The city of Hangzhou was described by Marco Polo as “the most magnificent in all the world.” It has always been prosperous, thanks to the silk trade and its proximity to the Grand Canal. These days, though, the city enjoys a reputation as the most affluent in China, where the newly wealthy of Shanghai buy hillside properties overlooking West Lake. Hangzhou now has a population of more than 7 million (21 million in the metro area including and surrounding the city), but despite its growing size, districts bordering the lake remain pretty, tranquil and clean. It is possible to walk, jog or cycle around much of the shoreline, pausing on the willow-shaded paths to gaze out across the expanse of glassy water. Hangzhou offers a number of fascinating monuments, such as the enormous Lingyin Si Buddhist temple, founded in the fourth century, and the magnificent 12th-century Six Harmonies Pagoda.
The best way to reach the city is by bullet train, which takes approximately 45 minutes to cover the 110 miles from Shanghai. The main highway, on the other hand, is often choked with traffic, and the journey can last up to three hours. In addition, the standard of driving is abysmal.
The best way to reach this lovely city is by bullet train, which takes approximately one hour to cover the 120 miles from Shanghai. There are no flights from Shanghai to Hangzhou available and the main highway, often choked with traffic, can last up to three hours. In addition, the standard of driving is abysmal. There are several railway stations in both cities from which the trains run, so be sure to research the station that is closest to your hotel prior to booking.
West Lake has influenced poets and painters for centuries, and it is regarded in China as the ultimate fusion of nature and the human imagination. Its features have been widely imitated elsewhere in Asia, for example at the Kyu Shiba Rikyu and Koishikawa Korakuen gardens in Tokyo. The banks of the lake have been planted with magnolia, cherry and peach trees; the spectacular peach blossoms generally appear from the beginning of March to the middle of April.
The pretty countryside around Hangzhou grows the most famous tea in China, Longjing “Dragon Well” green tea, which is customarily given to visiting heads of state. It is possible to tour a plantation, but it is extremely difficult to leave without making an expensive purchase. A small box of tea is likely to cost in excess of $50.