Picture an archetypal Chinese city 500 hundred years ago with imposing rampart walls, red paper lanterns, gracefully sweeping roofs, grand gates at the compass points and a bustling warren of alleyways. You've just imagined Pingyao today. This small city was the financial centre of China during the Ming and Qing dynasties and dates back to 700BC. At its height in the 19th-century it was home to banks with branches as widespread as Singapore, Russia, Europe, India and America. The first bank in China was established here and the first cheque was issued within the city walls. The 4-mile walls are thought to be the best preserved in china and earned the city UNESCO world heritage site status in 1997. Cars are restricted in the city so bicycles are still the main mode of transport and the geometrical labyrinth of tidy streets and alleyways are great for simply strolling.