Shanxi Province, 120km (74 miles) E of Xi'an

The first king of Shang made a sacrifice on Hua Shan in 1766 B.C., and Han Wudi (reigned 141-87 B.C.) declared it the Sacred Mountain of the West. The mountain's present popularity with Chinese tourists was aided by Jin Yong's martial-arts novel Hua Shan Lun Jian, which is filled with heroic swordsmen, mythical beasts, and beautiful maidens. Add a popular soap opera set against the granite bluffs, precariously perched pine trees, and Daoist temples dangling from precipitous peaks, and Hua Shan's popularity with the locals was guaranteed. Hua Shan sees comparatively few foreign visitors, but the scenery is spectacular, the Daoist monks are friendly, and the air is clear enough to make the sunrise worth seeing. The best times to visit are mid-autumn, when the trees are a magical, colorful jumble, or spring, when the wildflowers bloom. Winter is picturesque but bitterly cold.