Across the Lujiang Channel, a 10-minute ferry ride from Xiamen is Gulangyu island that covering an area about 1.78kmÂ². Gulangyu and Xiamen was once the habitat of a species of heron called egrets, today these gorgeous birds are a protected species. Some egrets can still be seen lounging around the beaches and waters.
Although the island became home to a non-native and unwelcome species when it officially became a foreign concession in 1903, foreign settlement had already begun much earlier when Xiamen became a treaty port in the 19th century. The foreigners, who settled here, like in all concession areas, built the island in their own image. The island is an architectural museum of Victorian and Neo-Classical colonial buildings-churches, villas and Christian cemeteries all lend to a Mediterranean feel. A ban on vehicles and bicycles and their accompanying horns helps maintain its quaint colonial charm and your peace of mind. For people dazed by horns, noise and pollution in big cities, Gulangyu island should be your first stop in Xiamen.
The 93mhigh Sunlight Rock, the highest point of this island, is the dominating landmark making it a useful reference when strolling through the twisting streets. There's also the Koxinga Museum, a tribute to the Ming trader turned patriot. Koxinga was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Chinese father who was a powerful maritime merchant. When the Qing dynasty overthrew the Ming dynasty, Koxinga found himself torn between supporting the Ming resistance or joining his father in support of the Qing forces. Ultimately, he chose to fight the Qing and at the height of his power he was able to resist the Qing forces, but slowly the Qing were able to encroach on his territory, he then moved his base to Taiwan where he evicted the Dutch and ended their 40-year presence on the island. The museum displays artifacts from the era and offers good views of the surrounding area; it's also close to the beach.
Once you enter the island's residential area, you'll begin to hear the soft echo of music. Gulangyu is also called "Piano Island" by locals, piano music drifts from the villas and lingers throughout the island's narrow streets, many a famous Chinese musician hail from Xiamen; perhaps the calm breeze from the ocean and the languid pace of life is conducive to musical genius. Every May there's an international music festival, and piano competitions and music festivals are also frequently held. On Huangyan Lu, on the way to Sunlight Rock, there's a concert hall where classical concerts are regularly held on weekends. Along Gangzaihou Beach is Shuzhuang Garden, where Asia's largest piano museum is located. There are also a couple of churches on Gulangyu, with the Trinity Church on Anhai Lu being the largest. At night you can sometimes hear the choir singing hymns.