Last month, UNWTO revealed its highly anticipated annual list of the World’s Best Villages for tourism. Out of the 54 villages selected from a pool of nearly 260 applications, four spots were awarded to Chinese villages. These villages were selected not solely for their charm and beauty but also for their unwavering commitment to nurturing rural areas, preserving landscapes, fostering cultural diversity, upholding local values, and honoring culinary traditions.
Huangling, Jiangxi Province
Huangling Village is a hidden gem cradled in the emerald embrace of Wuyuan County’s rolling hills in Jiangxi Province. This ancient enclave has a 580-year history dating back to the Ming Dynasty.
Strolling through the winding paths of Huangling reveals the timeless charm of Hui-style architecture. Quaint houses with whitewashed walls, black-tiled roofs, and exquisitely carved wooden elements create a scene reminiscent of a living postcard from ancient China.
In 2009, a transformative initiative revitalized Huangling, turning it from a state of disrepair into a rejuvenated village. This restoration became a game-changer for the local community, providing them with better living conditions and employment opportunities. They now participate in showcasing traditional folk customs, including the “shaiqiu” practice of sun-drying crops like corn and chili peppers, which is considered to be one of the most interesting Chinese folk traditions.
Even more, the village hosts an annual Sunbathing Culture Festival celebrating these customs and agricultural heritage, drawing visitors from all corners of the country and beyond.
Xiajiang, Zhejiang Province
Xiajiang is a living museum of China’s rich cultural heritage, where eight centuries of history meet innovative tourism.
The village has taken significant strides in keeping its intangible cultural heritage alive, particularly focusing on local operas and the refined art of tea-making. These practices are more than just historical artifacts, they are a part of Xiajiang’s soul, shared with guests through engaging performances and hands-on experiences. This approach to cultural preservation does more than just maintain the age-old customs, it plays a crucial role in stimulating Xiajiang’s economic and social development.
Tourism has emerged as a pivotal force in the village, drawing not only visitors but also skilled individuals. The economic landscape of the village has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from a primary reliance on agriculture to a dynamic synthesis of farming, cultural richness and tourism. This evolution has led to a burgeoning demand for diverse skills and talents in the rural area, opening doors to new employment opportunities and enriching the village’s workforce.
Zhagana, Gansu Province
Zhagana, a charming mountain town nestled at 3,200 meters in the Tibetan Plateau, is a hidden gem with a population of around 2,000 residents. Known as the “Rock Box” in the local Tibetan dialect, the name becomes instantly clear as you gaze upon the town’s breathtaking backdrop of soaring 1000-meter-tall rock cliffs. This picturesque setting makes Zhagana one of the most visually stunning towns in western China.
The town’s main draw is its exceptional hiking opportunities, which take visitors through deep, narrow canyons, alongside gurgling rivers, and into verdant coniferous forests.
Zhagana Village is not only a natural paradise but also a testament to sustainable development. It places a strong focus on uplifting the livelihoods, well-being, and security of its local farmers and herders. This approach has led to balanced and sustainable development that respects its heritage while improving the lives of its residents.
Visitors to Zhagana Village can experience local culture in a variety of ways from exploring its ancient architecture to participating in vibrant folk festivals. They can also appreciate the artistry of local artisans who craft leather goods, wool products, wooden crafts, copperware and tents. Additionally, visitors can delve into intangible cultural heritage projects, such as Tibetan-style house production, the enchanting folk songs of the Diebu ethnic group and the craftsmanship behind brewing highland barley wine. In Zhagana Village, there are countless opportunities to engage with history, culture and craftsmanship.
Zhujiawan, Shaanxi Province
Zhujiawan Village, situated in Shaanxi Province, adds another chapter to the tapestry of enchanting villages across China. Covering a vast 126 square kilometers, this rural gem is home to an impressive array of over 1,200 diverse plant and animal species, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts.
Zhujiawan Village has initiated a groundbreaking agritainment movement, providing distinctive rural experiences that combine agriculture and entertainment. This not only bolsters local farming but also offers visitors a delightful glimpse into culinary traditions. Moreover, Zhujiawan Village’s dedication to responsible tourism has significantly improved the lives of its residents, with innovative tourism initiatives benefiting both the destination and its local workforce.
Much like its counterparts in Huangling, Xiajiang and Zhagana, Zhujiawan Village weaves together a compelling narrative of history, culture, and craftsmanship, creating an unforgettable journey for all who venture to explore its charm, while supporting the local community.