Travels With Lea

10 Ideas, Scenes in West Lake & China’s Most Romantic City: Hangzhou

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My visit to Hangzhou was in 2006, with a physician who was speaking at a medical conference about liver disease. Not the most romantic situation. But nevertheless I was enthralled with the place.

When Marco Polo visited Hangzhou China 800 years ago, he was so taken with this beautiful city that he observed:  “In heaven, there is paradise; on earth there is Hangzhou.”

Visitors continue to be captivated by the natural beauty.  The storied West Lake with its scenic islands,  mountains framing the city, and numerous temples, pagodas and parks have inspired artists and poets throughout the centuries.   While Hangzhou is re-creating itself as a modern city, its culture is still found in waterways, temples, old-style shopping streets, cuisine, and museums.

Festivals in Hangzhou are worth checking out.  But if there are none, you’ll still have plenty to do.  Some suggestions:

– Try Hangzhou’s distinctive cuisine,  recognized since the Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD220).  Best known is Dongpo Pork, a braised pork dish, named after the famous poet Su Dongpo; West Lake Sour Fish, integrating sweet and sour tastes with tender fish; West Lake shrimps cooked with tea; and Jiaohua Young Chicken, baked over low heat.  Look for bamboo shoots in many dishes.

– In October, The Hangzhou International Food Festival is staged over a week to celebrate the city’s unique cuisine.  You’ll find recipe and cookbook competitions and a variety of cooking demonstrations.

– Noteworthy restaurants include Lou Wai Lou at No. 30, Gu Shan Lu; Zhi Wei Guan at No. 83, Ren He Lu; and Shan Wai Shan, 18 Yang Gong Di, Xihu district.

– Hangzhou is well known for its excellent silks, exported all over the world.  The National Silk Museum has eight exhibition halls that take you through the history of silk to modern production.  A fragment of the earliest silk ever discovered is here – over 5000 years old.  Once you see how silk is woven and dyed, you may participate in the process at the Museum.  Admission is free.

– The Hangzhou International Silk Festival takes place every October and celebrates the unique history of silk manufacture, dye, and artistry for which the city is known.

– Leaving the Silk Museum, head to Hangzhou Silk City at No. 253 Xinhua Road, an excellent market for pure silk fabrics, garments, handicraft articles, scarves, and ties.  You’ll marvel at the numerous varieties of silk, the good quality and the magnificent colors.

– Hangzhou’s Longjing Tea (Dragon Well Tea) has a long history and is considered China’s best, famous for its unique green color, aroma,  sweet taste and health benefits.  The best is the first pick of a year, normally in late March or early April.  To learn more about tea and the tea ceremony, head over to Meijiawu Tea Village near West Lake.  Here they serve exquisite tea and offer many tea ceremonies. This experience will afford you the opportunity to understand why the tea ceremony is important to the Chinese.

–The Dragon Well Tea Festival is hosted by the villagers of the Dragon Well tea plantation from April 8th until May 8th.  Domestic and international tea connoisseurs come to Longjing to pick tea, participate in tea ceremonies and learn about the benefits of green tea.

– The powerfully fragrant Osmanthus is the official flower of Hangzhou, perfuming the air during the summer months, culminating with the Osmanthus Festival in September.  On both sides of the main roads, thousands of Osmanthus trees are in full bloom and colorful tents are erected for visitors to enjoy cultural performances.

– End with a little night music.  Impression West Lake is an extraordinary show that takes place on the lake, presented all year except in winter.  The vivid performances tell stories of the legend of West Lake with light, music, dance and theatrics.  The stage is built just below the surface so the actors appear to be dancing on the water.

In the 13th century, the imperial Academy of Paintings of the Southern Song Dynasty picked ten mystical sites to highlight the seasonal beauty of West Lake and gave each a poetic name.  For the past 800 years, visitors have come from around the world to experience this dazzling lake.

The Top Ten Scenes of West Lake:

Spring Dawn at Su Causeway.  The causeway itself gives the feeling of walking on water.  In spring and summer, the lake shimmers with reflected light and the flowers that line the paths of the causeway bloom large and bright.

Breeze-ruffled Lotus at Quyan Garden.  (Lotus in the Breeze at Crooked Courtyard)   People come here for the refreshing  fragrance from hundreds of lotus plants and the cool evening breeze. At one point, it was the spot for a winery belonging to a high-ranking official who made the famous Chinese ‘Qu’ wine.

Autumn Moon over Calm Lake.  This site is the very best vantage point to view the moonlit West Lake, especially on an autumn night when the reflection of the full, bright moon plays with the rippling water.

Melting Snow on Broken Bridge.  (Lingering Snow on Broken Bridge) This traditional arched stone bridge is regarded as the most famous one in the scenic lake area.  Viewed from a distance on a snow-melting day, the bridge looks as if one half has been ripped off with the snowy side blending in with the surrounding landscape and water surface.  The poetic name is also related to the legend about two lovers, Xu Xian and a white snake (who became a woman), falling madly in love after meeting on the bridge.

Viewing Fish and Lotus at Flowery Harbor. (Viewing Fish at Flower Pond) This park is a sprawling area of about 22 hectares, set against hills in the southwestern part of West Lake and surrounded by water on three sides.  The park features a network of crooked bridges decorating a goldfish pond famous for thousands of fish playing with each other to their hearts’ content.

Orioles Singing in the Willows.  Once an imperial garden, the park known as Orioles Singing in the Willows features weeping willow trees and singing orioles who flutter from branch to branch.  The citizens of Hangzhou love to hang out here listening to music or just chatting about life, love and the beauty of West Lake.

Three Pools Mirroring the Moon.  An autumn moon shining full and bright contrasts with three candle-lit miniature stone pagodas on Fairy Island in the middle of the lake.  During certain festivals, people flock here to see the lighting of three lanterns in the water which align with the reflection of the moon in a fascinating way.  

Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds.  On the other side of the lake, two mountain peaks face each other.  On days when low-lying clouds and fog are present,  the peaks seem to pierce through the clouds.  The scene reminds one of the beauty of a traditional Chinese landscape painting.

Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Hill.  Nanping Mountain has been revered as the Buddhism Mecca in southeastern China since the 10thcentury.  The place reveals its magic especially at dusk when the huge bell of the Jing Temple peals forceful sounds reverberating across the lake, reminding Buddhists of their religious heritage.

Sunset Glow over Leifeng Pagoda. (Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow) The Pagoda is renowned for the silhouette it casts against the misty hills at sunset, and even more so, in the evening.  It is then that the glow of the shrouded pagoda casts its glistening shadow onto the peaceful water and its surroundings.  The top of the Pagoda offers panoramic views of Hangzhou.

For more information on romantic Hangzhou and West Lake, visit www.gotohz.com

 

photo by: nasmac
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Author: Lea Lane

Lea Lane is an award-winning writer/editor and world traveler, who’s visited over 100 countries. She was managing editor of “Travel Smart” newsletter and was the “Going it Alone” columnist for Gannett newspapers. She has written six books, contributed to dozens of guidebooks, and is a featured blogger on the huffingtonpost, and salon.com.

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