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Hunan’s main selling point is its breathtaking natural beauty. The Avatar-like karst mountains of Wulingyuan are unique on earth, not to mention the sea of bamboo at Yiyang. But there is more: the history of the villages and towns along the route stretches back 5,000 years.

Discover Hunan

Day 1

Changsha at its best

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View of the city

Start the day with a hike up Mount Yuelu. A green oasis dotted with temples and plenty of other cultural delights. The thousand-year-old Yuelu Academy, the Lushan Temple and the Aiwan Pavilion are especially worth your while.

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Dennis Cox / Alamy Stock Photo

Archaeological pleasures

Reserve the afternoon for a leisurely stroll through Chinese antiquity. Start with the 2000-year-old tombs of Mawangdui, a family mausoleum from the Han Dynasty which features archaeological treasures found eighteen metres below ground.

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Dennis Cox / Alamy Stock Photo

The best preserved was the tomb of Lady Dai, which featured a tremendous wealth of clothing, silk carpets and musical instruments. After viewing the tombs, take an hour to walk along the picturesque Nianjia Lake to the Hunan Provincial Museum, where the treasures are exhibited.

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View Stock / Alamy Stock Photo
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Chinese snacks

Hunan is known for its delicious cuisine, which can be quite spicy. The inhabitants of Changsha consider themselves the greatest food connoisseurs in China. The best way to enjoy typical Hunan snacks is to venture into the neighbourhoods of Nanmenkou and Shahejie – here you will find treats such as the popular viviparid flavor snack (seasoned snails) and kou wei xia (spicy shrimp). Brave souls should also be sure to try the chou dofu (stinky tofu). This favourite snack of Mao Zedong may have a dubious smell, but it tastes delicious.

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CWIS / Alamy Stock Photo
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Day 2

Road trip to Wulingyuan

Rise with Mao

Get up early for the hour’s drive to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong. Seen through the prism of the city’s 4000-year history, the birth of the Great Helmsman in 1893 can seem quite recent.

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NurPhoto / Contributor

While Mao may be a controversial figure elsewhere, here there are only references to his “exceptional contributions” to the greatness of the People's Republic. The house in which he was born, his school and the monumental monument to his memory are popular stops on the pilgrimage route.

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    NurPhoto / Contributor
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    乐缘 贾 / Alamy Stock Photo

    While it’s possible to walk here, those who wish to save time can take a cable car, also known to the locals as the air bus. Enjoy the panoramic views and wildlife, and take a break at the Shaoshan Steles Forest, where fifty poems written by Mao are carved into large stone columns.

    The air bus panorama

    Mao grew up in a stunning region now referred to as the Shaofeng scenic area. On the tip of a steep hill rises the pointed silhouette of a temple – from a distance, it seems like a sharp pencil.

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    Hung Chung Chih
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    IMAGEMORE Co., Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo
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    A sea of bamboo

    The rest of the day is taken up by a four-hour trip to Wulingyuan. This is quite a journey and can best be broken by a relaxing stop in Yiyang. Visit Yueyang Tower on the west side of Dongting Lake, or have a swim in the Sea of Bamboo just outside the city.

    This superb eco-destination near Taohuajiang gets its name from the profusion of bamboo at the foot of Mount Hongshan, which waves in the wind like a green ocean. Wandering the trails through the rustling green, you’ll feel like an ant in the grass.

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      IMAGEMORE Co., Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

      Day 3

      The Hallelujah Mountains

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      Dawn on Pandora

      Remember the breathtaking scenes from James Cameron's blockbuster movie Avatar? In Wulingyuan, you will quickly see where the director's vision of the fantasy planet Pandora came from.

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      In these almost ethereal karst mountains, over 3000 limestone pillars tower up to 200 metres into the sky. Although the area covers as many as 630 square kilometres, a lot can be seen in a day’s excursion from the village of Zhangjiajie Cun. Start the morning by watching an unforgettable sunrise from the Great Viewing Platform.

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        A long walk

        Follow the Golden Whip Stream from the entrance to the park near Zhangjiajie Cun. The walkway along the river leads through a valley of karst formations shrouded in fog and rain forest.

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        weerayut ranmai / Alamy Stock Photo

        If you have any energy left after this breathtaking trek, you can still tackle Mount Yuanjiajie. This peak has acquired the nickname ‘Hallelujah Mountain’ after the fictitious Halleluja-mountain range from the film Avatar. Another option is to visit the First Bridge of the World, a natural stone bridge reaching dizzying heights.


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