China in Style: Experience History, Culture and Nature in Total Luxury
Experience China in style on this luxurious 12-day trip taking in Beijing, the ancient capital Xi'an, a cruise on the Yangtze River and buzzing Shanghai. Stay in superb hotels and enjoy exclusive access to one-of-a-kind expert guides as you visit the Middle Kingdom's finest sites.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Explore Beijing and the Great Wall of China with expert guides
- See the staggeringly intricate soldiers of the Terracotta Army near Xi'an
- Visit a panda sanctuary near Xi'an
- Enjoy a luxury cruise down the dramatic Yangtze River
- Spend a couple of days exploring buzzy Shanghai in the company of an expert expat guide.
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When To Travel
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Day 1: Begin in Beijing
Your China in Style tour begins when you land in the Chinese capital today. You will be fast-tracked through customs before a private transfer to your luxurious city centre hotel.
After lunch you have the afternoon to get your bearings on a wander around the neighbourhood, or enjoy the facilities at the hotel, such as the pool or the spa. We will recommend several restaurants for your first supper in China.
Day 2: Beijing in Style
Today is dedicated to exploring Beijing, and your guide will meet you at your hotel after breakfast. First stop (by comfortable, air-conditioned car) is the iconic Tiananmen Square, the heart of the city and the country. Watch kite-flyers and hawkers as you walk to Chairman Mao's mausoleum and then on to the Forbidden City, for 500 years the seat of imperial power for Chinese emperors.
Your guide will now hand over the reins to a leading
architecture expert who will explain the history of the Forbidden
City through the various styles of Chinese architecture across the
centuries from the Ming to the Qing dynasties. The tour will
include special access to the Shufuang Zhai, an elaborate
banqueting hall which is not normally included in public tours.
Complete your visit with a walk up Jingshan Park for superb
panoramic views back down over the Forbidden City and the wider
city. The hill was entirely man-made from earth when the palace's
moat was dug, and intended to protect the palace according to the
principles of feng shui.
You'll probably have worked up an appetite by now, so we have reserved a table at an award-winning restaurant before you explore the hutongs, the original single-storey neighbourhoods that once stretched in every direction from the Forbidden City. Sadly, most of the hutongs were flattened before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but those that remain are a fascinating window onto a way of life increasingly rare in Chinese cities. Wander the alleyways and courtyards with your guide and you'll learn about the knife sharpeners and cardboard collectors going about their business. Make sure to stop at one of the street vendors to sample delicious bao (steamed buns). Watch out - they're piping hot but utterly delicious!
This evening enjoy a well-earned dinner in a top restaurant arranged by our Concierge, before an early night because tomorrow you've got an early start to visit the iconic Great Wall of China.
Day 3: The Great Wall of China at Huanghuacheng
After breakfast, your guide will meet you for the hour-and-a-half transfer to one of the finest sections of the Great Wall of China in proximity to Beijing. There you will meet a Great Wall expert who has written several books on the subject and walked 1500 miles along it. Suffice to say there's not much he doesn't know about the wall, and he will be the perfect guide as you hike along this extraordinary feat of human endeavour. As this trip is all about seeing China in style, we have also arranged a picnic lunch complete with champagne to enjoy while you are on the wall.
After lunch, return to Beijing and enjoy a relaxing afternoon before supper in one of the finest restaurants in the city.
Day 4: The Temple of Heaven and on to Xi’an
This morning is a chance to get a glimpse of the real China as you wander through the grounds surrounding the Temple of Heaven to see elderly Beijing residents practicing tai chi (you can try your hand if you like) and flinging frisbees around in morning rituals that are similar to those carried out in 'People's Parks' across the country.
Then visit the Temple of Heaven itself, which was designed as a holy place where emperors could come to pray for good harvests (which in turn usually ensured civil harmony), your guide will explain the meaning of the many motifs on the temple's walls.
From there, head to the airport for the two-an-a-half hour domestic flight to Xi'an, where you will be met and chauffeured to your luxury hotel in the centre of town.
Day 5: Xi’an and the Terracotta Army
This morning you will visit one of the absolute highlights of this China in Style trip: the Terracotta Army.
Built to protect the first emperor in the afterlife, the 8,000
soldiers, horses and chariots are in remarkable condition given
they are 2,200 years old. You will have an expert archaeologist
guide explaining the significance of what is often described as the
greatest archaeological find of the 20th century.
After a couple of hours spent admiring the army, you will return to the city centre to explore Xi'an's Muslim Quarter and Grand Mosque. As a key city on the Silk Road, Xi'an welcomed the spread eastwards of Islam one thousand years ago, and the bustling streets retain the essential energy of a trading hub. Your guide will show you around, and make sure to try the finest dumplings in a city that lays claim to having invented this quintessential Chinese dish.
Day 6: Xi’an to Chongqing and Yangtze River
This morning is your chance to witness some of China's most iconic wildlife, from pandas to giant ibises, with a guide at the Shaanxi Wild Animal Research Centre, an hour from Xi'an.
After an animal-focused morning, head to the airport for a lunchtime hour-and-a-half flight to Chongqing, a city at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers. Upon arrival, you will be whisked through the airport and into a waiting car down to the docks where you will embark on the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer for a cruise down the mighty Yangtze River. Settle into your cabin before joining other guests in the Explorer Bar as the boat embarks down the river through the famous Three Gorges region.
Day 7: Cruising on the Yangtze River
Start your day with breakfast and possibly a tai chi session on deck, before choosing between one of the two-morning excursions from Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer. You can either visit a once top-secret but now abandoned nuclear weapons facility, or the extraordinary White Crane Ridge Underwater Museum, which displays ancient rock carvings from the centuries before damming of the Yangtze meant much higher water levels. Some of the rock carvings remain underwater and can be viewed through giant windows.
After your excursion, return to the boat and enjoy lunch on board before an afternoon to relax on deck or enjoy reflexology and other treatments with Chinese roots. Enjoy a second night aboard in your sumptuous cabin and get a good night's sleep ready for the day ahead.
Day 8: Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge aboard the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer
After breakfast and tai chi again it's time to sit back and appreciate the gorgeous views on offer as you cruise through the Wu Gorge and the Qutang Gorge.
The excursion today offers a fascinating insight into the local
way of life. First, take a cruise along the Shennong Stream, a
tributary of the Yangtze, aboard a sampan longboat rowed by a
boatman from the regional Tujia people. Float along a sheer-sided
gorge past the extraordinary site of 'hanging' coffins resting on
poles driven into the gorge walls by the Tujia over the
generations. Next, visit a Tujia trackers village, where most of
the houses are constructed of dried mud.
Back on the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer you will enjoy a farewell dinner either at the suburb a la carte restaurant on board or in your very own dumpling-making class.
Day 9: Disembark and Head to Shanghai
This morning it is time to disembark from the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer. Bid farewell to the charming crew before visiting the truly extraordinary Three Gorges Project Dam in Yiching. The numbers are mind-boggling; the dam is 7,660ft wide and 600ft tall and goes some way to reducing China's reliance on fossil fuels, but its construction saw the flooding of 13 cities, 140 towns, 1350 villages and 1200 archaeological site. In total 1.2 million people were relocated. Only in China…
After the visit, head to the airport for the two-hour flight to Shanghai. You will be met and transferred to your luxurious hotel on the Bund in the heart of the city. Enjoy a night on the tiles in this buzzing metropolis.
Day 10: Explore Shanghai
This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel for a tour of this intriguing city with its striking contrast between old and new. Your guide today will be an expat expert on the history - commercial and cultural - of Shanghai, and you will start on the Bund, the historical district where foreign concessions were built up in the 19th century. Due to its contrasting styles, the area is known as the 'Museum of International Architecture' while across the river you can see the shiny skyscrapers of the new China.
Stroll around the elegant tree-lined boulevards of the French Concession, explore the narrow alleyways and galleries of the bohemian Tianzifang district and then visit the fascinating Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum to learn more about post-war Chinese history through the popular art disseminated by the Communist Party. This hidden museum is one of the city's best-kept secrets and provides an intriguing insight into the modern history of this ancient country.
Next, cross the river and take the elevator up to the 128th
floor of the Shanghai Tower - the second tallest building - for
extraordinary views of the city.
When you're back on terra firma (having dropped at 68ft per second in the world's second fastest lift) it's time to head back to your hotel before another chance to do China in style by dining in one of Shanghai's many excellent restaurants. Our Concierge can recommend one and reserve a table for you.
Day 11: Tongli and Foodie Shanghai
Leave Shanghai behind this morning as you head out of the city on a two-hour drive to Tongli, a town built on narrow alleyways and canals, perhaps inevitably leading it to be known as the 'Venice of the East'.
Explore the town by boat as you slip by Ming- and Qing-era houses and under perfectly reflected half-moon bridges before heading back to Shanghai.
Enjoy a relaxing afternoon back at your hotel before this evening's foodie extravaganza. Chinese wine is improving rapidly, and you will enjoy three international award-winning vintages paired with some fifteen small taster courses showcasing Shanghai's finest cuisine. It's quite a way to spend your last evening in the city, and if you've got room left, we can reserve you a table at one of the finest rooftop bars in the city.
Day 12: Fly Home
This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel for the private transfer to the train station where you have one last introduction to Chinese high tech, namely the Maglev (magnetic levitation) train, which takes a mere eight minutes to reach Shanghai Pudong Airport, travelling at around a third of the speed of sound.
You will arrive at the airport with plenty of time to catch your flight home. It's a long journey, but thanks to the time difference you'll be back on home turf that evening.
Holly and Frances are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.