While Shanghai doesn’t seem to have much in the way of beaches, the truth is that sun, sand and sea are not as far away as you might imagine. Most people have heard of Putuoshan, the island retreat famous for its sacred mountain (one of the four most important in China) and other Buddhist landmarks.
Yet Putuoshan is one of only 1,390 islands in the Zhoushan archipelago of which roughly 100 are inhabited all-year round. Still largely unknown to expats the islands, are located off the coast of Zhejiang Province, only a couple of hours journey from Shanghai.
Perhaps the most fascinating of these outcrops is Gouqi Island which is part of the smaller subset of Shengsi Islands. Shengsi is still the only national level scenic area in China established on a group of natural islands.
Here, recent economic developments in shipping and other light industry, have seen Gouqi’s once idyllic fishing villages almost totally abandoned. Nature has slowly reclaimed the former homes, enveloping them in moss and ivy to the extent that they have almost disappeared back into the landscape.
Until 50 years ago, villages like Hou Tou Wan on Gouqi had thriving communities. However, the huge growth in shipping since then meant the bay could no longer handle the sheer number of fishing vessels.
None of the buildings have been demolished, making for the fascinating spectacle of a lost world that has been eerily, and beautifully, preserved in time. The hillside villages offer the perfect scenery for countryside rambles and camp-outs.
The island’s unexpected fate has made it an increasingly popular tourist attraction of late, helped in no small part by improvements in transport over the last few years. A number of the larger islands, including Putuoshan, are now accessible by bridge (there is still no rail access).
Gouqi is also home to China’s largest aquatic farm, which has also become a firm favorite on the travelling itinerary. For dining out at the island’s numerous family-run eateries, highly recommended local seafood includes eel, crab, yellow croaker, mud snail, and jellyfish.
So if you’re looking for Taoist culture, sandy beaches, well-preserved fishing villages and windswept peaks, a quick getaway to Gouqi offers all of this and more.
How to get there?
June to October is the best time to visit. Ferry routes from Shanghai arrive at Shengsi Island (also worth a look) where you can catch smaller scale ferries or even speedboats to outlying islands, including Gouqi. To get to Shengsi, take Metro Line 4 and walk to 1588 Waima Rd to purchase ferry tickets (approx. 170RMB). It’s a good idea to purchase in advance, particularly at the weekend. From Shengsi, you can catch connections onwards.
Where to stay?
There are plenty of reasonably priced hotels centered around the Shengshan Gouqi Scenic Resort, which can be found at tripadvisor.com