Shandong, despite being a cradle of Chinese civilization and the birthplace of Confucius, is a name little known outside of China. However, expats and in-the-know China travelers know Shandong for two things prized the world over: beer and beaches.
Both are centered on the pleasant port of Qingdao, where China's most popular beer, Lao Shan spring water. Fans of Germany's Oktoberfest will be happy to know that Qingdao has its own annual suds blowout: the Qingdao International Beer Festival, from Sept 19 to Oct 5, is the optimal time to consume mass quantities of Tsingtao's palatable pilsner. Prost and ganbei!
In the summer months, tourists, mostly Chinese but with a peppering of foreigners, pack Qingdao's beaches. Those who can't find a spot on the beach might tour the Tsingtao Brewery or stroll down Qingdao's unique Bavarian-flavored concession-era streets (especially in the Taixi area), picking up souvenirs and snacking on German-style sausages along the way. Qingdao makes a great family destination with its opportunities for hiking, sailing (Olympic sailing competitions were held here), sampling fresh seafood and taking in Beluga whale shows at world-class Qingdao aquariums and marine parks.
Shandong is, of course, more than just Qingdao. In northeastern Shandong, fertile flood plains surround the Yellow River as it wends its way to the sea, contained by impressive levees engineered over centuries as the first line of defense against the notoriously flood-prone waterway. Shandong's ancient heritage can be experienced as fragments of Neolithic pottery whether in Jinan's Shandong Provincial Museum or from the summit of nearby Tai Shan, one of China's five holy Taoist mountains. Myriad temples and pavilions dot the slopes of Tai Shan, which draws over half a million visitors yearly, many of them pilgrims come to worship Taoist divinities as in centuries past.
Shandong is also birthplace to China's most illustrious son: Confucius. Those looking to trace the great statesman/philosopher's roots should visit the city of Qufu to ponder the halls of the Cunfucius Temple and wander the grounds of Confucius Mansion, a massive complex on par with Chengde's Imperial Summer Resort and Beijing's Forbidden City.
Shandong is also a fantastic destination for gourmands; its native cuisine, known as lucai, is one of the eight major varieties of Chinese cooking. Big on seafood, soups and a variety of vinegars, Shandong cuisine tends toward light and delicate flavors that may surprise those who know Chinese food primarily from better-known regional styles such as Sichuanese and Cantonese.
Wherever you go in Shandong, don't be surprised if you are the recipient of an unusual number of hellos and smiles; Shandong's people are proud of their reputation for hospitality. It's a tradition that goes back all the way to Confucius, who is quoted in The Analects as saying, "Is it not a great pleasure to have guests coming from afar?"
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