Alternative Travel Destinations – Hangzhou
13thCentury globetrotter Marco Polo once described this week’s Alternative Travel Destination as “without doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world,” and I must say I’m inclined to agree with him. It’s a magical place and has been a celebrated travel destination for centuries, with tourists from all over the world coming to spend time by the glorious and highly revered West Lake. Welcome to the city known by locals as ‘Paradise on Earth’ or, to the rest of us, Hangzhou.
Located 100 miles or so to the south-west of Shanghai, the city is easy to get to and offers a great alternative to some of China’s other major cities. Despite having a population of over 6 million – which, quite incredibly, means it’s bigger than Paris and Rome combined – Hangzhou has the feeling of a small and quaint university town, though admittedly this is because the majority of tourists, myself included, spend their time by the West Lake and never venture further into the city proper.
And there is good reason for this, because the lake is absolutely stunning. It’s the China of your imagination, and is the perfect place to spend time walking, cycling and filling up your iPhone’s memory with panoramic shots. There is a small road that rings the entire lake which is good for delving into some of the city’s countless gardens and temples, but the most enjoyable route is the tree-lined pathway that crosses the water. It’s only accessible on foot or by bike and it offers some of the best views out across the water, to the willow and plum trees that lines the banks of the lake, to the lily ponds, and to the pagodas that rise from within the surrounding forests. Take some time to admire it all and you’ll quickly come to understand why this city has captivated and inspired people for so many years.
Hangzhou also offers lots of great options for dining, with provincial food typical of the Zhejiang style the most popular. It’s usually a little less greasy than other Chinese cuisines and includes more fresh ingredients. The best restaurants are small family-run outfits, generally located a little way off the main areas but definitely worth searching out. Trust me. All you will find on the main drag is over-priced restaurants and Western fast food outfits like KFC. You didn’t come all this way to pay a tenner for a bucket of fried chicken, however finger-lickin’ good it is.
What more do you need to know? Hangzhou has attracted droves of tourists for centuries, it’s beautiful and serene, and it has been endorsed by two of the most famous travel writers of all time: Marco Polo and me. OK, so admittedly just one of the all-time greats, but that’s still pretty good.
Hangzhou has a large airport that serves cities all over China and South-East Asia, but the best way to get there is from Shanghai due to its extensive transcontinental connections. Getting between the cities is no problem; the newly built bullet train hits speeds of 217mph and only takes 45 minutes. Easy.