The tiny town of PINGYAO has become a firm travel favourite in recent times, and for good reason: not only does it form a logical stopover point between Beijing and Xi’an, but its wall-bound core – almost entirely filled with traditional eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings – provides a step back in time. This is one of the most authentic, old towns in China, and it provides travellers with the chance to sleep on traditional Shanxi beds (kang), raised up on platforms, in charismatic old courtyard mansions. Despite the density of modern domestic tourism, take a few steps away from the restaurants and souvenir stands of the pedestrianized main streets, and you’re in another world. Throw in a couple of fine rural temples and some impressive fortified clan villages, all within day-trip distance, and staying overnight becomes a pleasurable necessity, rather than a possibility.

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