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While China is famous for its Great Wall and big exciting cities, its islands are less well known. But they are also well worth exploring, as you will see when you arrive on Gulangyu, just off the coast of Xiamen. This car-free island is dotted with colonial mansions and sandy beaches. A ferry crossing of just 10 minutes whisks you to a world away from the busy mainland.
Xiamen consists of a mainland section and an island that goes by the same name. Portuguese, British, French and Dutch seafarers all came to Xiamen and nearby Gulangyu Island centuries ago. While their attempts to establish ports there failed time and time again, they built mansions, consulates, schools and churches which still adorn the streets. This history is especially evident on Gulangyu. And since there are no cars on the island, pedestrians can make the most of the less than 2 square kilometres of beaches and architectural heritage.
The fine sand, palm trees and an average temperature of 21 degrees Celsius combined together make up the charm of the beaches of Gulangyu. A winding pathway along the coast connects all the beaches. Those on the south side are more popular, while the northern ones are deserted. The trail around the island passes the 93-metre-high Sunlight Rock, which offers a beautiful view of Gulangyu and Xiamen.
“The Lee Inn boutique hotel and its enclosed garden exude history”
As there are not many hotels on Gulangyu, most visitors take the evening boat back to Xiamen. The hotels that do exist there are often housed in colonial mansions, such as the Lee Inn & Coffee House. Housed in a 100-year-old building with colonnades and 17 rooms, this boutique hotel stands in a walled garden and exudes history. Draped curtains adorn the windows of the rooms, some of which even feature a bathtub on curled legs.
Lee Inn & Coffee House on Gulangyu, No.38-40 Zhangzhou Road, Gulangyu, Siming District, Xiamen 361002
Criss-crossing the island are alleys where you may still encounter old pushcarts. Laundry and lanterns hang between the houses. Gulangyu is blessed with a silence known by few villages in China. Piano music, however, does occasionally sound through the streets. At the beginning of the last century, Europeans opened their first music schools here and hundreds of islanders have since learned to play piano. Gulangyu also features the only piano museum in China. All of this has earned the island the nickname ‘Piano Island’.
Gulangyu Piano Museum, No. 45 Huang Yan Road, Gulangyu, China