Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

(CNN) — Off the coast of Xiamen, in southeast China, Kulangsu (also known as Gulangyu) is actually not exactly your average Chinese village.

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

First of all, the tiny island, with just 4,000 households, is actually completely free of cars as well as also bikes, aside through the occasional tourist trolley.

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

Then there’s the 19th-century European mansions, leafy seaside promenades, white-sandy beaches as well as also a legacy of classical music.

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

as well as also as of July, China’s “Piano Island” — so named for its piano music as well as also musical prodigies — is actually also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, chosen inside the committee’s 41st session.

through the globe’s largest piano museum to peaceful colonial mansions, knobby banyan trees as well as also cobbled alleyways, Kulangsu offers a unique journey through China’s past.

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

the vehicle-free Kulangsu is actually packed with leafy streets as well as also 19th-century colonial buildings.

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'

An international affair

Why the colonial architecture? Xiamen was, as well as also still is actually, an important port for Sino-European trade.

“During the Qing Dynasty, Amoy (today known as Xiamen) was one of the first great trading harbors of China. Along with Shanghai, the idea was one of the first points of contact between East as well as also West,” Robin Goldstein, tourism spokesperson for Kulangsu Island, tells CNN Travel.

“Because of its natural beauty as well as also positioning right in Amoy’s protected main harbor, Kulangsu became the ideal destination in Amoy to live as well as also set up trading business as well as also became the location for customs.”

Throughout the early 19th century, This kind of romantic settlement drew merchants, missionaries as well as also diplomatic representatives through many European countries, including the British, French, Dutch as well as also Portuguese.

By the mid-1800s the 0.75-square-mile island was dotted with consulate buildings, schools, community centers as well as also music studios.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the elite neighborhood, the idea was “the richest square mile on earth” by the 1920s.

While Kulangsu lacks the glamor of its heyday, the island still holds vestiges of its international past, visible inside the island’s 13 foreign consulates as well as also more than 0 heritage buildings.

With the globe’s largest piano museum as well as also a well-liked organ museum (pictured here), the idea’s no exaggeration to call Kulangsu China’s music capital.

Music Island

The island might be tiny, yet the idea’s home to many a big-name musician — not to mention the highest per capita ownership of pianos in China.

“Western classical instruments, including pianos, barely existed in China before the end of the mid-1800s when This kind of contact between East as well as also West began,” explains Goldstein.

“Kulangsu, as the home of many diplomats as well as also former officials, became a place where Westerners lived as well as also worked as well as also so they brought many elements of their culture through Europe.”

“As a result, Kulangsu became the first places in all of China where Western classical music could be played as well as also heard.”

A haven for the arts as well as also sciences, the little island practically bred prodigies, among them pianist Xu Feiping as well as also violinist Jing Yang.

Ambling around the winding tree-lined alleyways, travelers will discover the remnants of centuries-old music schools as well as also a well-known piano museum.

The largest inside the globe — as well as also the only one in China — the Gulangyu Piano Museum (45 Huang Yan Road, Kulangsu) is actually hard to miss, thanks to an eye-catching facade of which resembles piano keys.

Inside, more than 100 gleaming pianos — including a gold-plated number as well as also an antique hand piano — provide insight into the island’s musical heritage.

Kulangsu is actually blessed which has a scenic coastline dotted with white sandy beaches.

Sandy stretches

Xiamen stays relatively warm all year round, which has a mild winter as well as also 80-degree summers.

The beaches of Kulangsu might not quite rival the Philippines, yet they’re relatively clean — with white sand as well as also swaying palm trees.

Thanks to a walking trail of which circles the island, you can easily reach the less frequented stretches on the northern coast, facing the Xiamen west port as well as also a series of islets.

“I love the secluded beach by Zhao He Shan Park in Nei Cuo Ao Village, on the northern edge of Kulangsu,” says Goldstein. “Guanhai beach is actually another pretty spot on the southwest corner of the island next to a beautiful former ferry port, Guanhai Harbor.”

“Kulangsu is actually one of the most well-liked places in China for couples to take wedding pictures, as well as also every day you’ll see the island — especially Guanhai beach — full of brides as well as also grooms in full romantic regalia for their photo shoots.”

The best views

The hilly island seems to be all cobbled alleys as well as also pretty gardens — of which is actually, until you climb up the 302-foot-tall Sunlight Rock.

The golden mound is actually the highest point on the island, offering views of the island’s red rooftops as well as also of Xiamen across the strait.

“Climbing to its summit, past Sunlight Rock temple, is actually great inside the evening because the crowds are thinner, as well as also you can watch the sunset as well as also skyline of Xiamen begin to twinkle,” says Goldstein.

“Sunsets are also beautiful through beaches all over the island, yet my favorite spot of all for sunsets is actually a quiet spot perched atop the northeast corner of Kulangsu, the site of the old Yanwei Hill Time Cannon — today a newly landscaped public park of which’s well off the beaten tourist track.”

Great views as well as also thinner crowds: Evening is actually the best time to climb up Sunlight Rock.

Fresh seafood

When the idea comes to local cuisine, the tropical seaside surrounds may give you a hint as to what’s for dinner.

“The island’s signature foods all revolve around fresh seafood, fresh local produce, as well as also fresh fruit,” says Goldstein.

“Preparations are simple, healthy, as well as also usually have a bit of a spicy kick. The island is actually famous for its oyster omelets, which are made with eggs, scallions, sweet potato flour as well as also fresh local oysters, cooked on a flat cast-iron griddle into a perfect ring as well as also served with bright red Xiamen hot sauce.”

Goldstein points to a personal favorite, Blessed Paradise (95 Quanzhou Rd, Kulangsu).

“the idea’s run by a Kulangsu native who’s also a wine expert as well as also one of the island’s most cosmopolitan restaurateurs,” says Goldstein.

“His kitchen turns out a terrific Kulangsu-style spicy mixed seafood grill of fresh whole fish, clams, squid, abalone, mushrooms, as well as also local vegetables — all of which come swimming in a deeply flavored chili sauce.”

Elsewhere on the island, you can usually recognize the most authentic spots, thanks to a line out the door.

At Fu Lin Chun Canting (109 Longtou Rd, Kulangsu), for example, travelers will find a no-frills dining room as well as also menus depicting an ocean of fresh seafood.

develop the idea deep-fried, steamed with garlic as well as also shallots, or grilled which has a sprinkle of salt — yet if you don’t speak Chinese we recommend coming prepared with some key phrases or pictures to which you can point.

Heroic heights

The towering statue of Zheng Chenggong — a 17th-century Ming general as well as also cultural hero — is actually impossible to miss.

This kind of figure, part of a larger sculpture park, rests, like a beacon in a storm, atop of the island’s southeastern point.

Elsewhere inside the park, you’ll find an ancient well, the grounds of the former emperor’s palace, as well as also a series of bronze, steel as well as also stone statues.

With dramatic Chinese-style gardens as well as also the piano museum, Shuzhuang Garden is actually worth a visit.

A walk inside the garden

The piano museum is actually one of several sights inside the larger Shuzhuang Garden.

Dating back to 1913, the green oasis was once a private estate. today the idea’s a seaside park, featuring dramatic Chinese-style pavilions, over-water walkways as well as also colorful painted columns.

A long walkway meanders toward the ocean, while on the hillside, Twelve Grotto Heaven provides an eccentric little maze of sandstone formations — not to mention a few carved monkey sculptures.

Quiet nights

The most peaceful time on Kulangsu is actually early morning as well as also late evening, after the crowds have been ferried back to the mainland.

You can take advantage of the empty streets by staying overnight in a boutique hotel, such the Lee Inn & Coffee House (38-40 Zhangzhou Rd, Kulangsu).

Built in a 100-year-old colonial building, the quaint guesthouse offers 17 rooms as well as also a pretty garden.

For a slightly larger address, Goldstein recommends the 26-room Yang Tao Hotel (13 Fuxing Rd, Kulangsu).

Tucked inside Fuxing Castle, the hotel showcases arched doorways as well as also quiet terraces, as well as a well-liked restaurant as well as also two garden bars.

Getting there

Regular ferries ply the seven-minute route between Kulangsu as well as also Xiamen 24 hours a day.

In an effort to curb crowds as well as also protect the island’s heritage, Kulangsu has recently capped the number of tourist ferries per day.

Booking your ferry online is actually recommended (kulangsu.org) as well as also avoid Chinese national holidays, when domestic travel is actually at its peak.

Kulangsu: Scaling China's 'Piano Island'