A zip – and an entire world – away from Shànghǎi, lush and well-irrigated Jiāngsū (江苏) spills over as much charm and history as the waters that flow through its sparkling web of canals. The province, which owed its historical wealth to silk and salt production, boasts the Grand Canal as well as elaborate waterways that thread through this Yangzi River (Cháng Jiāng) region. It’s known throughout China for its cute canal towns, enchanting gardens and sophisticated opera and folk arts.
Tourists descend on Sūzhōu all four seasons of the year, but kick-start your day early, go slightly off the main streets, and you’ll see the old-world charm and have the place to yourself. In the lovely provincial capital and university town of Nánjīng there’s a lot that remains relatively undiscovered by outsiders: Ming dynasty heritage, leafy boulevards, superb museums and some fantastic restaurants.