Pǔtuóshān (普陀山) – the Zhōushān Archipelago’s most celebrated isle and one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains – is the abode of Guanyin, the eternally compassionate Goddess of Mercy. With pine groves, sandy beaches, grand temples and hidden grottoes it is immensely scenic, but also very popular (despite the fact that it is only accessible by boat).
Sprawling, ancient Shàoxīng (绍兴), built on a network of canals, is among the oldest cities in the province. Unlike the more touristy water towns, which have concentrated historic areas, Shàoxīng is a contemporary city marbled with old, where modern housing blocks are shot through with rivulets and white-washed homes.
Established during the Southern Song dynasty, Nánxún (南浔) rose to prominence in the Ming and Qing dynasties, when it became a key trading point along the grand canal from Běijīng to Hángzhōu. Merchants made fortunes in silk and translated it into decadent homes. Its now a sprawling city, on the border with Jiāngsū province, but the old town within it is well-preserved.
Cut with sparkling streams, centred on placid ponds and embraced by silent hills, the picturesque village of Xīnyè (新叶; ¥68, 8am-4pm) is populated by families sharing the surname Ye (叶) and an abundance of free-roaming chickens. The village is laid out in accordance with the traditional five element (五行; wǔ xíng) theory, so it's a balanced exercise in feng shui aesthetics.
Tiny Sìpíng (寺平), 30km west of Jīnhuá, was founded 700 years ago, and remains a remarkable repository of brick and wood carvings. Its seven original halls, built by generations of the Dai (戴) family, are arranged in the shape of the Big Dipper – to communicate harmony between the human and natural world.
Refreshingly cool in summer and sometimes smothered in spectral fog, Mògànshān (莫干山), 60km northeast of Hángzhōu, is famed for its scenic vistas, forested views, towering bamboo and stone villa architecture. It was developed as a hilltop resort by 19th-century Europeans living in Shànghǎi.
Níngbō (宁波), an ancient harbour city, has been an important trading port for millennia, and today is one of China's busiest. One of the five ports opened during the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, it has a former foreign concession, Lǎo Wàitān (老外滩), now a vibrant, pedestrian-only entertainment district along the Yǒng River.