HANGZHOU, China – Throughout five thousand years of Chinese civilization, the city of Hangzhou has been revered for its outstanding natural beauty and cultural significance. It is, to quote the proverb, “Heaven on earth.”
From the ninth century onwards, the city’s verdant gardens, towering temples and breathtaking scenery – including its jewel in the crown, the West Lake – have inspired China’s greatest painters, poets and philosophers to capture its serene beauty.
Famously, when Italian explorer Marco Polo visited during his globetrotting adventures in the 13th century, he was so moved that he declared the city of Hangzhou to be “Greater than any in the world.”
Fast forward to 2014 and the city continues to inspire. Hangzhou is now the most Googled city in China and receives over three million tourists annually. In recognition of West Lake’s natural beauty and importance to Chinese culture, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011.
As one of the key destinations on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that connected Europe to Asia, Hangzhou was – and still is – known for its sumptuous silks and aromatic, flavourful Dragon Well (Longjing) Tea. The magnificent Grand Canal, the world’s oldest and longest man-made canal, which links Hangzhou to Beijing, was also vital to the city’s political, cultural and economic might. During Marco Polo’s visit, he noted that, “The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof.”
A lot has changed over the centuries, but the city has remained a booming centre of commerce; Hangzhou is much more than a stunning shrine to China’s rich cultural past. As the capital of Zhejiang – the country’s wealthiest province – it is a hub of industry and innovation, fuelled by its forward-thinking technology firms. Alibaba, the tech giant that became the largest IPO listing in US history when it floated on the New York Stock Exchange this year, was founded – and is still based – in Hangzhou. It’s the leading light in an increasingly influential group of Hangzhou-based multinationals.
In the heart of Hangzhou, the West Lake is the perfect exemplar of China’s fascinating juxtaposition. The lake is nestled between two very different, but recognisable, faces of modern China: its historic wonders and symbols of world-beating economic power.
On its western shore are luscious tea fields and ancient pagodas, including Lingyin Temple, one of China’s largest Buddhist monasteries, and the resplendent, unspoilt Xixi Wetlands. On the banks of the east shore are the city’s skyscrapers, high-end shops, five-star hotels and first-rate dining – all the trappings you’d expect from a world-class destination.
On the dining front, foodies won’t be disappointed with Zhejiang fare, which is renowned as one of China’s “eight great cuisines”. Thanks to Hangzhou’s location in the fertile ground of the Yangtze delta, it’s referred to as the “land of fish and rice”, known for its delicate, aromatic flavours. Look out for local specialities like West Lake Fish and Dongpo Pork – a fatty, rich slice of heaven all of its own.
Hangzhou is less than an hour away from Shanghai on the modern, ultra-fast bullet train.
Win a luxury trip for two to Hangzhou
Go online to play the fun, interactive game Trace the Marco Polo and win a trip to Hangzhou!
To enter the competition, which is open until November 30, visit marcopolo.gotohz.com and log in with Facebook. The aim is to follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and track down the legendary traveller as he takes in Hangzhou’s most famous sites, including the Grand Canal, West Lake, Leifeng Pagoda, Xixi Wetlands and Lingyin Temple. The trick is to track him down as quickly as possible!
The lucky victor will win a round-trip flight and five-night stay at the Sheraton Hangzhou Wetland Park Resort – a package worth $5,000. The competitor who introduces the most people to the game will also win the same fabulous prize.