Making Waves in Qingdao
Drinking, eating and strolling in China’s most liveable city.
The colonialists posted to old Qingdao must surely have counted their blessings: crisp marine air, rolling hills, a pleasant climate year round and a tantalising bounty of seafood.
A young Chinese city with a turbulent recent past, Qingdao has come a long way since German troops seized a swathe of coastal land on the Shandong Peninsula more than a century ago. Between 1898 and 1914, the sleepy fishing village of Qingdao grew into the heart of the new German concession, with Bavarian-style churches, rows of cookie-dough-hued houses crowned with red tiles, a brewery and, above it all, the moustachioed German governor presiding over this remarkable outpost of Deutschland from his modern baroque mansion on the hill, now a fascinating museum.
The colonialists posted to old Qingdao must surely have counted their blessings: crisp marine air, rolling hills, a pleasant climate year round and a tantalising bounty of seafood. In fact, much of the same pleasure is enjoyed by tourists here today. Unlike other Chinese cities caught in the swell of redevelopment, Qingdao has cherished its concession-era architecture to such a degree that a stroll through the hilly streets of Shinan District, known as the Old Town of Qingdao, can feel like stepping into a Bavarian postcard.
The story doesn’t end with the Germans, of course. Next came the Japanese, whose most appreciated legacy is perhaps the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that takes place in Zhongshan Park every April. In the years since China’s reform and opening up, Qingdao’s skyline has skyrocketed.
Take a stroll along Zhangqiao Pier to the pavilion and look back towards the shore for the quintessential view of contemporary Qingdao: glass and steel skyscrapers, European villas in plots of verdant green and the twin spires of St Michael’s Cathedral. Here is an image of a confident and modern metropolis that knows where it came from and where it’s going. No wonder, in 2011, Qingdao was deemed China’s most liveable city by the China Institute of City Competitiveness.
If you’ve ever sipped from a bottle of Tsingtao, China’s most famous beer, a glance at the city’s pier ought to conjure up a strange sense of familiarity–of course, the pier is on the label. The Tsingtao brewery made its first beer back in 1903. The beer is said to get its crisp taste from the spring water that bubbles forth from Laoshan, a scenic mountain and popular hiking spot north of the city. The best place in town to drink it is at the source – the Tsingtao Beer Museum on the site of the original Tsingtao brewery; a tour through the original redbrick buildings includes multiple tastings and a dash through the “drunken house” built at angles designed to make you dizzy.
By the Sea
A hundred and ten years after the arrival of the Germans, the eyes of the world turned to Qingdao as the host of the Olympic Sailing Regatta for the Beijing Games in 2008. Today, the Olympic Sailing Centre stands out as the jewel in the crown of Fushan Bay, formerly an industrial shipyard and now the gleaming home of Qingdao’s new central business district – futuristic towers and malls framed against a postcard-perfect bathing beach. Here, nestled between Fushan Bay and the luxurious lanes of Badaguan, China’s answer to Beverley Hills, sits Shangri-La Hotel, Qingdao, one of the city’s most elegant and long-standing hotels.
A perfect Qingdao day begins in the Shangri-La Executive Lounge sitting atop the new Valley Wing, where floor-to-ceiling windows frame the azure Yellow Sea between buildings. Breakfast comes with a twist: eggs lightly scrambled with local clams, courtesy of Executive Chef Rolando. In the evenings, Chef Rolando, a native of Milan, presides over Da Vinci Restaurant, building on the seafood theme with his signature grilled sea bass on a velvety slick of squid ink jus – so delicious you’ll be asking for more home-baked bread to mop it all up. Of course, if you just want to keep it simple, his wood-fired pizzas have that rare synergy of char and puff that only an Italian master truly understands.
Seafood is naturally one of the city’s premier attractions, and Shangri-La Hotel, Qingdao is perfectly located for foodies. Mingjiang Lu, home to Qingdao’s finest seafood restaurants, is a five-minute cab ride away. You could choose just about any eatery along the strip, but Yumatou, a well-heeled establishment with rows of live tanks at the entrance, comes recommended. Clams, crabs, shrimp, oysters, squid, scallops, crayfish, lobster and pearlescent fish sold by the jin (500 grams) – the choice is overwhelming. For the quintessential Qingdao experience, order a round of clams fried with chilli, garlic and ginger, which pairs perfectly with a jug of fresh Tsingtao beer. For a Cantonese twist, point at the scallops and ask for them to be served suanrong fensi, meaning steamed lightly with minced garlic and vermicelli noodles. There is no better way to savour this underwater treasure.
Indulgence comes with the territory, but fortunately Qingdao is one of the best cities in the world for strolling. Over 40 kilometres of tree-shaded coastal paths and seafront promenades gird the city, joining the dots between bathing beaches. Be sure to find your way to the lovely Lu Xun Park, named after China’s revered writer and revolutionary, where you can rest beneath pavilions and watch the waves as they crash over rugged reefs. It is the ideal spot to contemplate just how far Qingdao has come in so short a time. Then, well, it's probably time for another Tsingtao beer.