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Magnificent Yunnan

Breathtaking scenery, charming old towns and an intoxicating mix of cultural identities combine to make Yunnan one of the most rewarding areas through which to travel in China. Combining the headline acts with some of the province’s hidden gems offers the chance to explore the many cultures that coexist here and enjoy a cross-section of the most spectacular landscapes. Journeying along ancient caravan routes reveals remote monasteries, historic teahouses and isolated minority communities living a traditional way of life. Head further afield and you’ll encounter deep gorges, idyllic yak meadows, sparkling blue lakes and thriving wetlands.

 

Captivating cities

Most visitors’ first contact with Yunnan is at its capital Kunming, known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for its year-round temperate climate and blooming flowers. As well as being the base for visits to the Stone Forest, Kunming boasts an attractive central lake park and some impressive temples. Dali is famed for its anicent Three Pagodas, traditional Bai architecture, and stunning views of Erhai Lake. It is also close to fishing villages and minority Bai communities. Lijiang is spectacularly located near yak meadows and the snow-capped Jade Snow Dragon peak. It has one of the country’s best old towns; a maze of narrow alleyways and ancient waterways, rich in Naxi culture. Further north is Shangri-la, named in honour of the mythical city. The old town remains the best place to experience Tibetan culture, outside the region itself. The city is also noted for the striking Guishan Temple and its proximity to areas of natural beauty.

Natural Splendour

Yunnan’s landscapes are as diverse as they are delightful. Among the most noted is the other-worldly Stone Forest near Kunming, where powerful limestone pillars rise sideby-side amid lakes, ponds, forests, caves, underground rivers and waterfalls. The peaceful Erhai Lake at Dali is dotted with small islands which can be visited on boat trips. Further north, the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain both illicit a sense of awe and wonder on excursions from Lijiang.

Venture into the countryside near Shangri-la to reach thrilling canyons, national parks rich in biodiversity and powerful rivers carving their way through valleys. Visited on an overnight stay from Lijiang is the majestic Lugu Lake, dotted with tiny islands and home to fascinating minority communities. Among these are the Mosuo people, who operate a rare matriarchal society in their so-called Kingdom of Women.

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