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China Architectural Tour - 17 Days

Destination: Chinese Architectural Masterpieces
Duration: Seventeen Day
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Transportation: Vehicle
Best Travel Time:All year
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If diversity is the first word that comes to mind when you think of China, it is above all in the field of architecture that this description truly comes into its own. From watchtowers (diaolou) in Guangdong province, passing by the Hakka fortresses in Fujian, merchants¡¯ houses in Shanxi and through to the Great Wall near Beijing, the variety of architectural styles seems infinite. China has become the new playground for architectural firms from the world over, with original and innovative buildings increasingly being built in the country¡¯s big cities.
Full price of this tour (per person in US$):
Price Price Instruction
US$4000/persons 4000USD/Person

Day 1 - Guangzhou
Arrival in Guangzhou, where you will be welcomed and transferred to the city. En route you will visit Guangzhou's New TV Tower as a way of getting right into the theme of our trip, albeit from an almost futuristic angle. The tower is (antenna included) more than 600m tall and contains a museum, gardens, a shopping centre¡­ this hyperboloid structure is a true architectural feat, designed by Mark Hemel and a Dutch architectural firm. The ¡°Canton Tower¡±, as it is nicknamed, is one of the ten tallest towers in the world.

The foreign presence in Guangzhou dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), making the city the principal southern port of the country and thus an important centre for the export of silk. Persian and Arab merchants were numerous in the region and had their own mosques. The Portuguese arrived in the region in the 16th Century and established themselves, with the authorisation of the Emperor, at Macao. The Dutch, British, French and Americans followed in the 17th and 18th Centuries, further enriching the port, notably with the tea trade.

You will head to pleasant park on Shamian Island, an ancient Anglo-French concession that runs along the Pearl River, where the locals come to meet and indulge in their daily routines of gymnastics sessions, Qigong, and Taiji under the shelter of the centuries-old banyan trees. Upon exiting the park you will embark on a bike ride to discover the well preserved colonial architecture that typifies this quarter, most notably the Our Lady of Lourdes Church built by the French.

Once you've crossed the large avenue that separates the island from the north of the city, you will be inside the ancient quarter that was home to the legendary Qingping Market, where dogs, cats, rodents and owls were sold for consumption, but which was shut in part due to the SARS epidemic. Despite this the quarter has preserved its soul, and there we will explore the Chinese pharmacopeia stalls that offer an incredible range of ginseng, dried scorpions and seahorses, stags' horns and rare mushrooms in a labyrinth of never-ending roads. The boutiques open out onto the road and the stalls overflow with goods, and the smell of spices, roots and fruits give the area a perfume, while the unremitting clack-clack of mah-jong tiles resounds from the traditional houses' tiny gardens, protected by rickety bamboo structures.

A more modern but less visited road runs through the area and is known for its clothes vendors who nosily brag about the quality of the products, calling out to customers and clapping their hands. This piece of real life street theatre runs all the way down to the Longjin covered market, surrounded by fruit stalls, and where all manner of meat and fish can be bought.

Your bike ride will take you to the Chen Family Temple, built at the beginning of the 19th century by the inhabitants of 72 villages from the region, united by a clan system representative of the region as a whole. This vast collection of Southern Chinese architecture, complete with beautiful sculptures and paintings, is a homage to the Chen, a clan of merchants influential in the region.

In option : Today will also provide an opportunity to try dim sum (optional), the basis of the lauded Cantonese cuisine, one of the four major cooking styles of the country. Comprising of small steamed savoury or sweet snacks, it is eaten in a similar spirit to Spanish tapas.

Overnight in Guangzhou (Canton)

Day 2 - Guangzhou - Kaiping - Guangzhou (B)

You will be taken by road to the region of Kaiping (a journey which covers 130km/80miles and takes around 2 hours depending on traffic). Due to demographic reasons and a number of historical events (including the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, which left around 30 to 40 million dead) a huge number of Chinese migrants left this region during the 19th century (and headed for North America and South East Asia, some of them were sold as coolies). Those who were left behind had to face theft, murder and disappearances and so the local inhabitants developed a number of self-defence systems including the famous diaolou (fortified multi-story towers constructed during the 19th Century as a means to protect their inhabitants from the widespread violence and crime that swept across Guangdong Province, where there are 1800 such examples forming part of UNESCO's World Heritage sites.)

You will start your day with a visit to the village of Chikan, where homes constructed by overseas Chinese merchants are easily distinguishable with their grand pillars and picturesque balconies which locals now use to stand and stare curiously at tourists. Excellent examples of these traditional Cantonese homes are found along the banks of the river and make up a district which is often used as a backdrop for films set in the colonial period.

You will collect your bikes in the town centre and set off through the beautiful countryside passing through rice fields, bamboo forests and banana plantations where you will see locals busying themselves whilst chickens run free in the streets, giant water buffalo stand chewing endlessly on grass, and ducks swim in perfect lines in the ponds in which they are reared.

Option: You will get the opportunity to meet a duck farmer who will talk to you about his job and the impact of the local economy on his work. Ducks are bred in massive numbers to satisfy the growing demand from local restaurants who serve the speciality dish ¡®Cantonese style roast duck'.

You will get the chance to visit the village of Zili which is home to the greatest number of diaolou in the region. The towers here were built by the Fang clan who took inspiration from time spent in both Chicago and Malaysia. 

Following the trip to Zili village you will be able to stop at the Li Garden which is made up of a number of villas built in a very flamboyant Italian style, reflecting the rest of the region or even the entire country.

After this we will stop off at the cluster of towers at Majianglong. Following the flagged path which winds through bamboo groves, you will discover a number of watchtowers from which you can admire the views of the surrounding lush, green countryside.

You will end your day with a visit to what is considered the most beautiful diaolou in the region: the Ruishi Lou, which is situated in the village of Jinjiang and which is most notable for its byzantine architecture.

Whilst on your bike journey you will most likely spot a number of diaolou which are less well known and have been left to crumble.

Return to Guangzhou to spend the night in the hotel.

Overnight in Guangzhou (Canton)

Day 3 - Guangzhou - Xiamen - Gulangyu (B)

Transfer to the airport and flight to Xiamen, capital of Fujian Province (just over an hour flight time) which is sometimes still called Amoy in the West.

Upon arrival you will be met by your local guide and taken to the pier before making a crossing of just a few minutes by boat to Gulangyu island (literally meaning ¡°the islet where waves roll like drums¡±), a small but charming island, which is one of a kind and hosts some excellent colonial architecture. Founded in the Ming dynasty, Xiamen was a major trade port in the south of the country, and after several European invasion attempts (Portuguese, British, French and Dutch who all saw the commercial potential of the island), it was ultimately after the Opium Wars (see Day 1) in the 19th century that the city became a foreign concession and Gulangyu the home of the European and Japanese colonisers. Today it is a pleasant maze of narrow roads, shaded alleys dotted with banyan trees, palm trees, baroque villas (numbering more 1000 on the island as a whole), and typical Chinese housing. Save for the permanent crowds in the area around the pier, the island offers several secluded corners (including some small beaches), allowing you to get away from the bustle of a Chinese megalopolis and above all its traffic, as cars are banned on the island.

We will take a walk on the island to visit some ancient foreign consulates, churches and art deco style buildings. After admiring the views from the Sunlight Rock, which dominates the entire island, you can also visit, if you wish, the Koxinga Memorial, a statue of a national hero gazing proudly at the mainland.

In China, Gulangyu is also know by the name ¡°Piano Island¡± due to the interest of the locals in this instrument, which was taught in the schools established by the Europeans from 1913, giving rise to some great pianists.

Your day will continue with a visit to the pleasant Shuzhuang garden. Here you can find several pavilions, and pengjing which literally means ¡°countryside in a flowerpot¡± and which is better known as Bonsai, You can even spend the end of your day relaxing on the beach if that's where your feet take you.

Optional: -In the evening you can try the seafood and taste the famous ¡°Xiamen Pie¡±, all the while breathing in the fresh sea air¡­ (Please kindly notice that this dinner is not included in the price.)

-Please consult us for electric car (the only vehicle allowed on the island) option on the island

Overnight in Gulangyu (Canton)

Day 4 - Gulangyu - Xiamen - Yongding (B,D)

Return to Xiamen by boat and transfer to your journey to Yongding (around 200km/125 miles away, taking around 4 hours by road depending on the traffic), a region scattered with spectacular Hakka fortresses, or tulou. It is impossible to do an architectural tour of China without visiting these unique structures!

 ¡°Hakka¡± (or ¡°Kejia¡±) means ¡°guest families¡± and refers to a branch of Han people who originate in the central plains of China, today numbering more than 80 million people in the world in total. The emigration of the Hakka people from the centre of China to the southern provinces started in earnest under the pressure exerted from the north by the Manchu (future Qing dynasty, the final dynasty in Imperial China) during the Ming Dynasty.

The architectural style of the tulou is the materialisation of these historical conflicts with locals. Made principally of clay and round or square in shape the tulou are impressive fortresses that sometimes housed many hundreds of people. An isolated microcosm of the outside world, the tulou often contained a temple for ancestor worship and a school in the centre. Its wells, kitchen, and supply areas made the Hakka fortress an almost autonomous entity and one of the most interesting architectural and sociological sites of the country.

There are still thousands of such fortresses and a large number of them are still inhabited.

You will start your visit with a trip to the Hongkeng fortresses, where you can find Zhengcheng lou, whose construction dates back to the start of the 20th Century, Kuijiu lou, which is a square style tulou, letting you appreciate the two principal architectural forms of these constructions (a third form, semi-cylindrical, can be seen in Guangdong province and can be visited if you wish to extend your trip ¨C please ask us about this). You will also get to see Rusheng lou, the smallest but probably the best example for observing the Hakka community spirit.

Your visit will end with what is considered as the ¡°King of tulou¡±, Chengqi lou in Gaobei village. This tulou is notable for its size, with 400 rooms and a history dating back to the start of the 18th century.

Family dinner and night in a tulou.

Note: conditions in tulou are basic but charming. Please consult with us if you want to upgrade accommodations

Day 5 - Xiamen - Hangzhou (B)
Return journey to Xiamen and visit to the Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster, comprising of five fortresses famous for the incredible views of the hills close to Ruiyun lou that they have to offer.

Transfer to Xiamen airport and flight for Hangzhou (a flight of around 90 minutes). The ancient capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), Hangzhou is now the provincial capital of Zhejiang.

Overnight in Hangzhou.


Day 6 - Hangzhou - Xidi (B,D)
After the breakfast you will head by car to West Lake and enjoy a peaceful bike ride in one of the most famous and picture-perfect symbols of traditional China. The curved bridges lead to small islands in the heart of the lake, and there you can discover, amongst other things, the charmingly romantic Quyuan gardens.

Your voyage of discovery does not stop there, continuing into the hills near the lake to admire the tea-leaf fields that cover the region like an enormous green carpet.

Continuing (by car) a little further west you will complete the religious stage of your route, stopping at the Lingyin Temple, one of the best known Buddhist temples in the entire country. The temple was founded in the 4th century by an Indian monk named Huili, whose ashes are stored today in one of the temple's small pagodas.. However it is the Buddhist sculptures found alongside and in the caves of Felaifeng, where according to legend a woodpecker flew in and landed on the monk Huili, after which the temple is named. A pleasantly green walk will let you discover these statues of key figures in the introduction of Buddhism to China such as Xuanzang, a Chinese pelerine monk from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Xuanzang spent nearly 20 years travelling through Central Asia and India in order to discover and understand all the teachings of Buddhist thought, translating the sutras into Chinese to assure their better diffusion in China.

We then carry on to Wannan in Anhui province, at the feet of the Yellow Mountains, taking around 5 hours to cover the 300km dependent on the traffic.

Prosperous merchants in the region, mostly from tea, bamboo and salt built large houses in the area which forms the mainstay of the very interesting local architecture. Three main characteristics of the local architecture still remain: the exterior walls which have been chalked white, the black tile roofs with superbly sculpted gables, the tianjing (literally mirrors to heaven) ¨C indoor courtyards lit by skylights, and finally the paifang, commemorative arches dedicated to the most successful candidates from the Imperial exams.

Night in a traditional hostel in Xidi.  

Day 7 - Xidi - Huangshan (B)

First off, you will visit the village of Hongcun, one of the most talked about and original examples of applied fengshui. The village's arrangement resembles the silhouette of a water buffalo, with its ¡°intestines¡± being canals and its ¡°stomach¡± housing a lake where the canals begin. Two large trees outside the village represent the buffalo's horns.

Because the village used to have many fires before the fengshui master even laid eyes on the terrain, the symbolism of a water buffalo was not lost on the locals once the master arrived. With more than enough water to fight future fires, the town's new arrangement helped the village prosper. 

In the meantime, you will visit the Chengshitang residence build by a salt merchant. Now it represents the refinement and prosperity of the region.

You will also meet a fengshui master who will explain to you the secrets of this centuries-old practice.

Furthermore, movie fans will recognize the entrance to the village where in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the sword thief tries to shake off Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) during a chase sequence on top of the village's roofs. You will be able to talk with a local villager about the stories of the making of Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon.

Your afternoon will begin with a bike ride through two neighbouring villages: Lucun, famous for its high class wood carving and Tachuan is a seemingly timeless village. It is located at the entrance of a valley that in fall is masked in red and yellow autumnal tones, which enhances the resplendent chalked white houses and makes for an exquisite photograph. Ta is the Chinese word for Pagoda, just like the name given to the village by those who conceived it. Tachuan is not as well-known as some of the other villages, with Wannan having become a victim of its own success, letting you have a glance at something much closer to local everyday life. The best way to pass the time in Tachuan is by losing yourself in the labyrinth of grey-marble alleyways or by taking yourself out into the surrounding countryside, away from the hubbub and the noise, so that you can fully appreciate the history and symbolism of this extraordinary region.

Next you will travel to Mukeng Bamboo Forest where in the film, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Yu Jiao Long (Zhang Ziyi) move with incredible skill (and a lot of wires) on the bamboo stalks without breaking them. As you like, you can seclude yourself momentarily in the calm and serenity of this emerald forest.

After returning the bikes, we will continue the journey to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), ascending by cable-car and spending the night at the summit. The nights here are fresh and the weather unpredictable, as such waterproofs, walking shoes and warm clothes are a necessity.

Overnight at the summit.

Day 8 - Huangshan - Tunxi - Shanghai (B,L,D)

This site takes its name from an ancient tradition whereby each mountain was named after its most famous visitor and in the case of Huangshan this was the Yellow Emperor (or in Chinese Huangdi), one of the founding fathers of Chinese civilisation who lived in the 3rd century BC.

A few curved pine trees similar to bonsai trees miraculously manage to grow on the granite ledges and are a perfect addition to this living painting, and when the weather is nice this is truly a phenomenal spectacle. Your walk to the top will be similar to that of a monk (or Kung Fu Panda for the young ones) as you go on a pilgrimage following endless steep stairs that wind their way up the mountain face.

Descent by cable-car and transfer to Tunxi.

Optional : Afterward, you will be relieved of your efforts with a bath in the hot springs where the Emperor used to relax thousands of years ago and where the Chinese now absorb the springs' medicinal qualities.

Night train to Shanghai in soft sleeper class.The trains in China are incredibly lively places, as passengers enjoy instant noodles made with hot water from the boilers at the end of every carriage, consume astronomical amounts of sunflower seeds, play cards and drink beer or baijiu (a type of very strong Chinese rice wine).

Day 9 - Shanghai (B)

Arrival in Shanghai (estimated arrival time: 8:35am). You will be met and taken to the city.

We will start the day by heading to the People's Square.

This day will see us visit three museums of very different styles. We will start off with the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, and more precisely the model layout of Shanghai which covers a large part of the 3rd floor. This model city will really let you get your head around the layout of Shanghai, and understand just its size. A stunning panoramic cinema which shows a short video explaining how the city developed into the metropolis it is today will also help you get your head around Shanghai's recent development. On the 4th floor there are some more interactive displays, which are perfect for the young (or the young at heart) and include a simulator of a boat being docked at Yangshan deep water port. 

From here you will head to one of the most famous and prestigious museums in the country, and in Asia: The Shanghai Museum. The collection of bronze statues on the first floor is unrivalled, and is complemented by a number of jade pieces of artwork, as well as Qing Dynasty furniture, Buddhist sculptures and other pieces of Chinese artwork.

For those interested in art, the day will end with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

The delightful People's Park offers visitors an enjoyable place to relax at the heart of the People's Square. The park has a small lake, a number of food stands and countless places to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. The area is surrounded by a number of caf¨¦s and restaurants.

You could also stroll back up Nanjing Road to the Bund, where you can take in the Shanghai skyline at night.

Return to and night at the hotel. Night in Shanghai

Day 10 - Shanghai (B)
In the morning we will head for the French Concession, a symbol of a time when Western powers were accorded many privileges. You will start your trip with a stroll through Fuxing Park where you will have the chance to watch the Chinese practising their ritual of morning exercise. Especially worth watching are the tango dancers whose music fills every corner of the park.

Afterwards you will wander the surrounding roads, admiring the old colonial homes that have now been transformed into restaurants, bars and different boutiques. During colonial times the French Concession was a no-go zone for the police and was home to gangsters, mafia, opium traffickers, prostitutes and people looking for a good time. Shanghai earned itself the title of one of the world's vice capitals.

Shanghai Triad by Zhang Yimou is a faithful depiction of the city in the 1930s.

You will continue on to Xintiandi, an entirely renovated area that is considered one of the liveliest parts of the city. You can end your walk at Tianzifang, a maze of animated alleyways full of restaurants, boutiques and small art galleries similar to those found in Xintiandi but much more authentic.

Your will walk will end in the Old Town, which today has mostly been rebuilt but which still has some of its old lilongs (which are like the hutongs found in Beijing) alive with the chatter of the Shanghainese and decorated with people's washing strung out across the streets to dry. The Old Town also home to the famous Yu Yuan Gardens, a superb example of the art of Chinese garden landscaping, which is particularly common in this region. Traditionally Chinese gardens are a miniature reproduction of nature: the presence of rocks represents mountains, ponds represent lakes and running water imitating rivers. The quest for harmony takes precedence over the rigorous geometrical planning that you would see in most Western gardens. Their shape is therefore never rectangular, encouraging visitors to wander around with only their thoughts and no definite aim.

Optional: you will also get to meet a Chinese gardener who will talk to you about his art and notably about penjing (bonsai) trees

Visit the local bazaar, where visitors and locals come to haggle. It's a perfect chance for you to buy some souvenirs before your departure the following day, or take a rest at the Huxingting tea house, which is located at the centre of the lake opposite the Yu Yuan Park, and is one of the most famous in China.

Optional: Enjoy on the evening the shows ¡°ERA¡± in Shanghai has become one of the most popular evening entertainments in the city. Now, it has been staged for 6 years. ERA is a multimedia odyssey whose inspiration is a direct result of the combination of traditional Chinese acrobatic arts and modern technology

Overnight in Shanghai

Day 11 - Shanghai - Taiyuan - Pingyao (B)

In the morning we will head to the airport and take a flight to Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province.

Here you will visit the Jinci, which means ¡°ancestral temple¡± a remarkable building constructed in honour of Prince Shuyu who founded the Jin state (772-403 B.C).
The Hall of the Holy Mother (Shuyu's mother and to whom this site is dedicated), is a perfect example of its type. Take time to examine the superb wooden dragon sculptures that surround the temple, often only found in imperial places of worship. You should also ask your guide to tell you the story of why the ¡°Emperor never joked¡± and they may share with you the story particular to this region.

Afterwards we will head to Pingyao (about 110km/70miles away and taking around 90 minutes to reach). 

Pingyao is the best preserved medieval city throughout the whole of China. A collection of paved alleyways, lined with traditional courtyard style homes lit with red lanterns and surrounded by perfectly conserved reinforced city walls.The town is a perfect example of the traditional China that most people have in their minds. Pingyao prospered under the Ming Dynasty when it was established as a market town; however, it was during the Qing dynasty that Pingyao developed into the incredible walled city that we know today when it was established as the nation's first financial centre.

Explore the city walls walk, to get a real sense of the layout of the streets below. Measuring 6km long, 10 metres high and numbering 72 watchtowers (each of which houses a piece of Sunzi War artwork) the town walls ensure that Pingyao is almost impenetrable to any invading force.

Pingyao is attracting a growing number of tourists, and as a result some of the 4000 Ming and Qing homes have been transformed into little restaurants, boutiques and quaint hotels. It's in one of these hotels that you will spend the night maybe sleeping on a traditional kang, which is a bed made of bricks and heated by a small fire beneath.

Overnight in Pingyao

Day 12 - Pingyao (B)

After breakfast you will head off to explore some of the other main interests of the region, the merchants' houses and cave dwellings. 

Many local merchants amassed immense fortunes during the Ming and Qing dynasties and built themselves huge palatial homes. A perfect example of one of these homes is the Wang Family Residence, which is about 50km from Pingyao and is made up of an imposing labyrinth of courtyards, small gardens, temples and narrow stairways.

On the way back to Pingyao we will stop in Zhangbicun, a small village famous for its underground tunnels. An incredible network of defensive tunnels was constructed during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) in order to prepare for any attack by the Tang. Unfortunately however they failed in their purpose and the Tang ruled from 618-907. The tunnels are built 30m underground and extend for around 1500m. This small town on the surface also offers a lot to visitors who can enjoy its mix of paved streets and houses constructed during the Chinese Middle Ages.

This trip will also enable you to explore some of the Cave Dwellings that the region is famous for. Even though we can't give an exact figure, it's thought that around 30 million people in China still live in cave dwellings that are built into the loess sedimentary rock These types of loess cave dwellings are primarily found in the 3 provinces of Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan which are often considered as the cradle of Chinese civilisation.
Your day will end with a visit to the Shuanglin Buddhist Temple (literally Temple of the Double Forest) which is just outside Pingyao. Founded during the Northern Wei Dynasty, the temple is well known for its finely sculptured statues which have been very well preserved and still retain their original colours.

Your day will end with a visit to the Shuanglin Buddhist Temple (literally Temple of the Double Forest) which is just outside Pingyao. Founded during the Northern Wei Dynasty, the temple is well known for its finely sculptured statues which have been very well preserved and still retain their original colours.

Upon returning to Pingyao you will be able to enjoy the evening discovering the narrow streets of the old town which are lit by red lanterns hanging from doorways, typically associated with Northern China.

Overnight in Pingyao

Day 13 - Pingyao / Taiyuan / Beijing (B)
We encourage you to take a morning stroll to really soak up the atmosphere of Pingyao at its best, the city streets outside fill with the sights, sounds and smells as people on bikes and vendors fill the streets selling a promising (or not) breakfast.

After your morning stroll, you will head off to explore Rishengchang, who started off as a small dye store in the 17th century and grew into China's first bank, opening branches throughout China. A true success story, Rishengchang helped to contribute to Pingyao's success and establishment as China's first financial centre.

After you will visit the local yamen, which during Imperial times was home to the administrative centre, courthouse and sometimes even a prison. The accused would present themselves in front of a judge who had the power to sentence them with punishments ranging from a simple fine, to amputations

We will take you to Taiyuan Train Station from where you will head to Beijing. We will depart at 17:19 arriving in Beijing at 21:06. Upon arrival you will be met and transferred to your hotel.

Welcome to Beijing, capital of the ¡°Middle Kingdom¡±!

This fascinating place has become a thriving metropolis in recent years, and was brought back to the attention of everyone on the world stage in 2008 when it hosted the Olympic Games.

Overnight in Beijing

Day 14 - Beijing (B)

In the morning we will head over to the Forbidden City, immortalised in the films ¡°Curse of the Golden Flower¡± by the famous Zhang Yimou and the cult classic ¡°The Last Emperor¡±, by Bernado Bertolucci, which tells the incredible story of Puyi a Manchu Prince raised by his mother and taking his place on the throne as the Emperor of China at the age of just 3 years old.

Most Chinese buildings face south, which according to ancient beliefs symbolised the barbarian threat and potential invasion from the north. This explains why the main entrance to the Forbidden City faces south towards Tiananmen Square, the third largest city square in the world.

The construction of the City was finished in 1420 during the reign of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle, and served as the Imperial administrative centre throughout the Ming and Qing Dynasties until the fall of the Empire in 1911. According to legend the Forbidden City is made up of 9999 different rooms.

In order to simplify this huge site, it is often divided into three parts:

- The official palaces which were used for lavish ceremonies, imperial exams and governmental meetings.

- The Imperial lodgings and gardens where the Emperor, Empress and visiting ambassadors resided.

- The surrounding areas which house temples, libraries and further gardens.

Lovingly restored for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Forbidden City has regained the youthful and vivid colours of its former glory. Take your time during this visit to such an unforgettable destination, you spend time in the more serene surrounding courtyards and rooms. Climbing the artificial coal hill just behind the Forbidden City provides a spectacular view of the entire site and lets you get a grasp of the layout of the whole of Beijing.

Head to the China National Grand Theatre, conceptualised by Paul Andreu. Even though the site wasn't to the taste of some of the more conservative locals, it seduces many foreign visitors who are draw in by the feeling of lightness given off by this French architect's work. Its eggshell-like appearance somehow seems to float on an artificial pool of water below. The titanium and glass shell contains an opera house, a theatre and a concert hall whose acoustics are a match to the best in the world.

You will then head by foot into Beijing's hutongs (famous alleyways found only in Beijing). The hutongs are less road and more an extension of people's homes, and you will be able to witness old people having their hair cut in the street or whiling away the hours playing mah-jong, Chinese chess or cards, whilst young children play in the communal courtyards.

Most locals still use the bicycle as their main mode of transport and as such we have arranged for you to meet a bicycle repair man.
From here we will visit the Drum Tower, where the passing of the hours was signalled by a drum roll during the Ming era. The tower is opposite the Clock Tower, and provides a pleasant insight into old Beijing (we offer an optional tour of the Clock Tower).

You can then end your day by relaxing on the terrace (drink not included) of one of the many bars and caf¨¦s that surround Houhai Lake.

Overnight in Beijing

Day 15 - Beijing (B)
When one thinks of Chinese architecture, the sites that immediately come to mind are Chinese temples, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and everything that constitutes what we call traditional China. But modern China has much more to offer and justifies its status as a major economic power through the accelerated modernisation it has undergone. This intense transformation has above all affected the urban landscape, and particularly that of Beijing which was suffering from comparison with Shanghai and Hon-Kong, the centres of dynamic China. Beijing has become a paradise for architectural firms from all over the world who rose to the challenge of the Olympic Games in 2008 by producing original sporting installations of a very high quality.

Your day will start with an excursion to the National Stadium, or ¡°Bird's Nest¡± as it is commonly known. Resembling a nest and with a structure made of steel, the challenge in its construction was immense, but the result is spectacular, and is in part the work of Ai Weiwei who was the artistic consultant for the project.

The stadium was host to the unforgettable opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games as well as several of the major athletics events such as the 100m sprint final, won by a certain Usain Bolt. The stadium is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

If the National Aquatics Centre (which also played host to major Olympic events), or the ¡°Water Cube¡±, does not match the beauty of the neighbouring Olympic Stadium, it is nevertheless enjoyed by architecture buffs as a technical and ecological feat. The structure resembles a giant mattress made of 3000 ¡°air bubbles¡±, and it is made of a type of transparent plastic which allows for the absorption and passage of natural light, reducing the amount of energy consumed by one third, including by heating the pool. The Cube is also equipped with a system for recycling and sanitisation rain-water.

It seems that the bird also made another nest in Beijing in the form of the Phoenix International Media Center, an immense structure of steel and glass that is somewhat reminiscent of the Olympic Stadium. The structure, which will be completed before the end of 2012, will be the headquarters of the TV network Phoenix TV.

You will pass the building before arriving at the rival network CCTV, a national station that is based in the famous CCTV Building, to which Bejingers give the nickname ¡°big pants¡± after its unique design. The asymmetry of the structure is its main feature, and has earned the respect of specialists in the field.

Note: Depending on your departure point on the last day, you can complete your tour of Beijing's modern architecture by admiring terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport, an incredible structure made of glass and aluminium that is said to look like a dragon and was designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster

Day 16 - Beijing (B,L)

The Great Wall is one of the most famous symbols of China and should not be missed. You have to go back to the Qin Dynasty over 2000 years ago to find the first traces of defensive walls that were slowly unified and linked under the greater restoration project of the Ming Dynasty and created the Wall we know today.

The Wall stretches for over 6000km from ancient Manchuria to the fort at Jiayuguan at the edge of the Gobi desert in the west.

Running along high ridges, the Wall offered an excellent vantage point to the north allowing watch tower guards to raise the alarm on any potential threat from invading barbarian hordes. The wall was also high enough to slow the progress of expert Mongol Cavaliers who were forced to dismount in order to continue their attack.

You will visit the Mutianyu section of the wall, If you feel like the long walk up to the Wall is too much, you can take the cable car and coming back down you can enjoy the toboggan ride to the bottom.

Depending on time, you will also be able to have a picnic on the Great Wall whilst admiring the stunning, rugged scenery all around.

Once back in Beijing, you will visit the Summer Palace. At one time a simple imperial garden, the site was totally redesigned by Emperor Qianlong in the 18th Century becoming one of the capital's major sites. A mix of temples pavilions, lakes, pagodas and gardens make up this harmonious representation of Chinese culture and architecture. The Long Corridor, the Marble Boat, Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill are the key landscape features of the Summer Palace gardens. After your visit to the Summer Palace, you will be taken back to the hotel in central Beijing.

Overnight in Beijing

Day 17 - Beijing (B)
 You will be transferred to the airport from where you will be able to take your onward/return flight.

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