By Elaine Glusac

You might travel to China for its major metropolises, but consider this adventurous twist. 

The imperial landmarks of Beijing and Shanghai’s art deco architecture make these cities first and second stops on most Chinese itineraries. When adventure calls, though, try riding a camel train in the Gobi along the fabled Silk Road. The famous east-west trading route started from Xi’an, heading overland to westernmost Xinjiang and on to Uzbekistan, traversing rippling deserts, snowy mountain passes, and the central Asian steppe before reaching the Mediterranean. “The lands of this ancient route are so full of history, from the journeys of Marco Polo to the spread of Buddhism in China, that I can’t think of a better place for a desert adventure,” says New York City-based Virtuoso advisor Crystal Warner, who spends much of the year in Shanghai.

A camel trek in the Mingsha Shan sand dunes.

Along the way, visit the Mogao Caves, nearly 500 sanctuaries carved into cliffs and filled with sculptures and murals representing the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art. Get lost in Kashgar’s tangle of alleyways. And shop markets teeming with trade goods now as they were then.

DO IT: Your travel advisor can work with WildChina, one of Virtuoso’s on-site tour providers, to craft a totally customized seven-day tour of the Silk Road, including visits to the Gobi for a camel trek, the desert oasis of Crescent Moon Lake, and the Mingsha Shan sand dunes, which seem to sing in the wind.