1. It’s not your typical tourist destination
Hangzhou attracts young and old, which means you’ll see selfie sticks and walking sticks in equal measure. Although the city is particularly popular amongst the Chinese, it attracts relatively few visitors from the West. This offers you an opportunity to undertake a unique journey. Its many Chinese fans can’t possibly be wrong. The city boasts around 12,000 stone bridges. This prompted Marco Polo to record that the city was “greater than any in the world” back in the 13th century.
2. Poetic architecture
Two governors took it upon themselves to develop the city. And they did an excellent job, partly because both of them were also poets. Their architectural heritage includes the city’s many bridges, as well as the causeways across the lake, which are named after them. Governor Bai served in the 9th century and Governor Su in the 11th. The causeways provide the perfect setting for a stroll or boat trip between the lilies. You can also cycle around the lake, dance on the banks with your lover or bob under the bridges by boat. If only all civil servants and urban planners were poets by profession.
3. Beautiful throughout the seasons
Hangzhou is a city for all seasons. As is often the case, cameras catch the summer sunlight off the West Lake beautifully. It’s true that the city, nestled in among the superb mountains, can get pretty misty at time, especially across the lake, but that gives it a special charm – unique, authentic and enchanting all at once. This certainly inspired the poetic minds that named the city’s sites. Feast your imagination on ‘Three Pools Mirroring the Moon’, ‘Orioles Singing in the Willows’ and ‘Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake’, and then head off to see them with your own eyes.
4. Massive water spectacle
In Hangzhou, it’s customary to adapt old love stories to the modern world. ‘Impressions of the West Lake’ is a fantastic multimedia light and sound show on the water. Boasting a gigantic stage just below the surface of the water, the participating actors appear to be walking on water. This grand spectacle, recounting a local legend, was produced by a modern-day legend. The director also coordinated the ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. The cheapest entry ticket will cost you the equivalent of €40 and there’s only sketchy English background information in the folder, but it’s a total must see.
5. Tearooms and picnics on the water
Seeing all that water will make you thirsty, but Hangzhou offers the perfect quencher: Longjing Green Tea. There are dozens of tearooms scattered around the lake and in the mountains they delight in serving cups of this deliciously healthy ‘green gold’. Once you’ve built up an appetite after all that walking, cycling and boating, head off to a lakeside restaurant and order a delicious piece of fish for dinner. West Lake carp in sweet-and-sour sauce and shrimps in green tea are popular favourites on the menu. Back in the days of Marco Polo, picnics on the lake were already popular. Nowadays, you’ll find double-decker restaurant boats crisscrossing the waters of West Lake.
6. The Champs-Elysees squared
But Hangzhou offers more than the famous lake alone, of course. The mountains surrounding the city offer cool walks in the summer months. And then there’s Lingyin Temple, dating back to 326. If the weather or your physical prowess present a barrier, there are excellent bus connections around the West Lake, guaranteeing swift connections in and about the mountains.
You’ll definitely need transport if you succumb to another popular Chinese pastime: shopping in the city. Imagine a blend of 5th Avenue, Regent Street and the Champs-Elysees: exclusive clothing and just as much splendour and grandeur. But there are also teapots galore and silk fabrics, especially in the mountainside shops.
7. The picture-perfect landscapes of Chinese calendars
Marco Polo would be astounded by the urban development and the clamour of the masses. He would also be envious of their modern photographic equipment and smartphones. Despite all these innovations, Hangzhou still embodies the ultimate expression of the ‘Shan shui’ art form, which first rose to prominence during the 5th century. This idyllic – sometimes contrived – depiction of water and mountains is often used to decorate Chinese calendars. And now you can see them in real life. A spectacular backdrop for a selfie to post on social media so that we can see you in Huangzhou!