Another landmark in the ancient town is the Red House. Built from 1905 to 1908, the building once belonged to Liu Tiqing, the third son of wealthy businessman Liu Yong (1826-99).
From the outside appearance of the gardens, the residence looks like a typical Chinese mansion. However, the interior reveals some construction in the Romanesque style. During the late Qing Dynasty, it was fashionable among the upper class to add Western-style elements to their residences.
Because the Romanesque portion of the mansion was built with red bricks, local residents took to calling it the Red House. The former owner amassed a collection of wood, stone and brick sculptures.
Unfortunately, only about half of the original mansion has survived. The rest, including two halls, have been destroyed.
Liu's father, Liu Yong, owned another luxurious Nanxun garden called Little Lotus Manor. Its construction, which began in 1885, continued for 40 years, spanning three generations of the rich and influential family.
The garden of the manor contained nearly 100 precious trees dating back hundreds of years. June is the best time to visit the manor when the lotus flowers are blooming.
Perhaps the most astonishing part of the manor was the family temple, built for the family to honor its ancestors. Two grand memorial archways, granted by two Qing Dynasty emperors to reward the family's generosity and virtue, were set up in front of the temple.
The temple itself is decorated by carvings with ancient Chinese stories, indicating that family's achievements were on par with those of famous figures in Chinese history.
After 1949, the manor served as a factory and later a school. Parts of the structure were destroyed during the war and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).
In the 1980s, restoration work on the manor began. It continued for more than three decades, and indeed is still underway.
In 2005, Nanxun was named a 5A-level tourism attraction of China. In 2011, the local government embarked on a plan to restore the entire town. The project included a database to store the town's cultural heritage.
Tourists to Nanxun typically buy orange cakes as souvenir. Despite the name, the cakes actually have nothing to do with oranges. They are made of glutinous rice, with rosewater and peppermint.
The cake is cut into small pieces the size of sugar cubes. The flavor is fresh and sweet. Other specialties of the town include salted turnips and artistic paint brushes.
How to get there:
By car — Take the A9 Highway to the Nanxun exit. Drive along Wuyue Road to the ancient town.
By public transport — Buses to Nanxun run from every long-distance bus station in Shanghai. The trip takes about two and a half hours.