Originally known as Rèhé (and as ‘Jehol’ in Europe), Chéngdé evolved during the first half of the Qing dynasty from hunting grounds to full-scale summer resort and China’s centre of foreign affairs.
The walled town of Shānhǎiguān guards the narrow plain that leads to northeastern China, and is the renowned site where the Great Wall snakes out of the hills to meet the sea. In the rush to keep up with Běijīng and Shànghǎi, Shānhǎiguān began demolition of much of the historic part of town in 2006.
Thoroughly eclipsed by the larger cities of Běijīng and Tiānjīn, Shíjiāzhuāng is a definitive provincial capital: it’s a bustling, modern sprawl with little on offer culturally apart from a museum.
From atop Zhèngdìng’s South Gate, you can see the silhouettes of four distinct pagodas jutting prominently above the sleepy town. Remnants of a traditional skyline in China are an unusual sight, and these are an excellent example of the country’s former architectural ingenuity.
Hidden away in the hills near the Héběi–Shānxī border is the unusual little village of Yújiācūn (admission Y20), where nearly everything, from the houses to the furniture inside them, was originally made of stone.
The summer seaside resort of breezy Běidàihé was first cobbled together when English railway engineers stumbled across the beach in the 1890s. Diplomats, missionaries and business people from the Tiānjīn concessions and the Běijīng legations hastily built villas and cottages in order to indulge in the new bathing fad.
As ragged and forlorn as a cast-off shoe, tiny Jīmíngyì is a characteristic snapshot of the Héběi countryside: disintegrating town walls rise above fields of millet and corn, while the occasional flock of sheep baas its way through one of the main gates in the early morning.