The role of Quánzhōu (泉州) as an integral part of the maritime Silk Road during Song and Yuan rule is still felt in the city’s architecture, cuisine and ethnic diversity. Today it’s a handsome, if grossly undervisited place – due partly to the lure of nearby Xiàmén – but what Marco Polo described in the 13th century as ‘one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise’ does not easily fade away.
Wandering Quánzhōu’s ancient stone streets and temples of many faiths creates a rare sense of timelessness in urban China. Hints of a rich Islamic and maritime past are readily visible, and the atmosphere at times feels like a city further west. There are also easy day trips from here to the fascinating historic villages of Chongwu and Xunpu which have long faced out towards the sea.