to the Great Wall, you’ll have an opportunity to see the sun rise over Mongolia. An exceptional sight! After breakfast we check-out and drive by coach from the Great Wall to Chengde (approx 1 hour). The Summer Palace in Beijing was not the only refuge that the Emperors had. In 1703, Emperor Kangxi had a hunting lodge built in northern Chengde, 225 kilometers from the Forbidden City. It grew into an immense summer palace with lakes, gardens, hunting grounds and grasslands for horse racing. The Summer Palace became the place where the Emperors received the leaders of threatening tribes and peoples: Mongols, Tibetans, Uyghurs and later Europeans. 8 temples were erected outside the walls of the palace, each with replicas of Tibetan shrines such as those found at the Potala Palace in Lhasa. We’ll visit the Summer Palace, its gardens and the most beautiful of the eight temples.
Accommodation: Imperial Mountain Resort in Chengde.
After breakfast and check-out we travel back to Beijing. The journey will take approximately 3.5 hours. Before we transfer to our city hotel, we visit Beijing Botanical Garden. The garden has a collection of more than 10,000 plant species and varieties from home and abroad. The Botanical Institute’s research focuses on the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use. In addition to a large number of specialized gardens, we’ll also see a Chinese medicinal herb garden and exhibition greenhouses with tropical and sub-tropical plants.
After dinner in a Beijing-style restaurant, we visit Lao Tse Teahouse. Here we’ll watch a traditional show of Chinese opera, cabaret, mime and acrobatics. A fitting conclusion to our visit to Beijing.
Accommodation: Prime Hotel Wanfuying in Beijing
In the morning we travel by high speed train from the immense West Railway Station in Beijing to Suzhou in around 4 to 5 hours.
A well-known Chinese saying is: 'Heaven is paradise and here on earth we have Suzhou and Hangzhou'. You can decide whether it is an earthly paradise but with a history of 2500 years Suzhou is an important historical and cultural city. The gardens in particular are famous and are called ‘the most beautiful under heaven’. From the 11th to the 19th century Suzhou was the city where scholars and dignitaries built their homes and gardens, usually after retirement. The classical, constructed landscape gardens mimic a natural landscape with water features, rivers, hills and rocks, interspersed with strategically placed pavilions and pagodas.
In the afternoon we’ll visit the ‘Lingering Garden’ a name attributed to it in 1873. This garden is considered one of the four largest gardens in China and is more than 400 years old. The current complex consists of 42 rooms, halls and shrines, a 670 meters covered walkway and many calligraphic stelas and rocks.
Accommodation: Garden Hotel in Suzhou.
In the morning we first go to the Master of Nets Garden which is close to our hotel. The owner gave the garden this name to show that he aspired to life as a simple fisherman. This garden dates from 1140. Although one of the smaller gardens that we visit, it’s considered a masterpiece in the way that has been designed to give visitors the illusion that it’s much larger than it actually is.
Afterwards, we visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden. As you’ll see, the Administrator was not that ‘humble’ because his garden is the largest in Suzhou and is often said to be the most beautiful in South China. The garden consists of ponds, bridges, paths and trees that fit in perfect unity with the buildings therein.
Next we visit the prestigious Suzhou Museum designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei who also designed the Pyramid of the Louvre and the Miho Museum in Japan. In his design for this museum, Pei combines characteristics of the classical garden with modern and contemporary elements. We’ll have plenty of time for you to admire the ancient Chinese art collection held here.
In the afternoon you can explore the old city of Suzhou on your own either on foot or by boat. Suzhou is located on the delta of the Yangtze River and is a true water city with canals, bridges and old houses that are now often used as shops, restaurants, tea and coffee houses. Accommodation: Garden Hotel in Suzhou.
After a train journey of approximately two hours we arrive in Hangzhou. Just like Suzhou, the Chinese also regard this city as an earthly paradise. Unfortunately, almost all historic buildings have disappeared due to wars or destruction by the Red Guard. Hangzhou is now a large, modern city, but thanks to its parks and the greenery it has a pleasant atmosphere.
After arriving in Hangzhou we first visit the renowned, centuries-old museum pharmacy Hu Qing Yu Tang which is dedicated to traditional Chinese medicine. After lunch we walk across the Su Dam via 6 bridges to the Quyuan, a garden on the West Lake with beautiful pavilions, willows and cherry trees. The lake has inspired painters, poets and garden designers for centuries. Many of the pavilions and islands on the lake are between 800-1400 years old.
Hangzhou remains an important trading center for Silk production. Optionally you can visit the nearby Silk Museum.
In the afternoon our bus takes us to Longjing to the middle of the tea plantations and to the home of Dragon Source tea. Until the farmers started planting tea here the village was poor. You’ll have plenty of time to experience why Dragon Source tea is said to be the best green tea in China! Accommodation: Qiao Garden Hotel in Longjing.
This morning you’ll have time to walk on the paths between the tea terraces before we visit the tea museum.
Afterwards, we travel by coach to visit nearby Lingyin Temple (Temple of the Soul Retreat), one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist temple complexes in China. The temple was first built in 326 and has been rebuilt no less than sixteen times after destruction by wars, fire or natural disasters. The current buildings date from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The complex is located in the hills outside the city and consists of various shrines surrounded by gardens and tea fields. The highlight of our visit to Lingyin is the opportunity to see dozens of Buddhist sculptures dating from the 10th century and which have been carved into rocks.
Accommodation: Qiao Garden Hotel in Longjing.
We bid farewell to the tea fields and travel by train to Shanghai. Shanghai is developing at a breakneck pace and with its upscale malls, prestige projects and lots of bling and is the best example of ‘capitalist communism’ in China. Futuristic skyscrapers dominate the skyline of the Pudong district, an area which not so long ago was full of rice fields and fishponds. Nevertheless, you can still get an impression of the grandeur of a bygone era as we walk along the Bund, the country’s most famous boulevard. Fortunately, the stately and impressive European-style buildings from the 1930s have been preserved here. From the pedestrian promenade you’ll have a beautiful view of Pudong on the other side of the Huangpu River.
From the river we walk on Nanjing Road towards People’s Square and the People’s Park. Despite its flower beds, rose garden and lotus pond with turtles and carp, it is primarily a ‘people park’. In the morning the old folks of Shanghai do their exercises here and in the weekend the park turns into an open air theater with singing and dancing. On Sunday there is an ‘English Speaker’s Corner’ but it is mainly the ‘Wedding Market’ that attracts the most attention. Fathers and mothers praise the qualities of sons and daughters here in the hope of finding them a suitable match, even though their children may not be remotely interested in the outcome of their parents’ efforts!
In the evening after dinner, we will watch the renowned Shanghai Acrobatic Show where you will see an outstanding spectacle of world-class jugglers and gymnasts.
Accommodation: Central Hotel in Shanghai.
In the morning we travel to a restored area of old Shanghai to visit Yuyuan. This ‘Garden of Happiness’ was built in 1559 on two hectares and was the largest and most prestigious garden of its era. The garden with its rocks, lotus ponds and bridges is especially famous for the ‘dragon walls’ that the divide the complex into compartments.
We next visit the ‘Temple of the City Gods’ (1403), a folk temple around which there is a bazaar, garden houses, nostalgic shops, the pentagonal Huxing Tea Pavilion and many eateries. For lunch today, eat a sandwich at a nearby Starbucks, taste dumplings at a booth or enjoy Chinese and Shanghai specialties in a huge self-service restaurant. The choice is yours.
Afterwards, we travel to Yufo Si, a Buddhist temple famous for its two white jade Buddhas. We then walk to the French Concession, Shanghai’s former French Quarter where we’ll see a number of beautiful houses built in Art Deco and neoclassical style.
Accommodation: Central Hotel in Shanghai.
Today is the last day of the tour and is spent at leisure. There is still much to see and do. For example: walk along the footpaths of the Houtan Park on the banks of the Huangpu. The ‘wetlands’ park is located on a former industrial site and was designed by Turenscape. Here you will see redwood trees, bamboo, flower fields and agricultural crops interspersed with modern sculpture.
For a panoramic view of old and new Shanghai you can take a fast lift to the viewing platform of the 468 meter high Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong.
Art lovers should go to the Shanghai Museum. The impressive collection of porcelain, calligraphy, jade and bronze brings the long history of China to life.
M50 is interesting for contemporary art. This former textile factory now houses art galleries and studios that show what is happening on the art scene in bustling Shanghai.
In the evening we meet for a farewell dinner in an authentic Shanghai restaurant.
Accommodation: Central Hotel in Shanghai.
After breakfast and checkout we board our coach and transfer to Shanghai airport for your onward journey.
Minimum 10 / maximum 18
Chinese are culinary adventurers. In markets, in eateries and restaurants we come across the most diverse specialties. From roasted cockroaches and steamed chicken claws to less strange treats such as skewers with seafood, spiced lotus root and steaming noodles. Every trip to China is a journey of discovery full of culinary surprises. Even a menu in the 'Chinglish' can be adventurous with dishes such as 'The temple explodes chicken cube' and 'The Woo bamboo shoot fries pork'...
No rice grows in northern China. Dough dishes such as noodles, steamed buns and pancakes form the basis of the meal. In addition to Peking duck, the rediscovered imperial cuisine from ancient China is famous. A careful preparation of exclusive and eye-catching dishes are characteristic of this kitchen. Imperial indulgence!
The east is the land of rice, fish and abundance. In Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou we find dishes from all over China. Cooking techniques are also used that are not directly associated with Chinese cuisine, such as roasting and simmering. Especially the sweet 'red-cooked' stews are popular here.
Through the Silk Road, Islamic cuisine came to the center of the country. In Xian we find plenty of spicy shish kebabs, sweet cakes and dried fruits at the evening markets. Jiaozi, tasty stuffed dough packets, is a specialty. Jiaozi is a symbol of prosperity and happiness and comes to the table everywhere during the celebration of the Chinese New Year.
Further west, the delicious cuisine of the Sichuan province is red hot spicy. The chefs make refined use of balanced flavours, (medicinale) herbs and edible flowers. In the hot summer months, 'hotpot' – Chinese fondue – is popular under the motto 'combat fire-with-fire'.
Southern Cantonese cuisine is best known outside China. Sea banquet, fish or greenery, everything is fresh so few tastemakers are needed: a pinch of salt, some ginger and spring onion. The Cantonese chefs are also masters at making delicious sauces. And of course there is 'dimsum', small steamed and fried snacks that are eaten for breakfast and lunch.
Vegetarian restaurants are mainly found around Buddhist temples. Wonderfully, the appearance and often the taste of the dishes is hardly distinguishable from the non-vegetarian variants. How that is achieved is the secret of the cook... For all the cuisines of China, the yin- yang philosophy - harmony between seemingly opposing forces - is also applied the table. Balance between hot and cold, sweet and salty, fried and steamed, meat and vegetables. The beneficial effects of the ingredients are also taken into account. Food in China is a social, informal and often noisy affair. All dishes are shared with each other, preferably at a round table with a turntable on top, the 'Lazy Daisy'. Hao chi, enjoy your meal!