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Introducing Zhūjiāyù

With its coffee-coloured soil and unspoiled bucolic panoramas, the charming stone village (admission Y15) of Zhūjiāyù, 45km east of Jǐ’nán, provides a fascinating foray into one of Shāndōng’s oldest intact hamlets. Local claims that a settlement has been here since Shang times (1700–1100 BC) may be a case of ‘blowing the cow’ (chuīniú) – the Chinese for ‘bragging’ – but even though most of Zhūjiāyù’s buildings date from the more recent Ming and Qing dynasties, walking its narrow streets is a journey way back in time.

Shielded by hills on three sides, Zhūjiāyù can be fully explored in a morning or afternoon. Pay at the main gate in the restored wall enclosing the northern flank of the village that divides the old part of Zhūjiāyù from its uninteresting modern section, and walk along the Ming dynasty double track old road (; shuāngguǐ gǔdào), which leads to the Wenchang Pavilion (; Wénchāng Gé), an arched gate topped by a single-roofed hall dating from the Qing dynasty. On your left is the Shanyin Primary School (; Shānyīn Xiǎoxué), a delightful series of courtyards and halls, several of which now contain exhibitions detailing local agricultural tools and techniques. Unexpectedly, a huge portrait of Chairman Mao rears up ahead, painted on a screen and dating from 1966. The colours are slightly faded, but the image is surprisingly vivid.

The rest of the village largely consists of ancestral temples, including the Zhu Family Ancestral Hall (; Zhūshì Jiācí), packed mudbrick homesteads (many of which are deserted and collapsing), small shrines and a delightful crop of arched stone bridges (shíqiáo). Note the occasional carved wood lintels over doorways and hunt down the Lijiao Bridge (; Lìjiāo Qiáo), a brace of ancient arched bridges dating from 1671. Zhūjiāyù becomes almost Mediterranean in feel when you reach the end of the village and dry-stone walls rise in layers up the hills. Climb past a statue of Guanyin to the Kuixing Pavilion (; Kuíxīng Lóu; Y2) crowning the hill above the village for lovely views of the surrounding countryside.

If you want to spend the night in the peace and tranquillity of the village, check into the Gucun Inn (; Gǔcūn Jiǔjiā; 8380 8135; d with shower Y60), a lovely old building with a courtyard and a spirit wall decorated with a peacock, 80m from the Lijiao Bridge. For eats, there are a few restaurants in the old village and occasional streetside chefs fry up live scorpions for peckish visitors.