Travel: Silk road stopover in Macau

By Mike Yardley


Hong Kong's nearest neighbour, the cultural melting pot of Macau, is a stopover within a stopover. Less than an hour away by fast ferry, it provides a staggering contrast in cultural and scenic charms to the throb of Hong Kong.

The port city of Macau's rich heritage as a trading post is arguably more romantic and engaging than its bigger brother's. Macau, at the mouth of the Pearl River, was initially part of the Ancient Silk Road with ships loading here with silk bound for Rome.

In 1513, Portuguese merchant-explorers set in motion an indelible legacy, settling on Macau as their great trading nexus. Today, multicultural Macau which, like Hong Kong, is one of China's Special Administrative Regions, enthrals visitors with a unique East meets West mix of influences, chiefly melded by its distinctive Portuguese stripes.

The local cuisine is particularly striking. When the Portuguese first arrived in Asia, they brought foodstuffs and cooking ideas they had garnered from all around the world. Over the centuries they have been combined and adapted by local Chinese into a truly international cuisine which is called Macanese.

What I particularly love about Macau is its preservation and celebration of diverse architecture. The Historic Centre of Macau has been recognised as a World Heritage site and lustily showcases the wealth of architectural styles that have been threaded into Macau's urban fabric, its streetscape and piazzas, over the past 500 years.

More than 20 monuments and buildings are highly recommended sightseeing stops. Historic A-Ma Temple, which predates the arrival of the Portuguese, is a fascinating insight into Buddhist and Confucian beliefs, culture and architecture. Senado Square is the heart of Macau and home to major public events. This gorgeous public space is bordered by pastel-coloured neo-classical buildings, imbuing the square with a very elegant Mediterranean atmosphere.

The enduring letterhead of Macau is the Ruins of St Paul's.

Now regarded as the altar to the city, the church facade is all that remains of the original Catholic church built in 1602, and later destroyed by fire. Also razed was the neighbouring St Paul's College, which was the first western-style university in the Far East. There are dozens of quaint alleys, lanes, piazzas and neighbourhoods to explore.

For a taste of new Macau, you can't go past Macau Tower, the 10th highest observation tower in the world, which delivers mouth-watering views. The tower, designed by the same team behind Auckland's Sky Tower, is incorporated in the city's swanky entertainment centre which hosts a rollcall of top-line shows and concerts.

For full information, see Macau's tourist website: www.macautourism.gov.mo

Turbo Jet runs an unrivalled fast ferry service to and from Hong Kong and Macau. Check in your baggage with Turbo Jet to interconnect with arriving or departing flights at Hong Kong Airport, dissolving the hassle of baggage handling. Ingenious! To book online, see www.turbojetbooking.com

- Hamilton News

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