Home> Latest

Villages offer best of both worlds

By Yang Feiyue| China Daily| Updated: February 3, 2023 L M S


A road zigzags through the mountains in Lin'an district, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Close to stunning unspoiled nature, they are also situated near modern conveniences, Yang Feiyue reports.

Rural tourism innovation and upgrades have enabled urban travelers to experience the best of both worlds.

Song Chenghan has seen it all as his wanderlust has taken him to a vast range of destinations across the country. Yet, the veteran traveler from Shanghai holds one place particularly close to his heart.

"If you want to experience the leisure and quietness of the countryside, but do not want to be completely away from the urban hustle and bustle, as well as all the modern conveniences, then you should go to Lin'an," Song says.

Sitting in the northwest of East China's Zhejiang province, Lin'an district of Hangzhou boasts historical sites, such as the ancient Poliu Well that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and has drawn history enthusiasts like a magnet.

Home to the Tianmu Mountain and the Qingliangfeng national forest protection zones, as well as the Qingshan Lake National Forest Park, Lin'an offers close proximity to nature.


A view of Daming Mountain in Lin'an. A patchwork of fields around the area. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Near urban areas, the district also enables travelers to have an easy change of scenery and access to modern conveniences.

The natural topography, which slopes from northwest to southeast, has created a unique landscape that features deep ravines in the west of the district and wide valleys to the east.

The rich natural resources have given rise to a distinctive rural cuisine, featuring fresh and tender Tianmu bamboo shoots, juicy kiwifruit, and soft yet chewy steamed buns.

Local authorities have rolled out several distinctive rural dishes.

The move has helped Wu Aiguo develop a booming catering business.

"Every winter during my childhood, the elders of my family will use locally grown produce and cook a warm, satisfying pot of stew," says Wu from Xiyou village, Tianmushan town in Lin'an.

"They would pull a handful of homegrown radishes, butcher a backyard chicken or duck and dig up a few fresh asparagus, before putting them in a stew," Wu recalls.

Wu has tapped his childhood memories and developed many traditional dishes based on local food.


Rural houses perch on the river bank in Zhinan village. [Photo provided to China Daily]

One of his dishes, Tianmu hotpot, strictly follows traditional recipes and has been on the distinctive food list recommended by local authorities.

Ever since, Wu's business has, as the saying goes, been "cooking with gas", as his mouthwatering cuisines have found increasing popularity among the growing number of travelers to the nearby natural attractions in Lin'an.

"I have now many guests who come to Lin'an just to get a taste of local dishes," Wu says.

In addition to using gourmet food to attract visitors, the district authorities made a groundbreaking move in 2017 and introduced professional village operators to upgrade rural tourism experiences. In 2021, Shen Junming, who runs a cultural and tourism development company, brought his team to settle in the district's Hongcun village to help improve its development.

They started with local family cuisine and tapped its potential by mobilizing rural housewives to offer catering services to visitors.

The village operators have managed to develop the cuisine into the Hongyun Family Banquet brand.

"The move not only helped villagers to increase income on their doorsteps, but also gave them incentives, which has paved the way for development," Shen says.

Moreover, the team explored the village history and took advantage of Buddhist culture in the Jingshan Mountain area, integrating it with restaurants and homestays that offer healthy diets and therapeutic stays.

"It is because of the introduction of the village operators that the value of Hongcun is 'seen'," says Jiang Xianfu, the village's Party secretary.


Locals prepare a banquet in Hongcun village. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In the previous years, Hongcun villagers mainly relied on bamboo shoots and rice cultivation to make a living, but as the times changed and many young people chose to migrate to the city to find work, it led to a decline in the village's collective economy.

But, with the introduction of village operators, things have been changed for the better, Jiang adds.

To date, the collective economy of Hongcun has increased by more than 1 million yuan ($148,200), according to the village officials.

About an hour's drive away from Hongcun, Zhinan village of Lin'an has also witnessed development and significant changes brought about since the arrival of village operators like Zhou Jingqiu.

Zhou was invited to give guidance on the village development because of her more than 20 years of experience in running the nearby Taihuyuan scenic spot, which is home to gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, lakes, a canyon and lush greenery.

Zhinan village boasts a history of more than 1,000 years and has drawn visitors for its stunning views of autumn leaves and adjacency to the main source of the Taihu Lake.


Farmland and blossoms also abound in the village. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As more villagers started up private tourism services to cater to traveler needs, they soon found that guests mostly only came in the autumn.

"There was no other core or competitive travel product in the village," Zhou says.

In order to reverse the situation, Zhou first turned a local natural water pool that covers an area of one hectare into an internet sensation.

"The pool water is turquoise and clear, and local dwellings are clustered around the south face of the pond, so no matter what time of the day, you can take a breathtaking picture of the water, and the sky and everything reflected in it," Zhou says.

Campsites have also been set up against the backdrop of the village's lush green space.

Travelers can now enjoy rapeseed blossoms in spring, farming activities in summer, and folk customs in winter, besides the autumn leaves.

Cheng Linmei from Zhinan has benefited from the improved tourism development.

"I was born and bred here and decided to make maci, a glutinous cake, for travelers in 2013, when I felt that tourism started to take off," Cheng says.

However, she says that her business could only be described as lukewarm until village operators like Zhou came onto the scene.

"The traveler numbers have been rising, and it has boosted my sales," Cheng says.


A distinctive local dish. [Photo provided to China Daily]

According to the Zhinan officials, the village's per capita annual income has broken 60,000 yuan, compared with a little more than 10,000 yuan in 2010.

So far, dozens of villages in Lin'an have been paired up with professional operators, with related project investment reaching 550 million yuan.

The move has generated 710 million yuan in tourism revenue and increased the incomes of villagers by 28.2 million yuan, the Lin'an district reports.

Compared with previous investors who were mainly responsible for the implementation and profitability of a project in the village, the operators focus more on the utilization of resources and the creation of multiple business types in the whole village, says Chen Weihong, deputy director of Lin'an's culture, radio, television, tourism and sports bureau.

"In the future, Lin'an will also explore and improve the village operation method in depth, and take the responsibility to tell the Lin'an story of resource capitalization in the new era, to provide references for the sustainable development of Chinese villages and the realization of common prosperity," Chen says.


A view of Daming Mountain in Lin'an. A patchwork of fields around the area. [Photo provided to China Daily]