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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 extraordinary sights, sandstone pillars float in mist and bright green rolling rice terraces extend as far as the eye can see.

Here are the most highly-rated destinations for nature in China, according to global travellers.*

Longsheng

Admire the rolling rice terraces in Longsheng

Admire the rolling rice terraces in Longsheng

Though technically man-made, the Longsheng Rice Terraces blend into and enhance the landscape such that they can be considered a natural wonder. Built into the mountains 650 years ago, their name means ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, representing the curved horizon. Blanketing the undulating hills, these terraces are beautiful 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 gold and amber. Stay at Longji One Art Hotel, a peaceful retreat in a bamboo-stilted building overlooking the terraces.

Zhāngjiājiè

Zhāngjiājiè, a city that served as inspiration for the film Avatar

Zhāngjiājiè, a city that served as 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. Stay at Zhāngjiājiè Walishanfang Guest House, the most highly-rated accommodation in Zhāngjiājiè.

Shangri-La

Prayer flags flutter in the wind in Shangri-La City

Prayer flags flutter in the wind in Shangri-La City

This mountainous city close to the border with Tibet is a medley of Tibetan and Han Chinese culture. But the main draw for nature-lovers 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 lakes. The park’s Bita Lake is still home to the Bita double-lip fish, an species dating back to the Fourth Glacial Age. Check into a luxurious, Oriental-style suite at Shangri-La Royal Boutique Inn.

Jiǔzhàigōu

Autumn colours in Jiǔzhàigōu National Park

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 tree trunks that has the appearance – from a distance – of a 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 and red hues of the mountainsides. Fan Yun Hotel is located just 15-minutes' drive from the Jiǔzhàigōu National Park.

Huángshān

Watch the sun rise over the Yellow Mountains from Huángshān

Watch the sun rise over the Yellow Mountains from Huángshān

Huángshān is a city within 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 a peculiar place, with gnarled trees and oddly-shaped rocks. Watch the yellow sun rise over a layer of mist or submerge yourself in a hot spring. Stay in the midst of it all and enjoy mountain views at the highly-rated YSHS Inn.

Yángshuò

Hop on a bamboo raft to drift down the Li River, near Yángshuò

Hop on a bamboo raft to drift down the 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 jade-green water and rocky peaks of all shapes and sizes. Formed some 200 million years ago, the giant barbed boulders here regularly top lists of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Nana Hotel, in downtown Yángshuò, has bath tubs where you can soak with views of the karst mountains.

**The data analysts at Booking.com looked at endorsements for ‘nature’ in China by Booking.com customers. They then found the destinations that were most highly-rated for this endorsement.

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