XIAMEN, China (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore Xiamen, the booming southeastern Chinese city and emerging tourist destination?
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a visit to the balmy coastal city.
8 p.m. - Xiamen has done a surprisingly good job at protecting many of its beautiful old buildings which date back to the 1920s and 1930s. In one of those structures, just by the east gate of Zhongshan park, is The House. Serving what it calls California cuisine, the portions are both huge and tasty, with an extensive wine list and friendly, English-speaking staff. If the weather is good, sit on the terrace outside. (10-1 Bai He Rd, 0592-204-4358, www.thehousexm.com)
10 a.m. - Tourism in Xiamen is really all about one thing — Gulangyu. A 10-minute ferry ride, or five on a speedboat, the island is full of beautiful old houses, some of which date back to the declining years of the last emperor.
The building styles are an eclectic mix of neo-classical and art deco, and many were built when the island was autonomously run as a foreign concession prior to World War Two. English guidebooks can be picked up at the Xinhua bookstore in the rather tacky center of town, and the island is small enough that you can wander around its hidden lanes in around an hour.
But take your time, for Gulangyu’s full beauty cannot be experienced in a rush. Listen carefully, and you can hear piano music coming out from behind the wooden shutters of some of the houses, as the island is home to a renowned music school.
1 p.m. - On the southwest corner of Gulangyu is a pretty beach, but avoid the plethora of food stalls and head straight to Le Petit Cafe.
The food is Western, and excellent, and carefully overseen by boss David Buckley, a New Yorker who is happy to sit down with his customers and chat to them about life on the island. The decor is comfortable and stylish. There is also a bar and a cafe.
If you want, you can stay at the nine-room hotel attached to the restaurant. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
3 p.m. - Climb up the hill which dominates Gulangyu to Sunlight Rock and take the cable car across to the other side of the park. The ride is short, but gives magnificent views all over the island. At one end is a large aviary. Then walk back down the hill, past yet more stunning old buildings, to the town center.
While the hordes of tourists can be offputting on this part of the island, the street food and boutiques of local products like delicious pastries stuffed with lychees more than make up for it. Fish ball soup is a Gulangyu specialty, and the fried fishcakes stuffed with sweet chili sauce and coriander are mouthwatering.
6 p.m. - Pre-dinner drinks on Gulangyu. The choices are wide and varied. Some bars and coffee shops are in lovingly restored colonial mansions and others are just shacks by the beach with a few stools outside.
7 p.m. - Being a seaside city, Xiamen has some great seafood. Wander round to the Gulang Villa Hotel, also on Gulangyu, and you’ll see three rather down-at-heel looking seafood restaurants right next to each other. Don’t be put off, as the fish is so fresh it’s alive right up to you choosing it from large plastic buckets filled with water at the front.
9 a.m. - Get up early for a boat trip to the Taiwanese-held island of Kinmen. When defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the civil war in 1949, they managed to hold on to a smattering of islands just off the Chinese coast. Kinmen is one of these, and a journey to see it a step back in time to the height of the Cold War.
The boat actually hovers just off Ta-Tan, an islet that’s part of the Kinmen group, and tourists happily snap at the Taiwanese flags and propaganda signs etched in the rock face. Linger too long though, and the Taiwanese military has been known to come and chase the Chinese sightseers away.
These days however, with a warming of ties between China and Taiwan, you can actually take a ferry all the way over to Kinmen proper. From there, should you wish, you can take a domestic flight to Taiwan. (Tourist boats leave from near the Gulangyu ferry dock)
12 p.m. - Jump into a taxi to the Nanputuo Temple. Set against a lush hillside, the temple itself is nothing special. What sets it apart are the winding little paths that go up the hill, to grottos and secret shrines nestled in the rock. The vegetarian restaurant gets good reviews too, and makes a nice place for lunch.
3 p.m. - A stone’s throw from the temple is Xiamen University. The grounds are spacious and leafy, and tourists are welcome to walk around.
5 p.m. - Zhongshan Road is one of Xiamen’s main shopping areas, and home to yet more buildings from the colonial era, though they are generally very run-down. The shops are worth a peek, especially for clothes and shoes.
7 p.m. - A final dinner at the Huang Zehe Peanut Soup Shop. It may be a dingy place, but the traditionally Fujian-style food is a treat. A must-try are the oyster pancakes, a dish familiar to anyone who has been to a night market in Taiwan. (20 Zhongshan Road)
Getting there - Xiamen’s centrally-located airport is well connected to all major Chinese cities, and there are also regular flights to Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Miral Fahmy