As the ‘jewel of Jiangsu’, Yangzhou is full of incredible gardens complemented by dramatic ancient architecture and an active city centre
Situated near the intersection of the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal, Yangzhou was once the centre of the country’s salt trade and welcomed merchants and traders from all over China and the Middle East. Many of them used their incredible wealth to build spectacular mansions and, at the peak of the city’s popularity, about 200 of these were dotted throughout Yangzhou. Today, almost 30 of these remain, providing exquisite examples of traditional Chinese landscape design and an insight into how the wealthy families of imperial China lived.
Ge Garden is a great starting point to delve into this history. Built 200 years ago by a salt merchant named Huang Zhiyun, it features a splendid rock garden decorated with stones sourced from Taihu Lake, and these form a warren that provided the residents with a cool shelter from the intense summer heat. Seasonality is a key aspect of the garden, and a grand pavilion in the main courtyard offers views of scenes representing spring, summer and autumn. Winter is hidden behind a wall, as the melancholic Huang wanted to spare himself from the thought of the impending chill when relaxing in this structure.
On the other side of town, He Garden features imported stained glass, Western-style furniture and a small memorial temple. Built 130 years ago by a high-ranking government official, the residence has fantastic artwork depicting the ancestors of the He family.
Absorb some of the old city’s atmosphere by wending your way alongside the old moat. Locals practise their dance steps on its banks or relax in the local teahouses that overlook the water. Then, at Shouxihu (Slender West Lake), you can observe the pagodas, ancient bridges and greenery. You can even take a pleasure cruise on the lake where willow trees dip into the water, or take a stroll round one of the extensive bonsai gardens.
Fora flavour of day-to-day life, Dongguan Street is packed with shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. It’s also a good place to pick up a souvenir, like a calligraphy brush or a traditional qipao dress. To top off your visit, make sure you have a traditional breakfast of steamed buns, dumplings and noodle soups. A particularly luxurious place to enjoy such a banquet is the Residence of the Lu Family on Kangshan Street, a grand old mansion said to serve up the best dim sum in the city.
Local specialities: Take home some traditional Yangzhou craftwork, including jadeware, lacquerware and paper figurines
Street snacks: Steamed buns and Feng (‘wind’) goose are local favourites
Travel: Yangzhou is 11/4 hours by train from Nanjing, or 3 hours’ drive from Shanghai