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The best of China's natural beauty

When most of us consider travelling to China, the list of must-sees tends to be topped with the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors and Forbidden City.

But what of China’s natural beauty? Among the most spectacular sights, sandstone pillars float in mist and bright green rolling rice terraces extend as far as the eye can see. Many of these wild wonders are even mightier than their man-made equivalents and are totally unique to China.

For nature-lovers keen to see some of China’s most magnificent scenery first-hand, pick your next holiday destination from the following data-driven list. These destinations were chosen based on endorsements for nature in China by Booking.com customers.

Longsheng

Rolling rice terraces in Longsheng

Though technically man-made, the Longsheng Rice Terraces blend in and enhance the landscape such that they can be considered a natural wonder. Built 650 years ago, their name means ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, representing the curved shape of the summit of the mountain range. Blanketing the undulating hills, these terraces are stunning in every season. In winter, they are coated with a light layer of snow. In spring, the waterlogged rice paddies sparkle as they catch the sun. In summer, they are a verdant green and the rice moves with the breeze. And in autumn, they glow various different autumnal hues.

Zhāngjiājiè

Zhāngjiājiè, inspiration for the film Avatar

Not far from Zhāngjiājiè city lies the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. Over 3,000 stone columns rise out of the forest in a scene so ethereal that it served as the inspiration for planet Pandora in the film Avatar. When fog appears and cloaks the bottom of the pillars, it seems as if they are floating. Wulingyuan is also home to waterfalls, caves and endangered plants and animals.

Shangri-La

Prayer flags in Shangri-La City

This mountainous city has soaked up influences from both Tibetan and Han Chinese culture to form a pleasing medley of the two. But its great advantage is its proximity to Pudacuo National Park. Over 20% of China’s plant species and around a third of its mammal and bird species reside in this wetland plateau. Incandescent shades of green and gold light up the landscape of marshes, pastures, coniferous forests and expansive lakes. The park’s Bita Lake is still home to the Bita double-lip fish, an ancient species dating back to the Fourth Glacial Age.

Jiǔzhàigōu

Autumn colours in Jiǔzhàigōu National Park

The sight of Five Flower Lake in Jiǔzhàigōu National Park is an inviting one. The water is completely turquoise, flowing over a lakebed littered with fallen ancient tree trunks that has the appearance, from a distance, of a colourful coral reef. This fantastical nature reserve boasts many more lakes, which change colour depending on the day and the year as they reflect the algae and minerals within them. Autumn is thought to be the best time to visit for the vivid orange, gold and red hues of the mountainsides.

Huángshān

The Yellow Mountains, Huángshān

Huángshān is a mountain range in eastern china named after China’s ‘Yellow Emperor’. It is revered all over China for its bewitching beauty and indescribable Eastern mysticism. It’s also a peculiar place, with twisting trees and oddly-shaped rocks. Highlights include watching the yellow sun rise over a layer of mist or submerging yourself in a hot spring.

Yángshuò

Li River, near Yángshuò

Yángshuò itself is no beauty, having succumbed to the tourist trade years ago. But this backpacker town is the best starting point for a cruise down the Li River. Where the karst landscape remains as captivating as ever. Hop onto a bamboo raft and drift through the valleys of shallow green water and towering rocky peaks of all shapes and sizes. Formed some 200 million years ago, the giant barbed boulders here regularly top lists of all the world’s greatest natural wonders.

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