T+L Journeys: 12 Nights in China from $17,718 per Person

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Arrive in Beijing, where a Black Tomato guide will meet you at the airport and take you to your home base for the next three nights: the Opposite House, a green-tinted glass tower whose lobby doubles as an art gallery.

Note: Breakfast is included throughout the trip, as are transfers and guides. Unless otherwise noted, all other meals and alcoholic drinks are at an additional cost.

Black Tomato will arrange a day exploring the city’s iconic sites, from Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City and the hutong-filled streets of Houhai. At each stop, you’ll get a crash course on Chinese history and culture — including a hands-on workshop with a traditional calligrapher. Your immersion continues with an expert-led food crawl through Wangfujing Snack Street, where you’ll try hand-pulled noodles and deep-fried scorpions on a stick (if you dare). But if you’d rather leave the thrills to someone else, skip straight ahead to the day’s pit stop: VIP seats at the Chaoyang Theater acrobatics show, known for its daring fire breathers and sword swallowers.

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Today you’ll see one of the world’s most photographed places: The Great Wall of China. To make sure that you get an insider experience, Black Tomato will arrange a picnic lunch (included) on the wall, as well as a hair-raising toboggan ride down one of its steeper slopes. Then you’ll be whisked to Beijing’s 798 Art District for a look at its cutting-edge contemporary art scene.

Spend the morning exploring the 15th-century Temple of Heaven, one of the largest remaining monuments of its kind in all of China. Do as a Ming or Qing emperor might have and take a private lesson in the meditative martial art of tai chi, then roam the temple gardens and grounds before catching a flight to Chengdu. Here, you’ll check in to a suite at the beautiful new Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain retreat, complete with outdoor daybeds and gabled timber ceilings.

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No visit to Chengdu is complete without a panda encounter. You’ll have yours while biking through the forested grounds of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, up in the remote Qingcheng countryside. The nearby mountains offer spectacular views and an array of Taoist religious sites, so follow up with a cable car ride up Mount Qincheng to get the best of both worlds. Then it’s off to the Sichuan Cuisine Museum of Chengdu, where you’ll learn to make regional classics like dandan noodles and ma po tofu with the help of a professional chef.

In its push to become a leading world power, China has long neglected the preservation of its historic monuments. Now that’s starting to change, which means you can visit newly excavated heritage sites that have yet to land on the mainstream traveler’s bucket list. One of those is the Jinsha Ruins, roughly a half-hour outside Chengdu. Discovered in 2001, it contains thousands of relics from the Kingdom of Shu, which pre-dates Chinese settlements. Back in town, a culinary tour of market-filled Chunxi Road is on the agenda for lunch (included); for dinner, it’s Sichuan hot pot at one of Black Tomato’s favorite tables (included).

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Today, you’ll fly to Dali, a beautiful walled city dating back to the Ming dynasty and a gateway for the Three Pagodas — Yunnan province’s most iconic landmark. A spiritual experience awaits at the top of Weibao Mountain, where you’ll learn to meditate with a Taoist master before checking into the beautiful Sky Valley Heritage resort.

Watch the morning light dance around the Three Pagodas — these mostly hollow, thousand-year-old ornamented towers are considered a national landmark in China and they’re quite a sight to behold. Then it’s off to Lijiang, the so-called Venice of Asia, a two-hour drive away. There you’ll receive a blessing at a morning prayer ceremony, explore the canals and walkways of the UNESCO-protected old town, and check in to a suite at the luxurious Banyan Tree Lijiang, which sits in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Lunch and dinner are included today.

Take in the splendor of the Chinese countryside as you make the four-hour drive to Shangri-La, passing the Yangtze River and Tiger Leaping Gorge along the way. If the journey’s made you weary, take heart: your Tibetan Spa Sanctuary suite at the secluded Banyan Tree Ringha comes with unlimited spa treatments.

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Songzanlin Monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist site in all of Yunnan province, and today you’ll get to take in its gilded pillars and incense-filled rooms. Spend the afternoon walking the streets of Shangri-La’s old town on your own. These ancient roads formed a cornerstone of the ancient Silk Road, and their stories are yours to imagine.

The last leg of your trip will take you to Shanghai, where a Black Tomato guide will pick you up at the airport and take you to the Peninsula hotel, right on the Bund. Spend the day at your leisure, ultimately making it to your VIP seats at the ERA–Intersection of Time — a sort of Chinese Cirque du Soleil show that merges circus arts with high-tech special effects.

China: 12 nights from $17,718 per person

The best way to see Shanghai is via motorcycle sidecar — and you’ll take one of these famously fun tours to get your bearings. You can let the adrenaline rush die down with a contemplative stroll through the mazelike pavilions and arched bridges of Yu Garden — a true urban oasis — before settling in for dinner at one of Shanghai’s many world-class restaurants (follow T+L’s advice and head to Fu1015 for modern Shanghainese fare, like abalone tarts with sea cucumber and marinated hairy crab with yellow rice wine).

Admire the view from the Peninsula one last time before saying goodbye to China — it’s time to head back to the airport for your flight home.

-Travel + Leisure Staff

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