The Great Wall surely is at the top of the to-do list for any China tourist. But there’s another place that may not be on the radar of too many Westerners that is deserving of a visit: Hangzhao.
With just 8 million people, Hangzhao feels like a small town after stops in Beijing and Shanghai, both cities well past the 20 million mark. Noneother than the explorer extraordinaire Marco Polo has hailed the charms of Hangzhou, calling it the “most beautiful and magnificent city in the world.”
Hangzhou’s beauty and its draw is the lovely West Lake, the city’s most iconic attraction, ringed by walking paths and bike lanes, boat docks and parkland, a popular playground dotted with arched bridges and pagodas and edged with weeping willows. Autumn is a beautiful time to visit with mild temperatures and coloring greenery.
About 110 miles southwest of the financial capital of Shanghai, Hangzhou, with its verdant landscape and tree-canopied main roads, is China as I imagined it to be: bustling, but not too crowded; verdant, with attention paid to formal gardens and landscape water features; a place with the pagodas and fragrant, typical food. All of that can be found in Hangzhou, where you can pay about 55 yuan, (a little less than $10) for a round trip ride on a dragon boat to an island in the middle of the lake where the crowds are diminished by the thoughtful landscaping that separates the public spaces. Or rent a bicycle. That seems to be the most popular activity around the lake, where it’s not uncommon to see riders on three-seater bikes or on double or triple bikes with a fringed canopy up top.
An ancient Chinese capital city, Hangzhou is famous for its silk, which Marco Polo began importing to the rest of the world hundreds of years ago. Today, Hangzhao’s province of Zhejiang is the largest producer of silk in China and home to China’s National Silk Museum. Hangzhou is also famous for its Dragon Well Tea, which is a good souvenir to take home.
One of the most expensive hotels in Hangzhou is also one of the nicest, the Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, which merges seamlessly with the West Lake landscape. You won’t want to leave the property, where the acclaimed Jin Sha restaurant feeds your stomach and the Spa at West Lake soothes your aches and pains. There’s a stunning outdoor infinity pool and indoor fitness facilities as well. If you decide to leave the property, the hotel is in a great location, within walking distance of many of the West Lake attractions. All in all, a welcome retreat.