Yangzhou showcases a romantic side of China steeped in the tradition and culture depicted in classic oil paintings and poetry.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the man-made Slender Westlake and its breathtaking architecture unveils the romance of yesteryear to visitors, brimming with time-honoured traditions and ancient literature.
Located 120 kilometres north east of Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, Yangzhou is nestled on the northern banks of the Yangtze River. Developed as a major trading centre for salt, rice and silk, the city celebrated its 2,500th anniversary in 2013. Marco Polo is believed to have served as the city’s governor in the late 13th century.
Today, however, the city is renowned for its beautiful arts and crafts, such as carved lacquerware, jade, embroidery and paper cuts. Yangzhou is also famous for the ancient folk art known as Yangzhou storytelling, a traditional Chinese comedic performance that became popular during the Ming Dynasty. In terms of trade, the area’s toy industry has proven particularly progressive with travellers from neighbouring cities making a special trip to purchase top-notch playthings.
Yangzhou remains famous for its rich history and as the home of famous poets, explorers, academics and merchants. Their legacy and presence continue to permeate the city today, and the intriguing history surrounding landmarks such as Slender Westlake, and Grand Canal – the longest of its kind in the world – are as fascinating as the sights themselves.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the man-made Slender Westlake and its breathtaking architecture unveils the romance of yesteryear to visitors, brimming with time-honoured traditions and ancient literature. The pavilions and bridges lining the two-square-kilometre lake are best explored by hiring a small boat for a relaxing cruise with intimate views of the gardens, pagodas and stunning scenery that Yangzhou has become known for.
Marco Polo is said to have served as a government official in Yangzhou in the 1200s, facilitating trade through the Grand Canal and contributing to the area’s history, which was influenced by merchant families and salt traders. Today, however, tourism is the largest contributor to the city’s economy, stemming mostly from the domestic demand of neighbouring areas, whose residents are keen to escape the weekend hustle and bustle. Even with this influx, Yangzhou maintains its charm and manages to avoid overcrowding.
While rich in history, Yangzhou has also discovered its contemporary identity by striking the perfect balance between tradition and continual evolution. Shangri-La Hotel, Yangzhou is the city’s only five-star hotel and, as leader of the hospitality pack, seamlessly fuses Yangzhou’s captivating heritage with the comfort synonymous with the luxury brand. Featuring contemporary décor and stunning views of the enchanting Ge Garden, the hotel is revered for its legendary hospitality and sumptuous gourmet offerings.
The 369-room home away from home sits on the banks of Mingyue Lake amidst its own classic Chinese garden, echoing the lush foliage that punctuates the city and has served as inspiration or become places of refuge for poets, merchants and explorers of bygone eras.
Yangzhou also offers world-renowned cuisine and is particularly famous for its fried rice introduced by General Yang Su of Sui Dynasty, which uses light, fresh ingredients – a welcome change from the heavier traditional cuisine. The city is equally famous for its morning tea, which is as much a leisurely undertaking as it is a gastronomic journey. Signature dishes of the Huaiyang-style cuisine include delicious dumplings and buns served in a traditional teahouse, where patrons savour the experience of drinking tea, chatting and catching up with one other.
While the historic and cultural aspects of Yangzhou are a highlight, the backdrop of China’s economic growth has resulted in the inevitable modernisation of the city. Western influences can increasingly be seen around town, but Yangzhou has managed to retain its unique contemporary identity and style, particularly in the hutongs of Dong Guan Old Street, an area reminiscent of Shanghai’s French Concession.
One of the most delightful surprises is Yangzhou’s sophisticated café culture; many of the alleyway’s chic coffee houses and trendy bars would not look out of place in Soho or Melbourne. Best of all, the quaint establishments maintain the city’s distinct historic and cultural charm. It’s a pleasure to see some of the modern additions fitting seamlessly into streets lined with traditional medicine, art and food stalls, and the main business centre buzzing with the same dynamism as in the old days.
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Amazing hotel. Strongly recommend