Changshu is weekend retreat for busy Shanghai residents

Changshu is weekend retreat for busy Shanghai residents
Tulips in Shanghu Lake Park

Shanghai's residents are increasingly spending their weekends in the more easy-paced neighbouring city of Changshu in Jiangsu province, drawn to its fresh air, stunning mountains and delicious foods.

In Changshu, a visitor's typical day could begin with a breakfast of xun oil noodles at small restaurants that surround the Xingfu Temple, where locals tend to gather from 6 am. Xun is a gray-coloured wild epiphytic fungus that grows at the foot of pine trees on Yushan Mountain that overlooks the city.

The locals gather the fungi mostly in spring or autumn and let the rains nourish them at other times.

After skinning the pellicles and washing the fungi, the cook usually soaks them in salted water for a few hours. The noodles are separately boiled in oil along with other ingredients before the fungi sauce is poured over them. Xun is fresh, tender, a bit chewy and nutritious.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), monks at the Xingfu Temple established the tradition of eating xun oil noodles and drinking green tea from leaves that also grew on Yushan Mountain, according to the local tourism bureau.

Soong Ching Ling and Madame Soong Mei-ling tasted the noodles at the temple in October 1947 and praised the unique flavor.

With China's reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, noodle restaurants and tea houses were built around the temple allowing locals to get involved in folk activities.

Unlike many people from China's other areas famous for their tea culture, Changshu residents seem to prefer glasses over porcelain or clay cups while drinking tea.

In Changshu on the weekend, breakfast is followed by a stroll through the temple where a 100-year-old magnolia tree still stands.

One will enjoy clean air on a trek up the Yushan mountains and a lovely view of Chinese chestnuts and fragrans grown at intervals. When they are mature in autumn, the chestnuts will have the fragrance of fragrans. In summer, tourists can go to the Red Bayberry Festival to pick the fruits.

Yushan is famous for its tea, which is raised with other trees such as ginkgo to drive away pests.

You could then go to Shanghu Lake Park, where many colorful peonies grow alongside other flowers. Peony-raising teams turn the soil every day and maintain the temperature with a black cloth.

"The water quality of Shanghu is very good. We cherish it very much because the lake was filled in the 1960s and restored in the 1980s," says tour guide Jin Mengdan, 24.

The next day, you can visit the Shajiabang National Wetland Park, beside Yangcheng Lake.

Shajiabang is famous for its picturesque scenery and Shajiabang, the classic revolution-themed Peking Opera.

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