The island of Gulangyu, a prominent Chinese port, was once home to diplomats, tycoons, and an international cast of fabulous characters. The island’s wealthier denizens are long gone today, but their opulent mansions remain, and recent renovations have made Gulangyu well worth a ferry excursion from Xiamen. Step off the boat onto this car-free idyll and follow the signs to Shuzhuang Park菽庄花园. En route you’ll pass Longtou Lu and Fujian Lu, a series of food stalls and boutiques that form the island’s epicenter. Snag a pineapple cake served with a proper cup of Fujian rock tea at Miss Zhao. For a more substantial snack, line up in the center square for Chen Family minnan rice rolls (changfen), steamed treats filled with minced pork and egg. Fish balls, made with pork centers and served in a pork bone broth, are another Fujian specialty. Wade deep into the food courtyard in search of Linji, a third-generation fish ball purveyor. You’ll want to add rice noodles to your order, but pass on the bland shrimp balls. Next, wander over to Haitian Tanggou Villa and explore a lavish colonial-style mansion that conjures the island’s gilded age. Stay for the traditional puppet show, but make your exit during the ho-hum music show—instead, skip off to Shuzhuang Park in time for sunset. Pick up a cool drink along the way, then enter the park at the marked gate (an entry fee is required) and continue through the bonsai garden. Keep climbing until you reach the terrace for a spectacular silent show as the sun dips into the sea.
The Conrad concierge can direct you to the proper ferry terminal for Gulangyu Island, as one location caters only to Xiamen residents, while others must depart from another terminal (further from the Conrad, alas). Bring your passport or Chinese national ID to purchase tickets, and wear comfortable shoes for this eminently walkable, car-free island. Always double-check departure times and dock locations for the return trip to Xiamen.
MISS ZHAO 赵小姐的店 : Three shops at 11, 120, and 314 Longtou Lu; +86-0592-2516-6717; misszhao1912.com; open 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
CHEN FAMILY MINNAN RICE ROLLS沈家闽南肠粉: 57 Fujian Lu, Siming district
LINJI FISHBALL 林记木担鱼丸: 54 Quanzhou Lu, Siming district; +86-899-3980; open 8:30 a.m.–8 p.m. or until sold out.
HAITIAN TANGGOU VILLA AND PUPPET THEATER 海天堂构: 38 Fujian Lu, Siming district; +86-592-257-0510; shows begin at 9:30 a.m. and run every hour until 4:30 p.m.
SHUZHUANG PARK 菽庄花园: Tianwei Lu; open 8 a.m.–7 p.m.