A New Four Seasons in Hangzhou
With a new high-speed train scheduled for an October debut, you will be able to travel in great comfort from Shanghai to Hangzhou in a snap 38 minutes. As Shanghai now makes even Hong Kong seem Third World, a visit willowy West Lake, the star attraction of Hangzhou, is a great way to recover from a supercharged Chinese itinerary. The place to stay is the Four Seasons hotel Hangzhou at West Lake. Its design and architecture fit into the landscape of terraced tea plantations and mists rising from the lake as if it was always there. Unlike the starkly modern hotels of Beijing and beyond, this little gem is entirely traditional with pagoda roof pavilions linked by flower-rimmed paths through landscaped water gardens.
The hotel is impressive in that it has a subdued, understated quality although the spa is a standout with treatments you won't find elsewhere. Not-to-be-missed is the three-hour dragon-well tea and jade spring ritual ---a soothing soak, an invigorating body exfoliation, followed by massage. Check out the full menu of spa services here.
Almost all of China can be divided up into regional cuisines. West Lake is no different with such local specialties as Beggar's Chicken, West Lake fish in vinegar sauce, and shrimp with Longling tea, all featured on the menu at the hotel's Jin Sha restaurant. You probably won't feel like venturing elsewhere after a dinner in one of its private dining pavilions surrounded by a garden lagoon or dining al fresco on the pool terrace overlooking West Lake. That would be a mistake as Hangzhou is popular with Chinese as well as foreign tourists and has several hearty restaurants like the famous Dragon Well Manor.
Don't expect to just loll around the spa or go rowing on West Lake as there is a lot to see in this ancient city, One favorite place to visit is the China Academy of Art. You can visit during the day and should consider buying one of the student's scroll paintings. Another is the Leifeng Pagoda, first constructed in 975 AD, or the Longjing Tea Culture Village, Marco Polo supposedly dubbed Hangzhou "the most enchanting city in the world." It is still special today, especially in view of how fast China is replacing the old with the up-to-the-second new. Room rates vary but start at around $392, double occupancy, and include daily American breakfast. Reserve by calling 416-445-5031: fourseasons.com/hangzhou.