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As the birthplace of Mao Zedong, Communist Party cadres might wax lyrical about the sacred standing of Hunan (湖南; Húnán) in the annals of Chinese history, but it's the province's dramatic scenery that is the real draw. A magnificent landscape of isolated mountain ranges and jagged peaks envelops more than 80% of the province. The most astonishing example is found at the phantasmagorical Zhangjiajie, one of China's most surreal national parks. Here, as in other parts of the province, geological marvels thrust up majestically from green vales fed by tributaries in the fertile Yangzi River basin.

People have long made a home amid Hunan's natural wonders, taming the rocky slopes into terraces of lush fields, and their distinctive cultures live on in charming villages and towns, the most alluring being the historic riverside settlement of Fenghuang.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Hunan.