AS temperatures rise, the springtime scenery beckons and nearby Suzhou is a perfect place to savor clouds of peach blossoms, cherry blossoms and other flowers.
Two flower festivals and a cultural festival are underway in scenic Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, a 30-minute bullet train ride from Shanghai.
Moreover, Suzhou is not packed with tourists during the week.
Shanghai Daily recommends three scenic spots.
This 201-meter-high “mountain” is one of the best places to appreciate the unfolding season of greenery, flowers, fresh, sweet springs, and unusual rock formations.
It’s famous for its masses of fiery red maples in autumn, but now they are bright green.
Many ancient literati visited and left inscriptions.
Tianping means Flat Heaven, because the mountain is flattened on top. It’s also known as Baiyun, meaning white cloud, because it’s often covered with clouds.
Baiyun Spring, named by Tang Dynasty (AD618-907) poet Bai Juyi, is famously clear and sweet. It was called one of the most delightful springs in Suzhou by Lu Yu (AD733-804), the “Sage of Tea.”
It’s still enchanting today. A teahouse has been opened next to the spring and visitors can sip a cup of famous Suzhou Biluochun tea, made with spring water, and enjoy the sight and sound of flowing water.
Tianping Mountain is also famous as the residence of Fan Zhongyan, a prominent literati, educator and strategist in the Northern Song Dynasty (AD960-1127). His family lived there for many years and are also buried there.
Fan is famous for saying, “Be the first to feel concern about the country and the last to enjoy oneself.” This has been quoted many times by scholars who aimed to contribute to their country.
At the foot of the mountain are a temple and structures built by Fan’s descendants in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). People still come to pay their respects.
The Fan Zhongyan Culture Festival is underway through April 20. The entire Tianping Mountain Scenic Area is decked out as an ancient Northern Song town. Staff wear Song dress, a Song-style street is set up, displaying customs, crafts and food, such as rice cakes and rice wine.
Activities including traditional Suzhou storytelling, cross-talk and ballad singing.
A puppet show tells the story of Fan’s life, its ups and downs and his achievements in court.
Throughout the festival there will be ancestor worship ceremonies dedicated to Fan.
Fan Culture Festival
Date: 7:30am-5pm, through April 20
Admission: 30 yuan
By Metro: Take Suzhou Metro Line 1 to Mudu Station and take tourist bus at Gate 5.
By bus: Take Suzhou Bus Nos. 4, 315, 662 and Tourist Line 4.
Shihu Lake and Shangfang Mountain National Forest Park
Dating back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), Shihu Lake was the boundary of the Yue and Wu Kingdoms. Thus, the lake epitomized ancient Wuyue.
It is said the lake was the place where the famous beauty Xishi lived in seclusion. During the Spring and Autumn Period, the Yue Kingdom was conquered by the Wu Kingdom. In order to exact revenge, Goujian, the king of Yue, trained Xishi in the arts of love and offered her to Fuchai, the king of the Wu Kingdom, as tribute.
Fuchai was so infatuated with Xishi that he neglected state affairs while Goujian built his military forces. Finally, the Wu army was defeated and Fuchai committed suicide. Thereafter, Xishi lived with her lover Fan Li near Shihu Lake.
Other famous figures lived near the beautiful lake. Fan Chengda, a poet and official of the Song Dynasty, retired to live near Shihu Lake where he wrote 60 poems about rustic life through the four seasons.
Shihu Lake had been a meeting place for nobility and literati from Suzhou and nearby cities who composed poetry, painted, discussed art and literature and drank bai jiu or distilled spirits.
Actually, Shihu Lake is the inner bay of the much larger Taihu Lake, which is China’s third-largest freshwater lake, after Boyang Lake in Jiangxi Province and Dongting Lake in Hunan Province.
The mountain areas surrounding Shihu Lake is the Shangfang Mountain National Forest Park and is now ablaze with flowers, including uncommon varieties. Flowers bloom there almost all year round, and tourists camp, picnic and enjoy barbecues in the sea of flowers.
The annual Shangfang Mountain Hundred Flower Festival is underway along with Suzhou-style bonsai displays and flower arrangements. The area covers 15,000 square meters and features 5,000 pots of flowers.
The park combines splendid scenery, Buddhism and Wuyue cultures. Atop the mountain are three famous temples — Lengjia, Zhiping and Baoji Temples.
Date: 6am-4:30pm, through May 11
Admission: 40 yuan for the Forest Park. Shihu Lake area is free.
By bus: Take Suzhou Bus Nos. 415, 602, 504, 505, 306, 512, 318.
By car: Youxin Rd — Baodai Rd W. — Wuyue Rd
Tiger Hill (Huqiu)
A legend goes that when the king of the Wu Kingdom, Fuchai, buried his father on a hill, three white tigers lingered near the tomb for days. Since then, the hill has been called Huqiu or Tiger Hill.
Huqiu is a must-visit spot in Suzhou for its marvelous landscape and historic architecture and relics. Many distinguished figures have left their calligraphy inscriptions there, including the Four Famous Scholars of Jiangnan (the region south of the Yangtze River) and poet Su Dongpo.
Huqiu Tower, built in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (AD907-960), is one of the oldest structures on the hill, though the original is long gone. For hundreds of years it has tilted northward and is known as China’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Huqiu, with its elegant Suzhou-style bonsai and gardens, has always attracted people to celebrate peony and osmanthus festivals.
The annual Huqiu Flower Festival is underway through April 27. The exhibition area covers 10,000 square meters and features more than 60 varieties of flower, including hydrangeas, tulips, hyacinths and many more.
The festival includes performances and exhibitions.
Early April is the time for picking Baiyun Tea and visitors watch farmers frying the tea leaves on site in Huqiu.
Food and drinks made of flowers and tea are on sale; these organic products are mostly unavailable in supermarkets.
Craftsman demonstrate and sell crafts.
Pictures of China’s 12 flower gods are displayed, each representing a lunar month. They are the gods of plum blossom (lunar month January), apricot blossom, peach blossom, rose, pomegranate flower, lotus, crape myrtle, osmanthus, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, orchid and daffodil.