Gulou At Night

Beijing Drum and Bell Tower

We’ve always had a soft spot for the Drum and Bell Towers – architecturally unique they look pretty spectacular no matter which season you see them in. Here’s a little shot of them on a clear February evening looking particularly majestic…

Want to understand why the Drum & Bell Towers were once crucial to the daily life of all Beijingers? Only a Bespoke guide can help you do that. Get in touch at info@bespoke-beijing.com to find out more!

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Huashan

View from the summit at Huashan.

View from the summit at Huashan.

While most visitors come to Xi’an for its history, the city has some pretty impressive countryside right in its backyard in the shape of the Qinling Mountains. Huashan, the most famous peak in the range clocks in at over 2,100 meters and is regarded as one of the most important Daoist sites in the country.

As interesting as the spiritual connection is, the staggering scenery is ultimately what you are coming for: sheer drops, soaring cliffs, crooked pine trees and swirling clouds really do look like they’ve been ripped from an old Chinese landscape painting. Bespoke’s top tips? Visit in the winter low season if you can, to avoid the crowds that descend in the warmer months and avoid busy weekends and holidays. Also, the cable car is not just for wimps – even once you reach the summit there’s still a few solid hours of steep hiking to take in the various peaks, so conserving your energy for the top makes a sensible strategy.

Huashan cable car.

The cable car.

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The Best Ice Cream in Xi’an

Shaanxi 13 Ice Cream

We’ve always said that  Xi’an has the best street food in all of China (and yes Chengdu, that includes you too). The city’s Muslim Quarter, by our entirely unofficial reckoning, has a greater density of eateries than anywhere else in the entire country.

And while when presented with so many options it’s hard to know where to start, there is a place at which we almost always know we’ll end up. Shaanxi 13 is a funky little ice cream boutique staffed by a friendly local team serving up flavors that are exclusively drawn from Shaanxi, the province of which Xi’an is capital.

While you’ll find a few traditional choices here, it’s the more unique tastes that we’d suggest sampling. ‘Fresh Tofu’, for example, has an interesting smoky kick and is topped by a crunchy pumpkin seed cracker. But ‘Black Rice Vinegar’ is our favorite: more accessible than you’d think with both savory and sweet hits not unlike a salted caramel. A fun and defiantly local taste experience.

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Iii House: The Xi’an Boutique Hotel We Love

Iii House Xian Boutique Hotel

We’d pretty much given up on boutique hotel options in Xi’an, resigning ourselves to the fact the city’s hotel scene was destined to be dominated by major hotel chains taking care of the hordes of tour groups.

Iii House Xian Boutique Hotel

So discovering lii House, and we’re still quite frankly not sure how we did, was a lovely surprise. With just 5 quirky, contemporary rooms even calling it a boutique hotel is probably overdoing it: we’re more in bed & breakfast territory here.

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