Macao, a close neighbour of Hong Kong in more ways than one, was a Portuguese territory from 1557 to 1999 and is now a Special Administrative Region of China, able to determine many of its own affairs.
Covering eleven square miles and the world’s most densely populate region, Macao offers visitors three highly contrasting areas; the busy and crowded old town with its Portuguese heritage, Cotai , full of casinos and resort hotels, and Coloane, the closest Macao gets to a rural setting.
I started my visit in the old town. It’s full of markets, shops, street food outlets, traditional tea rooms and small open areas such as the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden, a haven of peace and relaxation. It was created by a local merchant, Lou Kau, as part of his private residence but is now owned by the Government and is popular with locals. The nearby central ruins of St Paul’s church is one of historic Macao’s biggest attractions, although having been burned down three times, all that remains is the façade.
Close by, but far removed from the hustle and bustle, is the St Lazarus district. Centred on St Lazarus Church it’s Macao’s creative centre, its cobbled streets, colonial houses and tranquillity are ideal for the artists, designers and others who live and work there.
Linked to downtown Macao by three bridges, Taipa Village was originally home to fishermen. Its narrow streets provide visitors with a taste of Macao’s past and an opportunity to savour its diverse cuisine. I had dinner at Antonio’s, a cosy atmospheric Portuguese restaurant serving authentic food and offering its guests a traditional glass of Port at the end of their meal.
Modern Cotai is often referred to as the Las Vegas of the East and is where visitors can find huge resort hotels, casinos and lavish entertainment. I visited the City of Dreams to see their famous show ‘House of the Dancing Water’. It’s an incredible production mixing elements of Cirque du Soleil with water. If you were only ever to see one show then this must be it.
I also took a gondola ride at the Wynn Palace Hotel and then watched the musical fountain display before heading off for a drive around the area. Like other hotels on the Cotai Strip, the Venetian is modelled on its Las Vegas counterpart, its 39 storey structure containing three thousand suites and the world’s largest casino with eight hundred gambling tables.
In stark contrast, Coloane is as close as Macao gets to sleepy countryside. Seac Pai Van Park is an open area where locals can get away from high-rise city life. The park is home to the Giant Panda Pavilion.
Nearby is another famous Macao landmark, Lord Stow’s Bakery. Those familiar with Portuguese cuisine will know that its custard tart ‘pastel de nata’ is a national dish, but it is claimed that the best ones come from the bakery in Coloane. I wouldn’t dispute that.
It’s just another example of how Macao blends its heritage. Portuguese, Chinese and Macanese food, a fusion of flavours brought about by Macao’s Portuguese maritime past, are available everywhere, from street vendors to the eighteen Michelin-star restaurants that call Macao home. There’s simply nowhere else like it.
by Mike Pickup
I flew to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific cathaypacific.co.uk and stayed at the Sofitel Macau At Ponte 16, sofitelmacau.com. Holiday Extras offers trusted Meet and Greet parking, airport lounge and other services at all major UK airports. Call 0800 1313 777 or visit HolidayExtras.com. For further information about Macao, go to visitmacao.co.uk