Macau’s newly-won title of Las Vegas of Asia is certainly apt, considering there’s a new casino resort hotel practically everywhere you look. But there’s a lot more to this tiny special administrative region than meets the eye. The city’s historic role as a trading post where East meets West has created a colourful and harmonious blend of Chinese and European culture that can be seen in its UNESCO-listed architectural jewels, its unique fusion cuisine, and even in its friendly, multi-heritage and multilingual local population.
Macau’s newly-won title of Las Vegas of Asia is certainly apt, considering there’s a new casino resort hotel practically everywhere you look. But there’s a lot more to this tiny special administrative region than meets the eye. The city’s historic role as a trading post where East meets West has created a colourful and harmonious blend of Chinese and European culture that can be seen in its UNESCO-listed architectural jewels, its unique fusion cuisine, and even in its friendly, multi-heritage and multilingual local population.The gaming revolution brought not only pleasure palaces for punters, but also a new retail renaissance. At One Central Macau, an elegant shopping mall connected to Mandarin Oriental, Macau in the commercial district, luxury goods vie for attention and there are sweeping views of the Outer Harbour and the Nam Van Lake. The Louis Vuitton Maison presents clothing and accessories on three floors, alongside art installations and video. Labels such as Gucci, Fendi and Hermès are also here, as are Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Emporio Armani. The spotlight is on high-end phones at Vertu and dazzling jewels at Cartier and Bulgari. Outside, along the plaza, don’t miss Macau’s One Impression by the artist Qi Xinghua, which, at around 120 metres, is the world’s longest anamorphic artwork.
Just a short walk from Mandarin Oriental, Macau, the heart of the old city is a nostalgic contrast to the modern commercial district. A trip to the iconic Ruins of St Paul’s, Macau’s famous landmark, starts at Senado Square, which, flanked by centuries-old colonial buildings, forms part of the Historic Centre of Macau – a collection of more than 20 monuments that according to UNESCO provides ‘a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West’.
A narrow cobblestone lane lined with tiny souvenir and antique shops winds up to the Ruins. The stunning façade is worth the walk, but there’s more to see here, such as the bones of 17th-century Christian martyrs
in the crypt below, and the Monte Fort (the Museum of Macau).
Housed in the Tourism Activities Centre on Rua Luis Gonzaga Gomes, near the golden lotus sculpture, two Macau museums stand out for their hands-on exhibitions. Visitors to the Wine Museum don’t just learn about Portuguese wine production, they can sample vintages on site. And at the Grand Prix Museum, they can drive a racing-car simulator that recreates the behind-the-wheel thrills and spills of races as the drivers experience them.
The Macau Tower offers hair-raising experiences at high altitude. Serious thrill seekers can skywalk around the 338-metre tower, climb even higher up the mast, or try bungee jumping at 233 metres – a stunt listed in the Guinness World Records as the ‘highest commercial decelerator descent’. In the observation lounge, glass floor sections create a dizzying sensation of walking on air, high above the Pearl River Delta.
Life moves at a slower pace in Coloane. Once a sleepy fishing village, it has ancient houses and temples, a historic square, and is the home of Macau’s famous egg tarts. The birthday of the god Tam Kung, who controls the weather, brings Chinese opera, lively lion dances and fireworks to Tam Kung Temple in May. Just outside the village, Macau’s giant pandas laze around in their pavilion in Seac Pai Wan Park.
Rest & relaxation
The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Macau
will banish any weariness after a day’s sightseeing with its fully-equipped fitness centre, outdoor swimming pool and therapies created by aromatherapy masters and experts in traditional Chinese medicine. The two-hour Macanese Dragon Experience includes a personalised body scrub, a steam shower and a relaxing Chinese lymphatic body massage using Bao-Ding meditation balls. Alternatively, the Spices of Portugal treatment combines head massage with an exotic spice infusion, a cleansing body exfoliation and a hot-stone full-body massage using essential oils of ginger, black pepper and rosemary.
Amid Macau’s bustle exists an oasis of tranquillity that continues to embody the idyllic charm and quaintness of this historic city – The Spa at Grand Lapa, Macau. The Spa features six treatment suites each with their own private outdoor garden and whirlpool bath, the only spa in Macau or Hong Kong to have these features. The Spa offers a comprehensive range of body, facial and beauty treatments. Signature massages include Organic Seaweed Leaf Body Wrap and Hot Stone Massage, while popular Journeys include Organic Experience and Harmony for Two. Additional highlights include a retail boutique featuring specially designed spa and leisure wear, exquisite bath, body and beauty products and essential oils.
Traditionally enjoyed early, dim sum is served at the Vida Rica Restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Macau during the day. The restaurant also offers European cuisine and a variety of Cantonese dishes such as crispy pork. The views across the Nam Van Lake are spectacular – watch the sun set while sipping a lychee martini in the Vida Rica Bar.
Lunch at Bela Vista Café at Grand Lapa, Macau is a trip down memory lane for those who remember the stately old Bela Vista hotel, a favourite gathering spot in colonial times. Mosaic-tiled floors and ceiling fans are a fitting setting for Chinese and Macanese dishes, such as the African chicken and the Portuguese snack sampler plate with bacalhau balls and warm octopus salad. For enticing Thai dishes, try the hotel’s NAAM restaurant in the lush, tropical gardens.
Elsewhere, the Military Club – an elegant, colonial landmark on historic Praia Grande – is a private club with a dining room open to the public that serves excellent Portuguese cuisine and fine wine. Café Litoral in Taipa offers the same authentic fare as its parent restaurant, the award-winning Litoral on the inner harbour. Expect Macanese and Portuguese specialities, local wine and pitchers of refreshing sangria.
Grand Lapa, Macau's Kam Lai Heen Chinese restaurant serves authentic Cantonese cuisine as well as some of the finest regional dishes created by Chef Tse. The restaurant also specialises in delicate dim sum treats, which are available every lunchtime.