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kiszon pascal / Getty Images
kiszon pascal / Getty Images

Peppers and pandas in

Chengdu

Chengdu is often overshadowed by Beijing and Shanghai but undeservedly so. This vibrant heart of China encompasses everything that makes the country unique. From pandas to peppers: five highlights of this laid-back metropolis.

Discover Chengdu
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Few cities in China boast the same rich history as Chengdu. As early as the 4th century the city had established itself as the epicentre of power. Today the many Taoist and Buddhist temples compete for a never ending stream of brand new high-rises. This modern metropolis – about15 million people call it home – has retained a surprisingly laid-back atmosphere. Perhaps the region's stunning natural scenery on the edge of the Tibetan plateau has something to do with that.

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photograpy is a play with light / Getty Images


Chengdu Panda Base

Panda capital

The northeast of Chengdu is home to the city's biggest celebrities: the giant pandas of the Chengdu Panda Base. This non-profit research centre plies the adorable black and white bears with enough bamboo to feed them 16 hours a day. The research centre also breeds new pandas to repopulate the wild. Not an easy task: even panda porn is used to seduce the very picky female pandas. Fortunately the centre's efforts are paying off. Early morning visitors will have the opportunity to admire the cute fluffy newborns in the maternity ward.

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    People’s Park

    Out and about in the park

    Construction cranes are a constant feature of the Chengdu cityscape. But if you are expecting a grey overbuilt city, you will have to reconsider when you see the many green parks. The People's Park is the perfect place to get a sense of this delightfully green metropolis. Fit senior citizens practice their tai chi exercises, while cool teenagers play mahjong in the sunshine. Striking detail: the shrubbery of the park is littered with personals, often from parents or grandparents who try to help their offspring find a partner. And don't be surprised if someone offers you an ear massage – it's an ancient tradition in Chengdu.

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      Culinary experience

      Culinary enjoyment

      The Chinese kitchen is known for its spice. But the Sichuan province, with its capital Chengdu, has made a reputation by turning up the heat. The province owes its international fame to the spicy Szechuan peppers. Thanks to fiery dishes such as mala huo guo (a hotpot stew), mapo doufu (spicy tofu with ground pork) and gong bao ji ding (chicken with peanuts), Chengdu is the first city in Asia to be awarded the title Unesco City of Gastronomy. The many hole-in-the-wall restaurants prove that the city's culinary melting pot goes far beyond offering tongue-numbing spice. Hungry? Sample the 33-course menu at Yu’s Family Kitchen and embark on a culinary discovery tour of the local cuisine.

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      Chengdu is the first city in Asia to be awarded the title Unesco City of Gastronomy.

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        Sichuan Opera

        The many faces of the opera

        In addition to their love for spicy food, the residents of Chengdu are also passionate about a beautiful opera performance. The Sichuan opera is a colourful combination of live music, singing, dance, cabaret and spectacular fire-eating acts. The most popular style is bian lian, in which actors in ornate costumes are constantly changing masks. The best place to catch a performance is in a local tea house, such as Shunxing. Even the waiters who refill the tea cups surprise the audience with acrobatics that would leave Jackie Chan envious.

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          The Giant Buddha of Leshan

          The world’s largest Buddha statue

          In addition to offering many urban attractions, Chengdu is also the perfect starting point for excursions into the often unexplored heart of China. Make sure to visit the Giant Buddha of Leshan, less than a two hour-drive from the city. At the confluence of three rivers, the shrine has stood here since the 9th century to watch over the ships and their crews. The towering 71-metre-high statue, carved out of the red rocks, is the highest stone Buddha sculpture in the world. At its feet a wooden stairway zigzags its way to the top and around the enormous head.

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          Peerawat Kamklay / Getty Images

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