Ni Hao and welcome to the colonial history of China! Your journey will begin in China’s ‘Garden Island’, Xiamen, also known as Amoy, which is the capital of Fujian Province.
On arrival you will be met by your local expert guide who will take you to the pier to cross a narrow stretch of water to Gulangyu Island, a small but charming island which hosts some decadent colonial architecture. Gulangyu literally translates as ‘drum islet’, a name that was coined by the first pioneers to inhabit the island who were unsettled by, what they thought, were eerie drum beats in the distance. It turned out that the ghostly drumming was caused by the tide as it surged through a hollow rock on the southwest corner of the island.
Xiamen was once a major trade port for the south of the country and because of this, the island of Gulangyu also attracted a swathe of sea-faring foreigners, such as the Portuguese, British, French and Dutch, who all saw the commercial potential of the isle. Despite their attempts to colonize the quiet islet, it wasn’t until after the Opium Wars in the 19th century that Xiamen was developed further to cater for international trade, and Gulangyu became the base for European and Japanese merchants. This combination has given the island a delightful architectural fusion still evident today.
Indeed, touches of distant lands can be felt all around the 1.78-square-meter island. A charming maze of narrow roads, shaded alleys dotted with banyan trees, and around 1,000 baroque villas and cluster of traditional Chinese houses create a unique blend of cultural treats to explore and discover.
As well as its picturesque charms, the quaint island offers an atmosphere that will make you think you’ve journeyed a world away from the hectic Chinese mainland and is also a popular escape for local tourists. There are plenty of ‘lesser-known’ hideaways though, which our native guides with their insider knowledge will help you discover.
After settling into your hotel, you’ll take a walk on the island to see some of the many former foreign consulates, churches and Art Deco style buildings. You’ll also have the chance to admire the view from Sunlight Rock, commonly known as ‘Dragon Head Hill’, which dominates the entire island, and rests high above the peaceful isle providing a wonderful venue for photographers to snap away.
An islet of many monikers, in China Gulangyu is also known as ‘Piano Island’ due to the interest of the locals in this instrument, which was taught in the schools established by the Europeans. The island is the birthplace of many talented musicians, such as the highly acclaimed conductor Chen Zuohuang and Yin Chengzong, who the New York Times dubbed ‘one of China’s most accomplished pianists’.
Your day will continue with a visit to the delightful Shuzhuang Garden. Once the private residence of a wealthy Taiwanese businessman, in these meticulously manicured gardens you can find several iconic Chinese style pavilions, and see the art of pengjing which literally means ‘countryside in a flowerpot’ (better known as bonsai), in all its glory.
You are then free to spend your evening as you please, even relaxing on the beach, or perhaps take a moonlit stroll about the quiet island and enjoy the serenity of this island sanctuary.
Optional: In the evening we suggest sampling the local seafood specialty and taste the famous ‘Xiamen Pie’ - your in-the-know guide can advise you of a perfect place to enjoy this regional specialty. Electric buggies are also available for hire to navigate the island; please consult us for more details.