Growing numbers of urban dwellers, young and old, are taking every chance to escape from the city to enjoy a calm, rural interlude. Nostalgia for peaceful country life motivates senior citizens’ desire for a change from city life, while for younger people and children the green hills and clear waters beyond the city limits are an aesthetic novelty. Urban weekenders generally visit villages that are fast becoming well-known scenic spots, but also flock to little-known hamlets where they can simply bask in a carefree bucolic setting.
One such spot is Xitou Village of Liangkou Town. To get there, drive north from Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, along National Highway 105 for about 90 minutes till you reach the Liuxihe National Forest Park at Liangkou Town of Conghua City. Drive towards Sanyatang Valley for about 10 km till you arrive at the foot of Jizhen Mountain and there you will find unspoiled Xitou Village. Although it has few historic sites, exotic flowers or rare herbs, Xitou was nonetheless named Guangzhou’s most beautiful village in 2010. Known among the hiking fraternity as base camp for hikers in Guangdong, Xitou is the starting point of seven classic hiking routes in the region. In 2011, the nearby mountainous area was named a National AAA Scenic Spot.
The Xitou Stone Alley memorial archway leads to the village’s main street, paved with large flagstones and lined on both sides with old houses. These buildings double as stores, outside of which are local products for sale that their occupants have put on display. At the entrance of the lane flows a brook, whose mill wheels and stone mill are these days pure ornamentation. The main street also features a signpost that guides visitors to spots worth visiting.
Lanes running off the main street feature traditional siheyuan, or quadrangle courtyard dwellings, which is now rare sight in Chinese cities under the onslaught of sweeping urban development projects.
Doors that all face the Stone Alley are an architectural feature of Xitou Village. There are some newly built dwellings along the alley, but most are well preserved old buildings.
On the east side of Jinzili Square is the Jinzili architectural complex – Xitou’s most celebrated scenic spot, which has a history of almost 200 years. The main gate opens on a large open courtyard that leads to a smaller one. Once the largest household in the village, it has long been uninhabited and is consequently in bad repair, but the lineaments of the complex nevertheless retain something of its former grandeur.
A four-story watchtower, whose original purpose was to defend Jinzili against bandits, stands at the center of the courtyard. The observation windows accessed by ladders to the top of the stone watchtower give a panoramic view of the entire village.
A half-moon-shaped pond, 20 meters long and six meters wide, is just beyond the doorway to Jinzili. Originally used as a fire cistern, it is now a goldfish pond circled by a dozen wooden poles from which hang red lanterns that are lit on festive occasions. Senior village residents gather around the pond to enjoy the cool of the evening.
Xitou is at its aesthetic best in the early morning, when flowers in the field are in blossom, and dewdrops accentuate the fresh greenness of the grass. In the distance is 1,175-meter-tall Jizhen Mountain, the third-highest mountain in the province. Enclosed by green hills on three sides and abundant in waters, Xitou Village is a hiker’s paradise. The literal meaning of Xitou is headstream of rivers and brooks.