Cuandixia, Silk Road global village

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Cuandixia, a small ancient village, nestles in Beijing's mountain ranges. (Photo: Belle Taylor/China Daily)

Cuandixia is a two-hour drive and a couple of centuries away from Beijing.

The Ming Dynasty-era (1368-1644) town is nestled in Beijing's mountain ranges, a tiny, semicircular clutch of stone houses and narrow, crooked streets. It looks like a film set, the location for a historical drama or a fairy tale. But it is, in fact, a living town with a 400-year history.

It's bucolic charms have resulted in Cuandixia becoming something of a tourist destination, with day-trippers from Beijing arriving in droves to walk its cobbled streets, hike the surrounding mountains and, if they are so inclined, spend the night at one of the cute stone houses of the villages' residents, who open their homes to travelers.

Cuandixia is used to visitors.

It lies on the old post road. And, centuries ago, it was one of the final stops on the Silk Road before caravans of traders traveling from the West reached Beijing. Providing food and accommodation is something the residents of Cuandixia have done for centuries, so no wonder they do it with such flair.

I visited the town with a group of friends on a sunny Sunday, one of those early spring days when the sun has a rejuvenating sizzle after a long, dreary winter.

I had visited Cuandixia once before, in summer. Then, at the height of the tourist season, residents had set up stalls at the entrance of the village selling a variety of local snacks. In early spring there are fewer stalls but still plenty of people selling a wide variety of dried fruits, almonds and locally produced honey.

Our group walked up the main street, occasionally stopping to look at the stalls of local wares, and started heading up a bitumen road when we realized we were actually leaving the town-it's so small it only took 10 minutes to walk the length of it.

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